Pioneer of the New German Cinema movement in the 1970s, respected German film-maker Wim Wenders has pronounced that iPhone photography is not really photography at all. He has a point, even though I don’t entirely agree with him.
In a BBC Radio 4 interview, Wim says that the trouble with iPhone pictures is that nobody sees them. He maintains that even the people who take the pictures don’t look at them any more, and certainly don’t make prints.
It’s clear to me that the whole social media scene, with easy manipulation of shots for instant gratification, and the transient nature of most smartphone photography (not that a lot of “proper” photography doesn’t fall into the same trap) is the antithesis of traditional creative photography. The careful, thoughtful composition, the honing of a few chosen shots, the printing, the presenting, the exhibiting, all of this is alien to the modern smartphone photographer.
This is not, however, necessarily a bad thing. Some photographers (and some camera manufacturers) have complained in recent years that the smartphone has killed/is killing the traditional camera. To an extent, this is true because the smartphone is a far more convenient and usable snapshot camera than the last generation of point-and-shoot devices. When everyone has a smartphone in their pockets, why bother with a separate device that possibly produces inferior results? The smartphone has killed the low-end of the camera market but this was inevitable and has been clear for the past ten years.
Fortunately, other areas are doing well, particularly the new genre of high-end (and expensive) mirrorless compacts and system cameras. The reason for this is that the smartphone is actually supporting the camera industry. The iPhone produces undeniably excellent results with very little manual input from the user; I’ve often said that it flatters to deceive. But what it does do is persuade a whole new generation that they could be better photographers. More people than ever are taking photographs and, whether we like it or not, they are all photographers. Most important, though, is that a significant proportion of smartphone photographers soon start thinking about something better: A proper camera. It doesn’t have to be a big percentage when you consider that billions of smartphones are in use as cameras.
While I agree with Wim that the majority of iPhone output is not true photography in the general sense, it is putting new life into the world of photography. People who have talent discover that by using their phone and generating a strong passion go on to support the camera industry. They will become the next generation of talented amateurs and professionals.
In this sense, it can be argued that the iPhone has been the saviour of photography. It is the most successful Trojan horse the photography industry could have dreamed of.
What do you think? Is Wim Wenders on the ball or do you believe the smartphone is our best recruiting agent?
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