Countdown to Peru 2013: iPhone Two

Round two of Peru iPhone snaps. What I think is important is the range of moment and location. Imagine having the time to work these scenes, these places, etc. Slowly, building the days and weeks, image by image, moment by moment. I’m sitting here foaming at the mouth in anticipation. If I could leave right now I would.

In 2013 I’m going all black and white, all 35mm. No color on this trip.(This is what I’m saying right now, today, but tomorrow I might tell you something different.) Going to just streamline even more and focus on making the best black and white snaps I can. Oddly enough, what is making me okay with this is the fact that I am contemplating a portrait lens for 35mm, meaning something in the 85mm range. I haven’t had a longer lens like this in several decades, but I’m thinking about getting one now. I don’t want to continue to work in both color square and black and white 35mm. It’s just too much and what I end up with is too easy, to predictable and too fractured. I’ve written about this in the past but color square is a VERY easy way of working because everything looks great. The great medium format falloff, the ease of the lack of composition using the square, etc. Working with the square is a crutch, unless in my opinion, you just entirely devote yourself to that format, which oddly enough in the age of digital has really seen a resurgence. When you work with the square it FEELS good because again you know you can snap a garbage can at 2.8 an it will look great(I actually did this last year in Peru). Black and white 35mm isn’t exotic and it sure as Hell isn’t easy. It takes far more time, more effort and more concentration. It is also, at least in my experience, a far lower success rate. It’s a very difficult decision to do this, believe me. We are surrounded by an industry that screams DON’T DO THIS. I just looked through a catalog from an art-photography fair and there was exactly ONE black and white reportage image. It’s not like there is a huge demand for it.

The industry screams shoot digital so you don’t have to travel with film. Shoot digital so you can have an endless amount of imagery. Shoot digital so you can have color and black and white on every image. Shoot digital so you can see those images at night in the hotel. Shoot digital so you can share your moments with the world as you go.
These are all valid points depending on who you are and what your goals are. The vast majority of my workshop students will be, and are, digital, but for me I like chipping away with a visual chisel. I would not, and am not, suggesting everyone do this. Just me talking here. But let’s move on.

I will no longer have an iPhone. I switched to a Samsung phone, which I feel has advantages over the iPhone, but again this is me talking. There are a bevy of reasons why I like the Samsung/Google pairing more than the iPhone world, but again, this is like debating Nikon vs Canon. Use what you like.

The images here were all iPhone from last year, and as you know if you follow this blog, I’ve done one post already about this work and have another on the list after this. Nothing wrong with these images, but when I studied what they REALLY were, I realized they were simply not good photographs. These images were about software more than photography, moments, light, timing, etc. When you strip away the Snapseed filters you are left with images that simply aren’t great. I feel this way about many of cellphone images I see, but I actually don’t think that is entirely bad, and I also feel this same about the vast majority of photographs I see for that matter. I think these mobile-images, for most people. serve a certain purpose. I think at this point when I see a project being sold as a “cellphone project” I just wonder why we still need to highlight that? Maybe I’m missing something but didn’t Robert Clark do a cellphone book back in the 1990’s? Once I saw that project I was under the impression the genie was out of the bottle, but again, I’m probably missing something. They are what they are. I think we should simply judge them like the rest of photography. Are they good photographs or not?

However, this isn’t why I’m NOT using a phone while I work. I’m not using the phone to make pictures, any phone, while I WORK because I can’t do two things at once. I surely can’t do three, which is what I was doing last year in Peru. Actually, I was trying to do four. I was shooting color square, black and white 35mm, recording audio and using my phone. People, this just doesn’t work. Did I get some decent images? Yes. Did I make anything cohesive? No. Now, to muy credit, I’m teaching, which is priority one, but I wasn’t making it easy on myself, that is for sure. I’m left with the question, “What would I have made had I only done ONE thing?”

I want to make something VERY clear. If you are using, or want to use your phone to make images, than by all means DO IT. I know several people who have fully committed to this device and are making interesting images and then fully utilizing the real-time delivery methods the platform was designed for. My ONLY suggestion is that if you are going to do it then commit to it and don’t do what I did. Don’t multitask because it really doesn’t work, not for you, or me, or anyone else. The bottom line is that the mobile phone has contributed HUGE amounts to the visual literacy of the world, and it will continue to do so. And, the options for how you use it, print it, showcase it etc, will only get better. I just know I have to pick my visual battles, WHEN I’M WORKING, and when I say “working” I mean those rare occasions when I’m in the field with the singular desire to make the best images I possibly can.

I guess what all of this boils down to is decision making. I’ve had enough time, both in the field and away, that I know now what I need to do. I know I have decisions I HAVE to make that will dramatically impact the archive I’ll have when my bones turn to dust. For me, in many ways, it’s not about the NOW. But again, to each his or her own. I think it is really interesting to have a workshop class where there is a range of angles working in the background, someone on a laptop, someone building a fire to heat chemistry and someone scouring the Lima streets for flash powder. Come July it’s game on.

12 responses to “Countdown to Peru 2013: iPhone Two”

  1. LionelB says:

    Odd that the Peruvian band are doing a cover version of “My love is like the red, red rose”. The second law of thermodynamics in action again. If your theory about square images is right, we should all looking back fondly to the halcyon days of Instamatic images on 126. My memory is that 126 made Polaroid snaps look really great. I think you would find that one of those Fuji bricks loaded with Portra and shooting 6 x 9 would equally turn a garbage can into a fashion shoot.

  2. Chris says:

    I recently stripped the iPhone & M9 from my camera bag and am currently in Indonesia using a 5D3/35 1.4 with an MP/50 & 35 1.4 loaded with Acros or TRIX. I would love to try just using the MP, but know there are shots I would miss due to speed and low light. Either way, I’m having great fun with these two cameras and am planning to make one of the new Blurb magazines from this trip.

    • Smogranch says:


      EXCELLENT. That is a really nice combo. My ONLY suggestion, and it’s a faint suggestion at that because I don’t want to mess with your process, but those images you feel you might miss due to speed and low light might not be misses. I’m finding that imperfection, blur, motion blur, etc, are more and more intriguing the more time I give them.

  3. Aguirre says:

    The image of the dog moved these sensitive bones. You captured a moment there. Loved the collab you did with Flemming. Peru would be a great trip. I’m leaving the mindless day gig in July – a self-pardon actually – and will be in Ecuador, visiting my wife’s family, for an extended period. I hope to have a very simple setup for stills and video. If you have time or the inclination for a visit, we have a little place being built on the coast – Playas – and you would be welcome to flop. Hoping to get up to Quito and visit those fearsome volcanoes, and hopefully run into a Shaman, lol.

  4. Chris says:

    Your suggestion brings to mind Richard Gere’s book Pilgrim, one of my favourite books with photographs that have all the imperfections, blur, motion etc that digital just cannot compete with. I arrived home with 1200 digital images and just 5 rolls of film, but it’s getting the negatives back that has me excited!
    Perhaps I will leave the electrical stuff at home next time?!

    • Smogranch says:

      I JUST thought about that book the other night. I was new to LA when that show was at Fahey Klein gallery if I remember correctly. Gere was a star but his work had soul to it. I’d seen so many celebs get shows because they meant $ to the gallery, which I get, but Gere’s work had something you could feel.

  5. Christopher Fuller says:

    This post brings to mind my own reflections on my journey from two Nikons with lenses that cover from 17mm to 400m to the Fuji X100 which I now use almost exclusively (sold all of the Nikon equipment). It sounds paradoxical to our cultural influence on having as much choice as possible (including now at least four different types of Cheerios), but I feel more, not less, free. However, I admit still to succumbing to the “Raw + jpeg just-in-case” insecurities. Still working on this one.

  6. Sean says:

    2 weeks ago just before the recent India trip I suddenly decided to sell my 28mm and 50mm lenses and one of my Leica bodies and buy a 35mm lens instead.

    That would leave one body, one lens, 30+ rolls of Kodak Portra 400 and 4 rolls of Fuji Provia 400 slide film (as an experiment).

    In the end I bottled it (is that British English?), kept everything and bought a 35mm anyway. But for most of the trip I only went out with one camera, one lens, and one film.

    It was the most liberating photographic experience I’ve had in a long time. Still waiting to see if I got any keepers though.

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