mobile photography technology, culture and community
www.dpreview.com

Remembering the days of 1.3 megapixels: Joel Grey interview

44
Joel Grey started capturing images with his 1.3-megapixel Nokia 133 in 2007. Images by Joel Grey.

In an age when a 41-megapixel camera sensor in a smartphone is possible and 8 megapixel camera phones have become standard, it's fascinating to recall how mobile photography started, not so very long ago. 

Photographer and actor Joel Grey was one of the pioneers of phone photography, creating striking images with his 1.3-megapixel Nokia 133 as early as 2007. He published a book of his results in 2009, "1.3 -- Images from My Phone."

In this 2009 interview video for The Leonard Lopate Show, broadcast on New York City radio station WNYC, Grey shares how he forgot his Nikon on an out-of-town trip and began experimenting which his cell phone's camera capabilities. Truly ahead of his time, we thought it was worth sharing Grey's forward-thinking perspective which still rings true today: 

Do you remember which model of cell phone you first really started using as a camera?

Comments

Total comments: 44
jimread

I also do model railways, where the expression, 'Got all the gear and no idea' is quite often heard. Modellers who make something from odds and ends gain far more satisfaction from their efforts.

And so it is with photography.

If Joel Grey encourages people with phones to make good or even just more pics then his job is well done.

On another front the Royal Photographic Society here in the UK is looking forward to the first submission for its LRPS distinction made with a phone.

And there are still people out there using film in field cameras and making large contact prints.

In my opinion photography just is, the means is secondary to the image.

Jim

2 upvotes
herzco

This is crap. No matter WHAT kind of camera it was shot with. Typical of the dilettante imagery done by celebrities, ex-celebrities, trustafarians and anyone who does not have the benefit of an honest critique of their work and is instead surrounded by "yes-men".

And to clarify: I am a big admirer of the snapshot aesthetic, but only when done by those who truly have a deep feel for the subject (Eggleston et alia)

Just because a person with a phone has suddenly discovered how "cool" ordinary things are does NOT mean that their imagery is sophisticated or interesting. Some things should just be shared with their friends and family and not the world.

The ease of making images on the telephone creates the situation of people confusing technology with having actual talent. Sorry, but this is true. People do NOT have talent simply because they own a device for making pictures. It is honed over years of practice. Get over it and WORK.

There is something to be said for gatekeepers.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
3 upvotes
brainnolo

More than half of the photograph he shows are actually snapshots. His best shots probably are those which gain from the low quality images the phones delivers, because it goes hand in hand with the "decadence" of the subjects he represents. Good luck trying to shoot something beautiful (as opposed to interesting) with such a camera.

Yes, the gears do not make the photographer, but saying that you can use a phone for everything is dumb. Is like saying that screwdrivers are redundant - after all a hammer will do the job as well.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 4 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
spencerberus

I think it's important to distinguish between a pleasing image and tack-sharp image quality. Phone photography is about capturing moments and working with what you have, it's not about tack-sharp images, sports photography or shallow depth of field, and I don't think anyone is suggesting it is.

5 upvotes
rallyfan

I can't disagree. I think this is a fair assessment and a balanced perspective. Great comment.

0 upvotes
rallyfan

Ah, the "visionaries" and "real photographers" and "artists" are upset (again...). What a shame.

Nobody is forbidding anyone from hauling around 15 kg of overpriced antiques. Go right ahead boys, like you've always done. Go create your "art" and go exercise your "control" over all parameters you have in your infinite wisdom determined are essential to "true photography."

Why not do all this "creating" and "artistry" and "real photography" locked up in some place you can proclaim as your "studio" or maybe do some landscape "work" someplace that's a safe distance from civilisation? Hell, wear a berret while you're at it.

There are those that don't care whether you proclaim yourselves the "real photographers" or anything else. There are those that are not threatened by something new or different. And nobody needs your approval.

Bye!

2 upvotes
Martin87

Sony ericsson K750 was my first cameraphone with 2 megapixels

0 upvotes
mermaidkiller

Indeed.

I have a Galxy Note 2 which camera I just use for scanning documents for adequate pdf's. For other photos I use my Poweshot S100 which is very portable and has a better sensor and 5x zoom.
Camera phones are the new Instamatics: adequate pictues with enough light, no zooming, but with low light crappy pictures.

0 upvotes
Timmbits

Shake-prone, shutter-lag eternity, and looks like sh!t... no thanks!

This just does photography a disservice.

BECAUSE everyone has a phone, less people are carrying actual cameras with them, is what I get from this. And because of this, there are some amazing opportunities that are muddied up with really crappy image non-quality.

Like I said: No thanks! I'll just carry a camera around.

Comment edited 58 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Mrrowe8

OMFG what bunch of old house wife photo snobs , I heard this same "image control and real photographers wouldn't do X " crap with auto focus cameras , when color became easier to do and then digital .. Stop it ., here is the question r the images good y or n ? And for u clarity in detail ass hats .. It all depends on the intent of the body of work and device use to achieve that image .. If its questionable in focus addresses the being in the moment and seeing it with 2 eyes not become a cyclops and always looking through the lense and if its blown up so big u see the pixels wtf ? Who cares does it fit the image? That it , that all that matters .. Not this god awful stupid ass comments if crayons or paint or toy cameras by hipsters .. Seriously r the images good and like or not the days of ps cameras & dslr's r #ed .. And this crazy old idea that an image has to b printed to b a serious image is as stupid as it gets .. C'mon man r the images good or not that's it ..

3 upvotes
facedodge

No, they are not.

Comment edited 20 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Lilianna

Wow, so so boring shots of brick walls shot.with a Leica are inherently 'better' or more 'worthy' than a stunning work of photojournalism shot.with an iPhone...

Comment edited 14 minutes after posting
4 upvotes
vlad0

I've been shooting primarily with my cell phone since 2010 ... that is when I got a Nokia N8 and I just realized that I really didn't need much more than that for what I can achieve and for what I need.

Here are some samples:

http://www.dpreview.com/galleries/4016337175

Its perfectly fine for me ... can't really shoot portraits and proper macro shots, but..

Now I have a Nokia 808 and I am very happy with the results.. and the most important part is that its my smartphone, so its always with me :)

3 upvotes
Mrrowe8

Totally agree its the images intent that is important

0 upvotes
Lilianna

I agree completely... shoot quite happily with my Nokia N8, 808, and HTC One S

1 upvote
dash2k8

I'm a realist. While I agree that a fine picture can be taken with any tool, the end result still doesn't lie. Imagine Da Vinci doing the Mona Lisa with a 2B pencil on a 3" x 3" piece of paper. Would it still look great? Absolutely! But wouldn't you rather it be bigger and in color, with finer detail?

It's obvious that taking great pictures isn't fully dependent on camera gear, but I don't fully agree with the romanticized notion that a phone can do a great job most of the time. It'd be like trying to cover the Olympics with a Polaroid. Limitations are limitations.

Small-time slowed down moments in time, yes. Usain Bolt going 100mph to break his own record, no way.

2 upvotes
Lilianna

Thank you for the rational post!
I would not try wildlife or sports photography with my Nokia but I can and do use my 808 for scenic and street work very happily.

0 upvotes
spencerberus

What you don't note is that the Mona Lisa doesn't have extremely fine detail, not the kind you get with a high end camera & lens - in photo terms its fairly low resolution, not what would be considered 'tack sharp'. Very few paintings are, yet they are works of art. So your argument works both ways.

1 upvote
king_arthur

Take any positive comments below and post it in dpreview forum and I bet you a mediocre $xxxx camera owner who called themselves photographer is going to make you feel like an idiot

0 upvotes
Mrrowe8

Naaa most of the "photographers " on DP forums are blow hards that actually sound like bitchy little people that font get noticed

3 upvotes
RaZZ3R Death

Actually I got into photography because a phone, started to take pictures with a Sony Ericsson P990i and I couldn't stop my self I loved it so much .... and then I upgraded to an DSLR after I couldn't do the photos they way I wanted because the limitation of technology. I will never forget my 2MP Autofocus camera witch, ironically, made me fall in love for the bokeh and macro.

0 upvotes
Michal Daniel

This article touches my core interests as well!

I started a similar project in 2001, with the 0.3 megapixel Eyemodule2 camera for the Handspring PDA. I finished the project ten years later. Here are the thousands of keepers:

http://www.640x480.net

Some of this work was featured at BURN:

http://www.burnmagazine.org/essays/2009/05/michal-daniel-in-your-face/

And funny you should mention the 41 megapixel Nokia 808 PureView, which is my present love:

http://www.proofsheet.com/808/

Long live phone photography! :-)

Michal

5 upvotes
TacticDesigns

Love your captures!

1 upvote
Michal Daniel

Thanks! :-)))

0 upvotes
Michal Daniel

Forgot to link the PDN article:

http://tinyurl.com/dxxxqnf

http://tinyurl.com/cqgk3ck

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Pedrocas

Some of my favourite photos have been taken with a phone. Completely agree. If you break down the photo into it's many elements you can get, time, place, situation, mood, light, camera, lens etc. So many variables in the mix. It's completely sound that you can take great photos on the mobile. But a probability that the quality will be lower, that's all.

2 upvotes
maboule123

What a beautiful man! His works still inspire present generations, no matter the area of artistic expression he chooses to touch. I didn't know he toyed with imagery. I have a serious suspicion about his artistic drive: Maybe for him Life is STILL a Cabaret...
God bless you Joel!!

0 upvotes
Rod K

Can"t decide where this would look best. Perhaps on the coffee table , or maybe in the art room alongside half an animal in formaldehyde by Mr. Hirst, or the unmade bed by Ms. Emin.
Oh no, now I've given I've given it "status"!

1 upvote
skiphunt13

I would take a soft, gritty, finely composed image of great subject matter with soul... over a state-of-the-art Monter-MP dSLR pristine image of banal, generic scenes I've already seen a thousand times any day of the week.

If what gets you off is the resolution itself, and the subject matter is secondary... then you're a fan of tech... not of art.

2 upvotes
unknown member
By (unknown member) (Nov 16, 2012)

Beauty...truth...art are all in the eye of the beholder. If you convey a message or emotion through a physical medium, no matter what sense it utilizes for perception, you have created art. Good or bad depends on a river of time and circumstances over millenia of history that no human can possibly comprehend. That's why we like the idea of God, because we want something to be able to comprehend what we cannot. I recently heard a good riddle. Why do you never see the same river twice? Because it's always moving.

0 upvotes
Rod K

The quote "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like" used to be the mark of a philistine. Now it appears to be the mark of the "artist".

1 upvote
Billx08

I didn't watch the interview until after reading the comments, so I was surprised that Joel Grey came across so much more reasonable than he's being portrayed in the comments. You all should have known that he knows his stuff because even though he's not a techie, he's long been more than an actor. Ever since Cabaret, he's also been a camera.

> "Cabaret", both the show and film, are based upon the 1951 Broadway play "I Am a Camera", which was based upon Christopher Isherwood's book "Goodbye to Berlin" which is part of "The Berlin Stories." That book begins with the quote, "I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking."
http://robertwilliamsofbrooklyn.blogspot.com/2012/02/cabaret-with-liza-minnelli-joel-grey.html

And by the way, the interview wasn't "with New York radio station WNYC", but with WNYC's Leonard Lopate. Here's a link to the full, nearly 14 minute audio interview :
http://www.wnyc.org/shows/lopate/2009/jul/28/

1 upvote
Erin Lodi

Thank you for finding the full interview! Lopate's program is on the station, but we'll try to clarify that.

0 upvotes
vlad0

I am getting "page not found" on that link ..

0 upvotes
jm67

I've always felt, under the appropriate circumstances, that a crummy picture, noisy picture (but never oof picture) is usually better than no picture. This is not one of those times. Some will like these, some won't and I'm in the later category. And life goes on. I'm sure Joel wouldn't like some of my pics either so we're even. Oh, and I'm so tired of everything getting labeled as art. As if somehow junk can be lifted to the heights of the gods when someone labels it "art". Again, some may think these are "artful" and some not. As for me...meh.

3 upvotes
larrytusaz

Don't worry Joel Grey. In the 80s Don Johnson was a big-name actor ("Miami Vice") & decided to try out singing ("Heartbeat"). That didn't work out too well, but he's still a good actor.

So you're a good actor.

If the rest of us are "snobs," oh well--judging by the comments I've seen so far, I guess I'm hardly alone--there seems to be plenty of "snobs" out there. I guess people who are skilled in the culinary arts are "snobs" because they dismiss the idea of someone calling themselves a "chef" when all they've done is zap a Hot Pocket.

You want to "overcome snobbery?" Then learn how to use a real camera, even an entry-level one like a Canon T4/1100D or Olympus PEN. Be dedicated enough to ALWAYS, ALWAYS have one with you, ALWAYS, no excuses. Be willing to learn lighting techniques. THEN you will EARN the respect of "snobs" everywhere.

You're a good actor, Joel Grey. I guess you're such a good actor, you can even act like a photographer on the side pretty well.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 5 minutes after posting
6 upvotes
Sdaniella

fact remains... tiny sensor w/ tiny lens, and tiny APERTURES ensures the characteristics of photos remain strictly VERY HI-DOF, except in 'extreme' macro modes. this is similar to the EXACT SAME PARALLEL in FILM ERA... the ubiquitous DISPOSABLE TINY APERTURED (even if FF) FILM CAMERAS... great for FOCUS-FREE highly DEEP DOF 'snap-shot' photography... could great photographers extract great images from them!!! YOU BET THEY COULD!!! But no one disputes the fact that such images SUFFER from LIMITATIONS of the lens/aperture available on such tiny cameras. DITTO, PHONE CAMERAS. No doubt, if the Mp is too small, there is a lot less choice on flexibility of 'creative crop' or very limited UPSIZING without getting TOO PIXELLY, but mostly DOWNSIZING... with a so-so 'snapshot' look to it, little effort is involved, as the controls for such cameras are still sparse compared to full sized bells-n-whistles digital cameras, with broader Lens/Zoom options.

NOTHING wrong w/ mass appeal HI-DOF images!

0 upvotes
facedodge

These photos are terrible. Not because they are 1.3 MP but because they are bad photos.

This reminds me of the modern art junk where people throw paint at the wall and then smell each other's smug farts.

7 upvotes
dark goob

Just because you argue a point, doesn't mean you're right, or even close to right.

Starting off with an ad hominem attack (calling the people who disagree with you snobs) does not start your argument off well, either.

Could it be that crappy, low resolution phone pictures are never as good as the same exact picture if taken with a better camera?

Anyone remember the Fisher Price audio-cassette-based toy video camera craze from a few years back, which was another one of these hipster-fueled manias where crappy quality somehow became cool? Why not go ahead and argue that 10FPS 320x200 bad video from these phones is also an art form.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Mark Roberts

Sure, you can do art with crayons too.... does that mean it's to be considered in the same category as oil painting?

4 upvotes
TomJD

Well...yes, it does. Similar arguments have been made about whether photography should be considered as art the way painting is. Or if so, whether digital prints (inkjet, thermal, etc.) could be considered in the same category as silver halide. The question about art isn't whether it was done in a certain way or with a certain media, but the object it creates and the impact this has on the observer. Not all art is successful, however.... perhaps that's the question that should be asked in evaluating Mr. Grey's work, rather than how he did it.

5 upvotes
Mrrowe8

Actually yes it should .. Us it better in image and artistic feel .. So yeah a crayon image can b beter then a painting

0 upvotes
PhotoKhan

I don't get it...So these humdrum photos become special because they were captured with a 1.3MP camera...!?

PK

6 upvotes
TacticDesigns

I like what he says at about the 1:00 mark about being in the moment. And I love how it ends!

2 upvotes
Total comments: 44
About us
Sitemap
Connect