Cell Phone as a Digital Art Tool

Written by Jazmin Medrano. Translated by Madeline Olszak & Jazmin Medrano

Original article published in Spanish: Teléfono celular como herramienta de arte digital  [Chicagonoticias.com]

Packard Plant by MonkOne

Cell phones have undoubtedly changed the way we do things today. They are no longer used simply to make phone calls, but to do a wide range of things from organizing an agenda to shopping. While for some people cell phones remain solely a communication device, the multiple functions cell phones now feature has made them a useful, and essential tool for many. For those with imagination, the cell phone has become a means of personal expression and artistic creativity.

Professional photographers now opt to use their cell phone cameras to capture the spontaneity of the moment and have consequently given birth to a new art form: mobile photography.

This new movement involves a broad range of individuals like Monk One and Tim Hara, professional photographers in Chicago, who have been using their iPhones to become story tellers who employ their talent and passion to artistically document their surroundings and share them globally.

Monk One and Hara both agree that the iPhone’s app, Instagram, has inspired them to immerse themselves in mobile photography. Monk One says he has been taking photos with his cell phone camera for a long time, and that he actually owned a Sanyo flip, one of the first cell phones with a camera. But it was not until the arrival of the iPhone 4 that he considered his pictures a form of art. “It [iPhone] really opened the doors to the mobile photography movement. Years and years went by leading up to it, and I never saw it coming. Then, with an iPhone 4 in my hand, it all made sense,” said Monk One.

Abandoned Packard Motors Company. Detroit Michigan. Photo: Monk One

Even though there are countless numbers of Smartphones that produce magnificent images, the majority claims that the iPhone captures the best photographs. The new iPhone 4S offers a camera with 8 megapixels and advanced optics that create brighter images in any quality of light. These advantagous features have led to the creation of a new artistic movement known as iPhoneography, a term coined by the British Gly Evans referring to the device that takes these photographs.

The success of Iphoneography and mobile photography is growing daily worldwide. Artists like Monk One and Hara have created a space for mobile photography in art galeries and publications by attracting public attention through their work. Currently, the exhibition EYEPHEOGRAPHY is being held in Murcia, Spain where 8 worldwide renowned photographers show three photographs taken with their cell phones.

Millennium Park, Chicago. Photo: Tim Hara

Last October the 1197 conference, the world’s first conference about iPhone and mobile device photography, was held in San Francisco, CA presented by Bolt|Peters & Blurb. The name 1197 is in honor of the date, June 11th, 1997 when the first camera phone photograph was taken.The ability to post-produce images using a variety of applications with different filters and share them almost instantly makes the production process even more interesting and significant.

Hara points out that in addition to the concept of sharing a photo immediately after he has taken it, the option of post-production is often why he is partial to his cell phone. “Another reason I prefer my cell phone is the plethora of photo editing apps I can use.  Effects that may take a long time to achieve using expensive software on a computer can be done in seconds on the iPhone,” states Hara. The appeal of Instagram and of other Smartphone applications is that they offer the opportunity to anyone to express themselves regardless of “skill,” said Hara.

Even though we can admire mobile photographs and be moved by the emotional power and dramatic beauty they possess, there are some production limitations with regards to technical options and quality. “They’ll [Phone cameras] never satisfy the need for  a large file. Enlarge the photos to a 30”x40” print. Everything looks great on a mobile device, but not everything looks good at a large scale,” asserts Darris Lee Harris, a photography instructor at the Chicago Photography Center.

Trump International Hotel, Chicago. Photo: Tim Hara

Despite the existing limitations, Monk One and Hara continue to give free rein to their artistic aspirations and take advantage of the creative freedom that mobile cameras offer.

Abandoned Santa Fe Grain Elevator. Photo: Monk One

Monk One focuses on dark, abandoned, and inhospitable places, looking to discover evocative spaces and adventure. With his camera in hand, he embarks on an urban exploration to find a different city within the city itself. The search for abandoned spaces and unfrequented paths allows him to discover hidden treasures in forgotten places. His work shows a peculiar attraction to architecture, including structures that have fallen into disuse, industrial relics and old bridges, or “reminders of another time,” as he describes them. “I enjoy the documenting of history through exploration,” “I have a fascination with the entire American manufacturing belt. Not only documenting it through photography, but also researching and learning about the history of these places. I have photographed a couple of old factories where my ancestors worked,” explains Monk One, who comes from three generations of auto workers from Detroit and Flint, Michigan.

Chicago, Lake Michigan. Photo: Tim Hara

Hara’s work is a kind of digital diary with an emphasis on the streets of Chicago and its beautiful architecture. With the help of his cell phone camera, he shows his followers the symmetry and subtle mixture of architectural history behind the buildings’ structures. His photographs are invitations to discover the essence of Chicago’s streets and the corners of the city that few have experienced. “Things that I’m used to seeing every single day on the streets of Chicago can be fascinating to those who live on the other side of the globe,” said Hara. He emphasizes the importance of social media and apps like Instagram to his work, because he can share what he captures with others. “What good is a photograph if no one will see it?  Instagram is about sharing photography and connecting with people around the world. It is about letting people glimpse a snapshot of your life.”

Evidently, taking pictures with a cell phone is not simply a trend but a habit that has revolutionized digital photography. The emergence of mobile photography as an art form rather than a convenience has inspired and will continue to inspire Monk One and Hara to contribute their talent to the world of photography and share their striking photographs.

Chicago. Photo: Tim Hara

Without a doubt, the point and shoot of photography has become point, shoot and share. Although it is difficult to discern how far this new form of sharing stories through artistic expression will progress, the reality is that cell phones continue to amaze us daily and are revolutionizing the world of photography at an incredible rate. Mobile photography definitely has a solid presence and a promising future.

Monk One’s work can be viewed following him on Instagram: @monkone and Tim’s work on Instagram: @thara_photo. Those without the iPhone application can view Monk One’s photographs at http://web.stagram.com/n/monkone and Tim’s photographs  on his Twitter feed http://twitter.com/tharaphoto or http://web.stagram.com/n/thara_photo

One thought on “Cell Phone as a Digital Art Tool

  1. Pingback: Chicago Protagonista: Tim Hara « Jazmin Medrano

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