Ansel Adams Meets Apple: The Camera Phone Craze in Photography

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mobile-phone photography. “The Relentless Eye,” a two-month juried exhibit of hundreds of mobile-phone photos launching today at the Helen Day Art Center in Stowe, VT, is just the latest tribute to the craft.

Amidst all this fuss, it needs to be said that mobile phone cameras have their limitations. They usually have tiny sensors, meaning they have fewer pixels to work with than dedicated cameras. And they have small, fixed lenses that don’t let in very much light, so it’s hard to capture moving objects or to get clear images in low-light conditions. There are times when quality and performance really do count; if the best camera is the one you have with you, then I’m really glad the Apollo astronauts took Hasselblads to the moon, and not iPhones.

Popular photos from the Best Camera communityBut if you spend some time looking through the iPhone photos that Jarvis and other users of his app have snapped, you quickly realize that art is often about turning limitations into inspirations. In my personal experience, the iPhone camera produces pictures that are relatively grainy and splotchy; bright light sources have a tendency to bleed across images, and you get glows and haloes where none existed in real life. But many of Jarvis’s own shots use these odd effects to beautiful advantage. I can’t show any of them here due to copyright restrictions, but there’s a cool gallery at his site, and Jarvis has collected a whole bunch of his iPhone shots into a 256-page, $20 softcover book entitled, naturally, The Best Camera Is The One That’s With You. (You can order it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble; ads for the volume are built into the iPhone app and the community site, which is part of what makes the whole campaign so clever. But be warned as you explore Jarvis’s photos, writings, and videos: he isn’t exactly short on confidence or ego.)

The newest iPhone model, the 3GS, has video recording capabilities as well as a still camera, so a whole culture of iPhone videographers is now sprouting up. But I’m stuck with a 3G for now (AT&T won’t let me upgrade until December), so I’ll have to wait for a while to start hacking around in that community. By the way, I’m aware that this column may sometimes sound like it’s “all iPhone, all the time”—but the truth is that the iPhone is simply the best consumer-level platform these days for creative digital experimentation, so I can’t help myself. If the rumors about an Apple tablet device are true, I’m going to be spending a lot of time writing about that in 2010. Next week, though, I promise to write about something non-Apple-related. Probably.

For a full list of my columns, check out the World Wide Wade Archive. You can also subscribe to the column via RSS or e-mail.

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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