My first point and shoot as a kid was a 27mm film camera from Long’s Drugs that I copped for $12. It wasn’t anything hightech; essentially, it was like any other disposable camera, made non-disposable by the simple fact that you could reload the film. It had a transparent red body where you could see small bits of wire that activated the flash. That was plenty high tech for me.
But we’ve come a long way since then, haven’t we? Instead of chronicling our vacations and family get-togethers with cheap plastic cameras (or heftier analog formats, if you were more serious about it), we can now whip out cameras from our back pocket. That was definitely the main reason I switched over to a smartphone a couple years back: to take pictures and to edit them with a couple swipes.
Recently, our friend and photographer Steven Taylor traveled to Mykonos, Greece for vacation. His sidekick and witness was none other than his iPhone (surprise surprise), which he likes because it offers great image quality without lugging around heavy camera equipment. He edits his images almost exclusively with VSCO, a photo-processing app which allows you to execute basic tweaks and pick from an array of filters that mimic a subtle, nostalgic nod to analog practices. You can choose from different film presets and even the level of film grain you’d like (consider this a less terrifying and infinitely more elegant version of pixelation).
With all the images coming out of mobile photography, it can be easy to dismiss the work – there’s a strong belief out there that having a camera doesn’t make people photographers. Aside from the fact that not everyone is trying to become a professional photographer, something can be said about just practicing to get better, and also seeing things for more than meets the eye. John Cage’s composition of silence 4’33 and Rauschenberg’s White Paintings offer a lot to dig into; simple to execute, they were complex in concept. And isn’t that the magical thing about art? That its definitions can’t be wholly pinned down, and that so much of its value is held in how much you’re willing to give of yourself, how much you’re willing to see. An artist can create a work with a meaning secret to them, and someone else can walk away an entirely different revelation. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that international users of Instagram sometimes refer to the profile page as a “gallery.”
Isn’t that the magical thing about art? That so much of its value is held in how you’re willing to see.
So show me your selfies, show me your beige-wall boredom. If it doesn’t speak to me, I won’t fret because there’s more — more than enough images for everyone. Literally.
And you know what? While you’re at it, show me your portrait of your grandma at the latest family dinner. Or show me your take on seeing Greece for the first time. Show me what it felt like to hold your newborn daughter for the first time, and all of the golden moments that follow. Or don’t show me at all, even. Just shoot.