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Staying in touch with mobile photography

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Each week, brother and sister Joel Tarling and Zoe Jazz exchange mobile photos with each other as a way to visually keep in touch, like this image of burlesque dancers at a small reggae show on Gertrude St. Photo by Zoe Jazz.

Here at DPReview Connect we continue to be amazed at the rapid growth of connected photography all around the world.  The mobile photo sharing app Instagram, which just passed its the two-year anniversary, is now attracting more new users per day than Twitter.  While many people are sharing their images with ever larger numbers of followers on Instagram and other social sharing sites, others choose to exchange photos with a select few friends and family members, using their images to “keep in touch” with loved ones rather than attract audiences for their work. 

Brother and sister Joel Tarling (a 34-year-old graphic designer based in Sydney) and Zoe Jazz (a 24-year-old account manager in Melbourne) are one such pair using mobile photography in this way. The siblings email one another sets of photographs each has snapped to keep each other in the loop. It’s an alternative to lengthy email updates or phone calls or impersonal Facebook contact—and also a subversion of the general aim of social sharing sites to share everything with everyone. 

Since moving to Melbourne last year, Zoe found it was increasingly difficult to stay in contact with her elder brother. According to Zoe, “We’d go for three weeks without talking, then call each other and talk for an hour and a half talk to catch up on three weeks. It was pretty full on as neither of us really had that time to put into a phone conversation.” 

For Joel’s part, Facebook had become “an impersonal way of communicating,” and around this time he began emailing friends and family a series of five pictures with the subject “Things I See.”

“It was five photos,” he notes, “because that [was] the maximum number you can attach on an iPhone email.” Based on this idea, Zoe suggested that she and Joel take turns to send each other five photos on a regular basis, snapping personal observations or details from daily life. “We are both visual people,” Joel says, “and both being busy, it’s a great way to see what we are up to and share our lives with each other.”

Here is part of Joel’s recent series sent to Zoe:

Our Vietnamese neighbour had a party and surprised me by knocking on our door to give us a plate of BBQ seafood.
Wisteria flowers decorate a Newtown house.
An Australian cuckoo bird has moved into the pine tree on our street. It is the little black blob on the top left of the tree.
Font inconsistency at Central Station. Photo series by Joel Tarling.

Sitting down with Zoe in a local Melbourne café, I ask her about the types of photos she shares with her brother Joel.

“When we lived together in Sydney,” she recalled, “we’d often go for a walk and point out cool things.”

It’s the same impulse that guides her now: “I’ll be walking down the road and see really beautiful street art and take the photo and send it to Joel.” 

In terms of choosing which photos to send, Zoe says that it depends on what’s going on in her life that week. “Most of the time I take the photo with the intention of sending it to Joel. Sometimes it’s a bit of street art, a birthday, a party we went to, a concert—all different events.  Other times it’s a series of five.”

 When asked what has been her favourite series of five images, Zoe tells me that she often documents different activities, such as making a new veggie patch in the garden or cooking a meal so that her brother can see the process and the effort that went into it.  

“We made our own bookshelves a couple of days ago and it was the whole process, buying the material, painting them, putting them all together and the final one with all our stuff on it," she said. "It was a real story.” 

James being manly at Bunnings.
Micah popped round to drop off some stuff and ended up helping.
I spent the afternoon painting in the sun. It was nice chatting to Amber on the phone while painting.
The shelves in use. Photo series by Zoe Jazz.

When asked which photo of Joel’s she finds particularly memorable, she recalls, “There is one very memorable photo that he took of someone’s front porch … There was this coffee table made from a flat screen, big bottomed television, sitting upright -- it was just a really nice set up. He was like ‘Wow, that is such a great way to reuse an old TV!’”

 Photo by Joel Tarling.

When I emailed the same question to Joel—asking which of Zoe’s photographs he found most special or memorable—he replied: “I think they are all special, because I can watch her garden growing, the food she cooked, her woodwork projects, fancy dress parties or recent bargains. She and her fiancé, James, scored a wheelchair from an op shop which they use as a lounge room chair. I look forward to the next series because it's always interesting to see what she has been up to.”

Planting veggies in the garden.
From the garden. Photo by Zoe Jazz.

Zoe also tells me that the regular exchange of photos has helped them get through some difficult times over the course of the last year or so. She explains that Joel’s young daughter was diagnosed with a heart condition earlier in the year and spent many months in hospital.

 Zoe visiting Libby and Joel in hospital. Photo by Zoe Jazz.

“Sending each other photos helped Joel escape from the hospital a bit,” Zoe recalls. “We made a point not to send each other photos that related to his daughter… [Instead] he’d go for walks and take photos of the park nearby with a river and nice scenery with beautiful gardens and it was a really good way to escape it as well.  And I’d send him photos of things I’d been doing … because when stuff gets really heavy, it’s really hard to talk about anything else. But, visually, it was perfect for us to keep communicating.”  

Photo by Zoe Jazz.

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