Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Is Capturing Images with Phones Real Photography?

water macro photograph © John Baswell

I grew up with a dark room in my house.  My dad was (and continues to be) a black and white film photographer.  He hasn't sold many of his prints (by choice - he says that he knows himself and that his passion for the medium would be greatly diminished if it became a job or obligation), but he takes it very seriously.  And although he owns a digital camera and a phone capable of taking pictures, he refuses to use them for anything beyond capturing everyday photos of family and "non-serious" occasions.  In his opinion, when you're creating art, you use film.  Period.  I'm not sure if he knows what Instagram is, but I'm 100% certain that he would laugh it off.  He respects my love for digital photography (which includes my iPhone), but also feels that it's a completely different medium, full of short cuts that can too easily take away from the photographer's vision.  The process of developing film, alone in his darkroom with his work, is meditation to him, and the act of over-editing by digitally manipulating images or (gasp!) quickly applying Instagram filters will never be something he practices.

Many film photographers share this opinion.  And when it comes to using phones instead of DSLRs, many serious digital photographers feel similarly.  But where is the line drawn?  Where do we make the decision to look beyond the equipment and processing to the simple fact that perhaps capturing an image is an art in itself - a way to save a moment, through the eyes only of the person snapping the picture, and to evoke human emotion through an image? 

cabbage macro photography © John Baswell

The rush of new technology that has enveloped our society, and the endless platforms where we can instantly share photos, may seem incredibly modern.  But it's really not new.  Throughout the last century advances in equipment (like the first affordable Kodak cameras 100 year ago, or Polaroids in the 1970s) has made the art of being a photographer available to everyone.  Amateur photographers have even evolved into professionals because of this easy access.  And even though taking, editing and sharing a photo with thousands in a matter of minutes (or less) may be individual to the present time, it's a concept that has, in various ways, been around well before most of our lifetimes.

River photography © John Baswell

All of this said, I recently came across a very interesting video put together by an iPhone photographer by the name of Richard Koci Hernandez.  The video is 10 minutes along, but I highly suggest watching at least a few minutes of it.  Hernandez states that we should "embrace photography, as it exists now. And let's continue to find our individual voice, perspectives, stories and style, regardless of the medium."  Hernandez has a huge following on Instagram.  But he's also a serious photographer who spent 15 years working as a photojournalist.  Oh yeah, and he also won an Emmy award for his multimedia production work, and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize twice. No big deal.  Although I have a profound respect and admiration for film photography, sincerely hope that it never becomes a lost art, and do feel that it is its own medium, I agree with Hernandez's views.

click here to watch directly on youtube

What are your thoughts on film vs digital vs phone photography?  Do you think they should be equally respected, or is one better than the others? 

(All photographs © John Baswell. That's my pops!  All rights reserved.)

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  1. I am a photo enthusiast myself. I use film from time to time, my SLR, and I use my iPhone. When you capture a photo, you are capturing that moment, at that point in time. It is a still memory. Whether you use your iPhone, or a SLR, you make the photo what it is, not the device you take it on. Thank you for sharing this.
    - Darianne

  2. I really liked this, and that video essay was awesome. I use a whole bunch of different cameras now, but I started with black and white film in the darkroom back in high school. I think film and digital are different, but certainly one isn't better than another. Being a family portrait photographer I always tell my clients "the only bad photo is one that isn't taken". I know how much my childhood photos mean to me, so anything that makes it easier for people to capture their lives the better, I think. Do what makes you happy. :)

  3. Amazing! I still have my film SLR that I love and adore. I still get the film "developed" but instead of developing it, I have them put the images on a disc for me. In all honesty, who has the room for photos and albums anymore? Keeping them on a hard drive is so much easier (and finite) now!

  4. First off, I want to say that your dad's work is AMAZING!!! I love that last shot of the water and rocks...Beautiful! I have always wanted to take a photography class and learn about film photography and the dark room! It's always interested me.
    I don't have a really nice DLSR (it's on my wishlist), and I only ever had a really simple point-and-shoot 35mm camera (OK, a nice camera was always on my wishlist) before digital. But no matter HOW you take a photo, it's still a photo - a moment in time captured to keep. I don't have a nice phone (but my daughter has an iPhone) and Instagram is just too dang fun!!! I almost want to get a phone, JUST so I can use Instagram! With your dad's love of film photography, I understand it's difficult to love any other type of photography, especially since he is SO GOOD at what he does! One day, though, he might want to just try it out - photography with his phone - and I'm sure his artistry with his phone would be just as great as with film.
    (Sorry I wrote a book!)
    from Blogging Buddies

  5. I think there is something really special about using film but I do think phone pictures can be real photography too!! That video is super cool. :-)

  6. I have been into photography since I was in Junior High School, was in the Photography Club in high school, took some darkroom courses in college so I really loved taking pictures as a hobby. I was pretty stubborn about Digital cameras at first too (am I showing my age because I'm feeling old now!) but I warmed up to it, same with Instagram. I think no matter what device you use, it's still your art. Just like there's many styles of writing, there's many styles of photography. I celebrate anyone who puts thought into capturing an image and telling it's story no matter what instrument they use.

  7. Hi!

    I have been inspired by your blog for a while now and I just realized that you were from Chicago. I am also a Chicago-based blogger, check out my blog about the adventures of me as a beginner seamstress if you'd like. :)

    Thanks for an inspiring blog!

  8. Hi! I had this conversation a few times... As a lot of things in this world, we use them because it´s the easiest way... My opinion is that the magic of old cameras will never, never, never exist with the digital stuff... off course it´s you and your point on view in each digital photo, but now when I see a picture I think "It´s nice, it´s good" but with old cameras i think " how the hell he took this picture??". Now everything I see i think it might be manipulated, back then, sometimes it may be a lucky shot that made an amazing picture but you knew YOU took that SPECIFIC shot with that specific light (and sometimes even with some luck:) Having said that... of coarse I use digital photos and instagram, but even with this I try no to manipulate to much the photos...

    1. I think that this is a GREAT point. But even film photographers do manipulate the original captures (negatives) in the darkroom while developing. My dad feels that the developing and enlarging process is as much a part of the art as the moment he snapped the photo. I agree with you though that there is something incredibly raw about film photography that (in most cases) just doesn't translate to the digital world. xo, m

    2. I love film photography! It really makes you focus on what you're shooting and your knowledge of the equipment. Luck does play a good part as well ;) but really knowing and following your instincts can produce some amazing images! To me, it's not what you use to take the picture, it's the person doing the shooting. :) Art comes in many forms and is even more special coming from the heart.

  9. I think each format is it's own separate thing...sort of like comparing illustrations done on the computer with hand drawn. They each have their own merits and it's difficult to lump into one big category of "photography." Of course, I could never agree with people who think that film cameras are "irrelevant" in the digital age or vice versa, film photographers who think digital images have lost all the art or magic of photographs taken with film cameras. What it really comes down to is the person, the artist, behind the equipment and their perspective on the world.

  10. Art is in the eye of the beholder-- it does no good if we start applying limitations on what should be the ultimate in freedom of expression. Most artists would agree the justice system should not determine what is and isn't art, so why should artists put themselves in the judge's seat?
    Lets try to leave the artistic realm free smugness and constructed limitations & just enjoy the art~*

  11. I love the video and agree with everything that was said. We're all entitled to our preferences, but I think the end result is what matters. Personally, I love living in a time when some many people are embracing art and photography and finding an outlet to express themselves!

  12. Thanks so much everybody! I'm always grateful for comments from readers, but truly thoughtful comments like these where we're able to have an actual discussion mean the most. It's really cool seeing the different opinions and your various takes on the film/digital/phone 'debate.' xo, m

  13. Like others have said, I think digital and film photography need to be considered separate mediums. It doesn't make one better than the other, just different. There are good and bad about both.

    That being said, I think digital photography can absolutely be used to capture "real" art. The best picture I ever took was with a regular old point and shoot!

  14. Love this article. Have thought about this myself. Your dad's pictures are amazing. I also agree with Hernandez when he says art is capturing the moment and it's how it make you feel. Art is creating an emotion. Whether it's painting, sculpture, popscicle sticks or photography. At least that is my 2 cents! Great topic and great post! Thanks for sharing the's amazing!


  15. sis,
    i really enjoyed this post, and it's so interesting to see how it's evolved. people get offended when others call themselves photographers, but I guess it's just easier now than it was, especially when dealing with lighting, etc. I still think it has to be accepted for what it is in this present moment, and i couldnt agree with you more

  16. I love this post. I am dealing with similar questions now in the photography classes I am in as well as what road I want to take down photography. I love your blog and I am glad I found it. I am your newest follower!
    Almost Endearing

  17. I myself am a film photographer. I have loved it since the day my dad showed me how to load a 35mm camera. but i go to a school, columbia college chicago, where film is dying. they are getting rid of wet darkrooms and embracing all digital. i am not saying digital is bad, i also shoot digital at times, but its not true photography in my eyes. each has its advantages and disadvantages. but film gets more negatives then digital. its not fair to us who are passion film lovers and still find the most comfort in a darkroom then staring at a computer screen for hours at a time.



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