Is the iPhone Good or Bad for Photography?

Is iPhone photography art?
Is iPhone photography art?
diloz via Flickr

These days, anyone with a smart phone is an amateur photographer. Or at least they think they are. Don't get us wrong, we overuse Instagram filters as much as the next person, but we're starting to wonder how this technology is affecting one of our favorite art forms.

And we're not the only ones who are curious. First Studio Gallery had a show called "iPhoneography" last month, and MonOrchid is hosting a similarly themed exhibition "Social Photography: An experiment with virtual and physical space" in December.

With the question becoming more pronounced, we figured it was time for another round of Questionable Content. So we asked some of our favorite photography buffs about how the iPhone is impacting photography as art. Whether you use your iPhone for creating art or for taking pictures of your cat, you'll want to hear what they had to say.

See also: 10 Metro Phoenix Artists to Follow on Instagram

Timothy Archibald Award-Winning Photographer who recently took over the Smithsonian Instagram account

Things are moving awfully fast these days in the world of photography, but hasn't it always been that way?

Photography always had the reputation of the "easy medium," meaning that the entry point was fairly accessible, especially in relation to the other arts like painting, sculpture, theatre, any of the big ones really. This allowed it to be the art of the people -- something very popular, but maybe also something not taken as seriously as other arts.

And now we have this hand held device that really does all the retouching for you...these things look great, and the fact that it is always on the photographer just seems to be giving us glimpses of little moments we haven't had access to before. Undeniably fascinating.

So... now what? Like tossing a rock into a lake, you need to step back and see the ripples, see the waves, see what is hit by the water and what grows from where it all lands. Goofy metaphor, but I think it is appropriate. The camera phone is not going to go away, but it's too early to really see what it killed, and what it birthed. Right now I think we just follow it.


Bill Jenkins
Bill Jenkins

William Jenkins Professor of Photography, ASU

The iPhone is an incredible device! I use mine all the time to make pictures for all kinds of reasons. I do my "serious" photography with a large camera but I often visit the scene of a future picture and use the iPhone to make test pictures so I can think about the best way to approach the work later.

The iPhone is just another tool. Artists are using it and will continue to use it. Your mention of exhibitions you have seen is proof of that. It's become a primary tool for artists who use the Internet. What's not to like?

Carol Panaro-Smith Program Director, Art Intersection

The democratization of photography, and for that matter, all art forms, has reached an all time high since the advent of digital technology. Does this mean everyone is a photographer, poet, or musician? Perhaps the answer is yes. The world is shifting from a culture of scarcity to a more democratic playing field, allowing a broader definition of what is deemed worthy of the sacred word -- ART.

In the end, it's never the wand but the magician who creates the magic. iPhones are simply another tool in the ever expanding and all embracing lexicon of creative endeavor. I say, "Bring it on."


Bucky Miller
Bucky Miller

Bucky Miller Local Photographer

I think it is too early to say, but I predict that the effect will be positive overall. It seems possible that the photograph-as-art has seen its technical status quo shift more frequently in a more concentrated period of time than any other mode of human expression. The gates stormed by Kodachrome and years later by digital cameras stand little chance against a technology as user-friendly as the iPhone, and I think the medium is better for it! Without exception, the image is far more important to me than the process of its rendering; a tired picture made as a daguerreotype is no more exciting for the difficulty of the process and a compelling photograph made with a phone can easily overcome its technical shortcomings. Proof can be found in the work of my friend Mike Williams, who is primarily photographing with his phone now and recently exhibited a wild, perplexing sequence of that work at the Art Museum of Los Gatos. The photographs are clearly made with a phone; the prints are small and the resolution is questionable. But they work because they are driven by their content, by the same insatiable probing of the American scene that Mike has addressed with all sorts of cameras.

If the credibility of phone photography should be questioned, it is because pictures like Mike's are the minority. Far too often I've seen exhibits of iPhone work where the prints are slathered with the same bizarre and nonsensical filters that are popularized by downloadable apps. While I've never understood these canned modifiers, which often strive for some sort of 'film-like' quality and end up looking like exactly what they are, they have never actually bothered me on, say, Instagram (side note: I love Instagram. I think it is a fun and funny tool for a pretty essential form of nonsense). But when printed those filters inject the composition with a huge dose of unintentional irony that is difficult to move beyond. I would be much more excited by these types of photographs if they weren't trying to be something they are not. What they are, cell phone photographs, is miraculous enough!

The reassuring thing about all of this photography business is that the new technologies always seem to leave room for what they displace. I like digital cameras. I have friends who would rather give up photography altogether than give up film and others who risk their health mixing chemistry for processes that are over 100 years obsolete. It is, thankfully, all part of the conversation.

See also: Five Photo Manipulation Apps for iPhone/iPad

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