Richard Gray: Teaching iPhoneography in London
Richard Gray: Teaching iPhoneography in London by Adam Conner
A: Adam R: Richard
A: Tell me a little about yourself, your work in photography and Kensington Chelsea College.
R: I’ve been taking photos for over 20 years as an amateur. My career has been as a translator and as a manager of a translation company. So words, rather than images. But photography has always been present. In recent years, I’ve been doing live music photography semi-professionally. So I have a lot of chunky lenses and equipment, which is a great contrast to working with an iphone. It’s mind-boggling the money you can spend on big cameras, for only marginal advantages in quality or spec. I took up iphoneography about a year ago and got completely obsessed. I’ve taken part in a couple of exhibitions here in London and published my first book of photos. I’m taking a 6-month career break to focus on the course and to really go deeper into iphoneography. KCC is one of London’s leading further education colleges, offers a wide range of arts and vocational courses. It has a really good photography department that offers a broad range of photography courses, including some advanced professional courses and some very quite ground-breaking ones.
A: What got you into mobile photography?
R: Through Instagram. A friend mentioned it to me and I discovered the filters and that of course opened up the whole universe of apps. Some of the photographers on IG were also a great inspiration. Having done serious photography, I could see that a lot of people on IG have excellent eyes for a photo and also amazing creativity. People who perhaps had never done any other photography. But that’s the joy of iphoneography – it’s been a great levelling force within photography. No longer do you need to have expensive equipment to produce great work. You just need raw talent. Like everyone, I love the fact that it becomes part of your everyday life. Every moment of the day is now an opportunity for a photo. And unlike most “big” photography, which might simply end up on your PC unseen by anyone, thanks to the sharing aspect, iphoneography has a real purpose and has become a sort of social currency. But I’ve definitely noticed that it has sharpened my eye for a composition when I’m shooting live music. It’s also given me more ideas in post production and I’ve even started using some of the filters in apps to process DSLR photos – it’s much easier than using software on a Mac or PC. And now I look at my music photos as I look at my iphone photos – as the starting point for a possible new creative process.
A: How did you get the idea for the class? What sold you on the idea it could work as a college course?
R: I did a workshop on portraiture with the iphone with a great photographer called David Graham at the National Portrait Gallery and I realised there were a lot of people who had an iphone but who didn’t really know how to use the camera. I think it will work well as a live course because a key part of iphoneography is sharing ideas and interacting with others. Through various groups in London, especially IGersLondon, I’ve seen how online communities can go offline very readily. I also think people want to get out from behind their iPhones and iPads and actually interact face to face.
A: Tell me about how you approached the photography department/college? How did you sell the idea to them?
R: I’d done a couple of courses with the department and really enjoyed them and got to know the lecturers quite well. As part of my second course, I introduced iphoneography to my project. My lecturer, Robert Bloomfield, was really taken with it and encouraged me to pursue it further. Then a few months later, looking at the range of quite adventurous courses that KCC runs, and remembering my workshop experience, I wondered if the department might like the idea of an iphoneography course. So I put together a proposal and the department decided to give it a go. I think they like the idea that it’s an exciting new genre within photography and that it may be a way of attracting new talent to photography. I’ve been saying (half-jokingly) that it’s the first off-line mobile photography course in the world – but I haven’t heard of any others!
A: How has Kensington Chelsea College been promoting the program? How have you been promoting the new program personally?
R: Of course, we have to get enrollments for the course to run and as quite a groundbreaking course, people won’t necessarily be looking for it. So I’ve been putting it out on blogs and websites such as iphoneography.com and the Apple store in London have agreed to give me a workshop. Of course, a live course is quite different to an online course in that the enrollments have to be geographically local. So I’ll also be doing some local promotion in cafes and bars near the college and possibly exhibiting if I can find one that would like to show my work.
A: What kind of response are you seeing from students? Are you seeing interest from both existing photography students and students new to photography all together?
R: There’s quite a few weeks before it starts, so I don’t know what students I’ll have yet. But it will be really interesting to have a mix of people with and without photography experience. iPhoneography is a great force for democratisation within photography.
A: Is the course specifically focused on iPhoneography or mobile photography as a whole? How did you come to this decision?
R: I have to confess, I haven’t really looked at photography on other smart phones. So for the moment, it will be limited to photography with the iphone. But I would imagine that many apps are similar, so we may well open it to other phones later. But I think we are seeing a lot of blurring of boundaries. There is a lot of DSLR photography on IG, which some people dislike, but which you can’t do anything about. The lenses available for the iphone mean it’s no longer such a pure medium. And, as I’m doing, people are feeding their SLR photos back into their iphones for processing. Personally, I think the apps and the vibrant social aspect are what characterises iphoneography and I like to treat it as an independent genre. After all, you wouldn’t bring oil paintings to a water colour class.
A: How much of the course will be focused on general photography and how much on mobile photography? Do you feel it’s necessary to still build a foundation off of basic photography principles or does mobile photography require a different approach?
R: I’m aiming to be quite focused on the different techniques and tools available within the apps and leave creative development to the students. A rule of the course will be that students are their own judges of their work. So the course will aim to make them aware of all the options available to them in their creative process, to give them a really extensive toolbox of skills. But inevitably we will discuss composition, colour, light and other issues that are common to general photography.
A: Can you breakdown the curriculum for us? What areas of mobile photography will you be covering in the course?
R: It’s quite a short course, just 5 weekly 3-hour sessions, so we don’t have a lot of time. And it’s aimed at beginners so we will start with some real basics like how to get the best out of the camera and photo management. We’ll then cover some standard preset filters in apps such as Camera+ and Snapseed. Which will lead into manual editing and processing in apps such as PS Express and Filterstorm. We’ll go on to look at techniques such as blurring and cloning, then blending and collages. And lastly, we’ll have a wild session on some of the really experimental apps such as diptic and decim8. We’ll also cover printing, framing and networking. We’ll have practical exercises and practical projects as homework. And we’ll have online shows and get out and about on and offline. The exciting thing about the course though is that there is no template for it and the college has given us a very free hand to develop it as we want to.
A: What books and equipment will students be required to have for the course? Will you be creating the course text yourself?
R: Equipment required: one iphone. Again, that’s the joy of the genre. And then a budget of maybe £ (~$30 USD) for apps. Yes, I’m currently writing the course material myself, but I’ve obviously taken inspiration and ideas from some of the literature available such as Dan Marcolina’s excellent iPhone Obsessed.
A: Can you give us an idea of how things will be setup in the classroom? What technology are you using to teach the course?
R: My plan is to hook up an iPad to a large monitor to demonstrate techniques. You can use the iPad as a proxy for the iPhone. We’ll be very connected to the internet as we share photos and look at other people’s work.
A: What plans do you have for expanding the mobile photography course? Can you give us some insight into where you’d like to take the course in the next year or two?
R: We’ll see how well it goes. But I’d love to run it more than once and then maybe develop a more advanced course. But I’d like to keep it off-line. I think the IRL (in-real-life) aspect is important.
A: Where do you see mobile photography in the next 3-5 years?
R: Good question. I’ve certainly changed the way I’ve been taking mobile photographs over the last year. I’m a lot more considered now about what I take and try to do something new or experimental most of the time. But I have felt that my learning curve has started to flatten. And I think others will start experiencing something similar. But will people tire of looking at hundreds of their followers’ photos every day? Or of taking and processing photos? After the initial novelty rubs off, I think they will a bit. But like general photography, I think it’s a sub-genre that’s here to stay thanks to its huge creative potential. And to the fact that it is now a social currency. Thanks to the social networks, people feel connected to the lives of other photographers, which is important. We’re also starting to see some commercial potential in the genre. As companies become aware of the reach of iphoneography networks, they may start to commission the leading proponents to spread their messages. But that’s a new sort of commercial potential – you won’t see mobile photos on advertising hoardings. I do however see iphoneography becoming accepted as part of serious creative photography and photojournalism. There’s a hipstamatic in the UK’s leading portrait prize exhibition, the Taylor Wessing, at the moment in London and no-one is batting an eyelid. And of course the iphone offers great journalistic advantages over big cameras.
Duration: 3 hours per week
Dates: Every Thursday evening from March 1 to March 29
Cost: £115 ($178 USD)