Friday, August 17The Voice of London

Zooming In On iPhoneography

iPhones have dominated the world of mobile photography from the day they arrived. But what makes this art form so popular?  

Words: Tenelle Ottley-Matthew. Subeditor: Julia Tsilman

If you’re an Instagram user then you’ve probably heard someone scoff at some point that “Instagram makes everyone think they’re a photographer!”. Those kind of statements tend to be muttered by real, professional photographers who feel that they are a step above slapping an Amaro filter on a photo for fun, like many of us folk. The thing is, the above statement could arguably be applied to iPhones too, which is partly due to the growth of what we now know as iPhoneography.

iPhoneography is a serious thing and it has been for a while. The (wait for it) annual iPhone Photography Awards (IPPAWARDS) has been running since 2007, the same year Apple released the very first iPhone, and it’s the longest photography competition of its kind. Yes, iPhone photographers from around the globe can submit their snaps – I mean, work – to the competition and the best images are selected by a jury. An actual jury.

Three years ago, the first iPhone photography course was launched in the UK thanks to Kensington and Chelsea College. For five weeks, and at a cost of £115, students learned various skills and techniques that enabled them to “create and capture stunning images using just their iPhone camera and a selection of sophisticated apps”.

It seems that the interest in mobile photography soared the day iPhone came into existence. But I’m still keen to find out what exactly makes iPhone cameras supposedly superior to other mobile phone cameras. I’ll admit that when I bought my iPhone 6 at the beginning of 2015, I was genuinely convinced for a moment that my photo-taking abilities would now be immensely transformed because of it. I soon realised that this wasn’t necessarily the case. Just because I’m a proud iPhone owner doesn’t mean I know more about photography or how to take a great pictures. Even so, every year numerous articles and blogs pop up promising us that the newest iPhone model will make us take amazing photos. Really? I don’t buy it. Of course, improved sensors and higher resolutions obviously make for better image quality overall but I’m not sure iPhones can make photographers out of us. It sounds like a bit of a stretch.

Yet scrolling through the IPPAWARDS galleries is very interesting. Many of the winning images are incredibly striking. Some are stunning. It’s not easy to tell which ones were taken by professional or amateur photographers as the standard of the photos are sky high. Fashion photography and photojournalism are some of the areas that have taken advantage of iPhoneography. Two years ago, Vogue magazine shot a fashion editorial on Instagram using just an iPhone and the results were rather impressive. And who can forget Damon Winter? In 2009, the New York based photographer won a Pulitzer Prize for his Hipstamatic iPhone photographs of the war in Afghanistan.

There’s no denying the creativity that iPhoneography offers to artists and photography enthusiasts. A good example of this is a 21-year-old East Londoner who goes by the name of Imani Kahlo. Her recent photo edits, inspired by Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ video are some of the coolest images I’ve come across lately. She seamlessly combined stills from Sean Paul’s ‘I’m Still In Love’ video with ‘Hotline Bling’, which is fitting because, ironically, Sean Paul’s video inspired Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ visuals.

Source: Imani Kahlo

A lot of Imani’s edits have a grainy quality that entices you to look at and absorb each image for several moments. Her multi-layered edits illustrates the level of creativity she possesses and exercises through iPhoneography. They come across as being more than photographs and going a little beyond photography. Her use of colour and the positioning of text on top of juxtaposed images produce work that’s unique and remarkable – it’s almost hard to believe she uses nothing more than an iPhone to achieve it. I would like to see more work like hers because it embodies what the art of iPhoneography is about.

Source: Imani Kahlo
Source: Imani Kahlo

It’s really good that iPhone camera has unleashed many people’s creativity and heightened their interests in photography, but I think it’s unwise to place too much value on the device or hope that it can single-handedly give us outstanding photography skills. The principles of photography still remain and the traditional elements such as composition, lighting and exposure shouldn’t be overlooked as technology continues to develop. Knowing how to make your smartphone photos look amazing is one thing, but not everyone understands how to turn that knowledge into works of art which could end up being exhibited in galleries or sold as prints. And do you know what? That’s absolutely fine. By all means, have fun and play around with the technology that’s available to you. But if you’re someone that would like to take mobile photography seriously, the phone in your hand and apps on that phone won’t help you get there alone. Try and educate yourself first.