Friday, May 16, 2008

Camera Phone Photographs as Art?

Written by Eki Qushay Akhwan

Put the key words “Camera Phone Photography” in Google search engine and you’ll get nearly 3.5 million results. Change the word “camera” with “cellular,” and Google will bring you more than double the results of the first search: 7.4 millions! Dare to change the word “cellular” with “mobile”? I don’t think I need to tell you what the number of the relevant results will be. You can try it on your own. But, warn you, it’s going to be a lot higher!

If these numbers tell anything, this is what I think it means: Mobile, cellular, or camera phone photography has become a phenomenon of the day in the world of photography. Accept it as a fact: Smaller and multi-functional gadgets will increasingly become the widgets of choice for photographers.

Thanks to its light-weight and increasingly more versatile features, cellular phone camera, which used to be a mere accessory to the mobile communication device a couple of years ago, is now becoming a more noteworthy contender to its bulkier conventional siblings. It’s no longer considered only as a toy for the uninitiated in photography – teens who want to have fun taking narcissistic pictures of themselves and their friends or holidaymaker snap shooters who want to share the good times they have with loved ones at home. More and more serious photographers are now experimenting and exploring the possibilities of using camera phones for more serious projects like producing art works. A photo exhibition held not so long ago by a certain photographer Patrice Elmi at a Los Angeles gallery or Thomas Krueger’s (a Seattle, Washington-based art photographer) experiment to create beautiful photographs using camera phones are probably just tiny symptoms that will become a more and more common practice in the near future.

The bulk of photographs produced with camera phones has also convinced many photo sharing websites such as Flickr ( to put them into a category on its own. A quick browse in this group of pictures (more than 1.2 millions of them at the time this article was written) would reveal a variety comparable to other categories taken with “camera proper” devices (Pocket Digital Camera, DSLR, film). While most of them are of snap shot quality (this is also true for pictures taken with “camera proper” devices), quite a few – in my opinion – are actually very beautiful and can strongly make it into the fine art category.

Pictures produced with camera phones do still have some limitations, at least for now. Lack of interchangeable lens and sophisticated flash system as well as the limited power of the lenses’ optical zoom power are some of the challenging factors that serious photographers still have to deal with in using camera phone for serious works. However, with the phenomenal technological development in this area and with the market demand so high, chances are that these features will soon be made available by the big players in the industry. Furthermore, like what Elmi and Krueger have shown, limited gear power should not deter serious photographers from making the most of what’s available to them. With keen observation and creative application of photography principles, great works are not impossible to make even with limited equipment. If our predecessors of great photographers can teach any lessons at all, technological limitations are not a valid reason for not being able to create great works. Photography as art, after all, is not about the power of gadget; it’s about the power of creativity and vision!

Picture captions:
All the pictures above were taken with low-resolution, VGA camera phone of Sonny Ericsson W200i. Are they any good? Only you can tell.

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