Beyond Novelty, the Changing Face of Photography
Beyond Novelty, the Changing Face of Photography by BP
Early in July, I was googling “innovation” and “smartphone” and “photography.” I really wasn’t impressed. There wasn’t anything out there that was inspiring to me. I decided to go on Twitter. I did the same search and found this article; Hiding and Seeking, a Photo Book, from the NY Times feed. I read it through twice because I wanted to soak it all in. This guy is printing a book of his Instagram photos (which isn’t the innovation) AND then hiding them in San Francisco AND then putting a scavenger hunt to his followers to get this one of a kind photo book of his work. BAM the innovation. CRAZY Genius, right?!?! This guy incorporated the art, with engagement, with product, and of course purpose. He made the art we create, tangible, tactful, and meaningful. It’s not just double tapping and/or leaving a comment. It’s an act of participation. It builds a relationship between artist and audience outside of our screen and apps. It’s exactly what we at Juxt felt is the purpose for the galleries we throw in Seattle. The concept is very similar.
YES! is what I said out loud like three times and quickly went on IG to find his feed. I had to tell him, “YES! This is exactly what I wanted to see. This is how I’d like to push the limits. This is how you marry the Old Timey art of photography with the technological, connected future.” Instead I left him a bland message (in my best Ben Stein) saying, “I would love to interview you for Juxt. Please let me know if you are interested.”
To my surprise, Andre was pretty quick with a response. I think it’s because my IG name is real sexy. After a few weeks of tag communication, we finally locked down a 1 1/2 hour conversation with one another. The book was actually a small part of the conversation. We discussed many things mobile, photography, art, community, and passions for all of these things. We talked about our passion to teach and more importantly learn. It was a great conversation which led to this article being a 2 part interview.
Please check out his Kickstarter Campaign. Support the art that we all love.
With that, I introduce to you, Andre Hermann aka shutter_se7en.
B: BP A: Andre
B: Tell us a bit about who Andre Hermann is. Your family history. Your history with art. Where you’re from?
A: I’m originally from the High Desert of California, Antelope Valley, specifically Lancaster, California. I had a mom who was a registered nurse, and a dad who was an engineer, two sisters, one younger, one older, and a younger brother. From a very young age I was always drawing, daydreaming, getting in trouble. I like to think I was the creative kid and the black sheep in the family.
B: Where did your passion in the arts begin and how has it translated into the art of photography?
A: I wasn’t really formally introduced to photography until I was a junior in high school. I took my first photography class at the local community college. I nearly failed it. The class required me to shoot with a manual camera. I only had an automatic. Come on, I was young, my brain was in other places. I didn’t care much about the process I just wanted to shoot, shoot, shoot. I shot everything. Primarily abandoned buildings, houses, graffiti, abandoned cars, trash that littered the outskirts of my hometown. I also was photographing my life and friends. It didn’t really seem like anyone else was doing that so I took the responsibility of the storyteller. This is where I had my first introduction to documentary photography. The irony lies in the fact that I had no idea what documentary photography was at that point. Nor did I have any idea I could make a living being a photographer. Throughout junior college I continued taking photography classes, feeding the hunger, as a hobby. I enlisted in the Navy and traveled the world photographing everywhere. After the service I tried my hand at engineering where I failed miserably. I immediately enrolled in a graphic design program and with in a few years found myself holding an Art Director position designing magazine layouts. I feel this training and experience as a graphic designer played a critical role in my development as a photographer. I was always working with photography, reviewing photographer’s images for layouts, seeking color and design, honoring shape and form, while secretly harboring a love for black and white photography. After realizing my job wasn’t going anywhere I quit and moved to SF to pursue an MFA in photography. And, here I am.
After you find the pulse of the city everything becomes apparent.
B: Tell us a bit about your work. What do you do? Where? Do you talk to your students about mobile photography?
A: I am fulltime faculty teaching documentary photography and multimedia storytelling at the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. I am always talking to my students about mobile photography and its importance as a tool in our field of work. One thing I always preach to them at the beginning of each semester is that I am not particularly concerned with what camera they use, as much as I am concerned with the quality of their moments and the final product, the story they’re telling. I do warn them though that if they choose to use a mobile phone they had better be prepared to explain they’re reasoning for using that camera over another.
B: What is the general consensus from your students about mobile photography?
A: Here in my program the student’s opinions are mixed. There are some students who have used the word “hate” to describe mobile phone photography. While others completely embrace it. I have found that their opinions really depend upon where they are at in the program, what genre they practice, and whether their other instructors have embraced the technology and support it, or express an open negative opinion while embracing more traditional forms of photography. What I really try to teach my students is that the camera is only a tool. The phone really doesn’t play any role in the equation. In the end it really comes down to who’s using the camera, for what reason, and in what context.
B: How does your environment affect your art?
A: I work in San Francisco, CA. I love this city, it’s energy, it’s cultural diversity and walkability. I walk everywhere exploring the city’s many neighborhoods, business districts, dark alleys, and out-of-the-way places has allowed me to find the pulse of the city and witness everyday life as it happens on a street level.
Luck has everything to do with it. And, being in the right place at the right time.
B: We’ve talked a bit about “mobile photography” and photography in general. Can you expand your beliefs in the what is or isn’t mobile photography?
A: Mobile photography, iPhoneography, phoneography and all the different variations of the term, I would prefer not to use, it makes photography sound like a novelty, gimmicky, and assumes that this is a new genre of photography that is dependent on the mobile device, which is absolutely false. It really isn’t anything new except for the form the camera takes, embedded in a mobile phone. It still is just a lens that focuses light on a light-sensitive surface. I like to keep it simple and honor it for what it truly is, photography.
I see a lot of people online calling “Mobile photography” a genre within the photographic world. This is false. An example of a genre in the photographic world is street photography, fashion, portraiture, product photography. A genre refers to a style of work you are producing, not a type of camera you’re using. Mobile phone photography, whatever you choose to call it is just an old tool in a new packaging. It is not limited to any one type of photographic genre. It is a multi-tool that is quickly moving into a position to deem regular digital point-and-shoots obsolete.
Mobile photography is still just photography with an added wi-fi upgrade. Aside from the physicality of it, mobile phone photography is defined by it’s user and their creativity. What are they shooting? How does it make them feel?
There was a time when I embraced the word iPhoneography feeding into the misunderstanding of what that exactly meant, and what it was I was creating with this little camera I carried in my pocket. To me it signified something different, a new genre developing beyond regular photography. I was always criticized for using the phone camera seriously. “That’s not real photography. Why don’t you put that toy away and shoot with a real camera” people would tell me. “But this is a real camera.” I would remind myself. “How could this not be real photography? I am creating images aren’t I?” It’s really not that different from any other small point and shoot camera, aside from the fact that it’s attached to a phone.
I don’t see the images that I am creating with my iPhone as iPhoneography any longer. There’s really no need for a separation in titles. Creating images with my smart phone or any other camera for that matter is still essentially photography. The iPhone is just another tool for a specific job, for me, capturing candid moments on the street. Especially when I do not want to be seen, or the presence of a camera known. I often question whether digital photography can still be considered photography if a physical print isn’t created. This is where we might see a paradigm shift in the world of photography, from photography to “image making.”
Mobile phone photography, or whatever you want to call it, hasn’t really done anything new that the 35mm camera, or the digital point shoot hasn’t done for the masses when they were first released. The mobile phone camera has created a lateral shift in the photo world. If anything, the mobile phone enabled camera has made it much easier for everyone to shoot and share content instaneously thanks to the convenience of a wi-fi connection. With this in mind it has also armed us with a means to contribute all of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the amazing that the photo world has to offer to an all ready media saturated environment. Due to this, its very rare to hear about something special arising from the mobile phone movement, without it being tied to controversy and debate.
Look, there will always be a separation between the images experienced professional photographers are creating and those of the average Joe, hobbyist enthusiast. A few years ago I was scared to death about what the iPhone would mean to my industry and business. I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. One day I was set straight by a friend. I embraced the technology and stopped complaining and started shooting. I quickly realized that I had nothing to worry about. With the myriad of apps every image created is similar to a fingerprint no two styles are ever the same. Let the images speak for themselves.
The one’s who chose to be tone deaf were equally blind.
B: How has social network platforms (IG, EyeEm, Flickr, G+, FB etc) affected the art form?
A: I’m not going to mention flickr, or FB because I really don’t feel they have played much of a role in affecting mobile photography aside from becoming dumping grounds for images, and/or isolating photo discussions to small inner circles of friends and colleagues. I can’t comment on G+ because I don’t use it. I tried but just didn’t get it, and honestly didn’t want to have another site to keep track of. I will talk about the importance of the dynamic environment of IG, and hesitantly speak briefly about EyeEm. After establishing myself on IG I was introduced to EyeEm. It was suggested that I join that community. I was told that in the photo world, it’s similar to how vimeo compares to youtube, a place for real artists to post. You get the idea. Man! I thought. Really! Another fucking place to post my images? Well, if it’s the high end of the photo social sites then I would definitely like to check it out. Signing on and looking at images it quickly became apparent that this was just another dumpsite. There were trending categories. I could choose and create new categories at will. Looking through particular categories I noticed that people were dumping images in trending categories who’s subjects didn’t match, probably in hopes to be seen. Even when I posted a few photos I got the feeling I was dumping. Done. IG on the other hand I think has played a major role in developing photography as an art form accessible to everyone, on many different levels. It has created a platform of self-expression in which one can choose who to follow, comment on images, and easily seek and find inspiration. It is a place to see and be seen. Think about it. Everyone can feel like an artist on IG even with images of kittens, ponies, sunsets, puppies, and food porn. Unfortunately, it seems as though some people have shunned artistic expression for a gear cult mentality, and a restricting ideal that its too easy using apps so it must be wrong, or unholy.
The IG environment is conducive to a photographic theory that has been lost on mobile phone photography, and app usage to post process images, the concept that photography is about the emotional journey of creating the image, and the feeling we experience when creating and sharing these images with others. We invite friends and family, post images, meet new people, grow a following, and develop a personal online gallery which attracts and retains more people viewing our images than we would if our work hung in a physical gallery. How awesome is that?
On the other hand, the problem that the IG environment creates, and I can’t tell you how many times I see it in my feed from some people I follow, there is no self-editing going on. No curation of their content. That special, intimate experience of being romanced by one image, you know the feeling, you’ve seen one image in a gallery, or book where it mystified you. Gave you something to think about. What’s right outside of the frame? What happened right before? What happened after? You were left to your own devices, a caption, or artist’s statement to help you figure it out. That romance, the decisive moment lost, the intimacy of the person sharing the fruits of their thought process to choose the best image their audience may appreciate, gone. “Here they all are. I didn’t feel like editing so here you do it.”
B: Can you define in your own words, the genre of street photography?
A: Street photography to me is the purest form of documentary photography, voyeuristic in nature, the art of observing and capturing unguarded, fleeting moments that help define our daily existence be it mundane, exciting, extraordinary, or ignored. These moments lack any detail hinting at the existence of a photographer, or presence of a camera.
Honor every moment. For that’s all we have is just a moment.
B: In general do you think street has garnished too little/ too much/ still gaining respect from other genres of photography?
A: If you look back in photo history street photography was one of the first genres to develop. Images of people on the street engaged in their daily lives were some of the earliest subjects to be photographed by Louis Daguerre and his daguerreotype, Henry Fox Talbot and others in the mid 1800s. Street photography helped to define modern day photography. So, I don’t feel its ever had to earn respect from the other genres as much as it has had to defend itself as people question the intent of the photographer working within the genre and the subjects they choose to shoot.
B: What are the projects you have started to bring more exposure to street? and/or to mobile?
A: I have been working on two very different projects to bring exposure to both street and mobile photography. Each are very different but address a similar issue. The first project that really was a launch pad for the second involved taking my street images created with my mobile phone and creating digital negatives to make cyanotypes, essentially using one of the oldest photographic processes to redefine the digital to create the physical, challenging people to reconsider what photography was versus what it has become. The second was the hide and seek a photo book project in which I created photo books One of the big problems with mobile phone photography these days is that most people don’t print their images. They shoot, post process, email, post, and/or dump to a photo site rarely ever revisiting the images. In some cases permanently trashing them after a certain period of time. I wanted to challenge this perspective and how people see and interact with their environment, the street in particular.
One of those nights on an east bound train.
B: Where do you see street and mobile going in the future?
A: Street photography has always been an important genre of photography. I feel that as our dependence on mobile devices increases so will the importance of street photography. As a street photographer I am tuned into my environment. Most everyone has their heads turned down to the phone, or tablet lost in their own oblivion with their headphones on. Life all ready moves quickly, and if moments are all we have in this life, then those moments must be carefully preserved. All of them. Where do I see this going? Hmmm, I don’t like to think about this ort of thing. I like to go with the flow and be surprised when it happens, but since you’re asking here we go. Street photography will always be street. Mobile phone photography, its only going to get better and more sophisticated. I’m sure we’ll see higher resolution, if not that, a small, more sophisticated sensor (low-light functionality,) better quality glass for the lenses. I’ve heard people mention more functionality similar to DSLRs, the option to control f-stop, shutter speeds, sensitivity. If I had my choice my vote would be for quality glass, better lowlight functionality, and sophisticated auto-focus.
B: What is next for Andre Hermann?
A: I am working on kickstart campaign to continue my hide-and-seek a photobook project, hiding photo books across the US. I am also working on a more extensive photo book featuring all of the images from my IG feed, including those that didn’t make the edit, and maybe a few short essays on this topic of mobile phone cameras, and apps. I am also in the process of rewriting what I called “the street phoneography manifesto” yes, yes, I know the title. I wrote some time ago when I thought it would be cool to coin a term. Um, ya. as you have read some things have changed.
Again this is Part 1 of the Interview. The next installment will be more focused on the vision of the book project and how you can help in making this happen.
Website: Transmissions from the Wastelands