I was at the SupaNova “geek” convention in June recently, here in Perth. http://www.supanova.com.au. I’d decided to bring the kid there, as he’s a big fan of Zombie movies and the series The Walking Dead, and also Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, Futurama, The Simpsons, not to mention the cartoon series Adventure Time.
At the celebrity signing tables, as we’d got there early enough, there wasn’t much of a queue yet, unless you wanted David Hasselhoff’s signature, or that of Karl Urban (who played Bones in the latest Star Trek movies). The kid and I had a chat with Lauren Tom, who voices the character Amy in the cartoon series Futurama. I got to meet one of my childhood favourite actresses, the original Lois Lane from Superman, Margot Kidder, looking older than I remembered, but still as refined and charming as ever. We then got to Manu Intiraymi, who I’d thought was such a cute guy when he played Icheb, the ex-Borg on Star Trek Voyager alongside Jeri Ryan, who played Seven Of Nine. Of all the things I loved about Star Trek Voyager, (one being the fact that a woman captained the ship – Kate Mulgrew, who reminds me so much of Katherine Hepburn, down to the husky voice), the Icheb-Seven Of Nine ex-Borg angle was my favourite.
And here was Manu himself in the flesh, sans Borg accoutrements, looking just a little older but still as handsome as I remembered. There wasn’t a queue for Manu’s table yet, so we were able to chat for a good 20 minutes about Star Trek Voyager and Manu’s acting career after Voyager, then I noticed he had a large folder open on the table with art prints displayed in it. I asked if he was the artist, and he said yes, in collaboration with his girlfriend Lauren Hayley. So we had an enjoyable discussion about all things Art.
On our way home that afternoon, while on the train, I sent this image to Manu’s email, as a souvenir of his visit to Perth, Western Australia. It was one of the images I’d shown him earlier at SupaNova, and I’d mentioned that I’d created it the night before, when I was contemplating doing a design for a T-shirt contest. Manu had asked me how I did it, and when I showed him my workflow/steps and the Apps I’d used, he said it was lovely but wasn’t it “cheating”, as it looked so simple and easily achievable, and had taken hardly any time to create.
But was it cheating? I pondered upon this on the train going home that afternoon. It certainly looks easy enough to do, and doesn’t take much time. It doesn’t involve costly paints, brushes, canvasses etc. You don’t need a studio, easel or even anything else other than where you are right now and what you have in your hand. The initial layout may be expensive if you are buying your mobile phone straight out, but if it’s spread over a number of months or years by subscription, then you’ll hardly feel the pinch. Many professional photographers spend tens of thousands of dollars on DSLRs, filters, telescopic lenses etc before they even start taking a single photo. My first iPhone, an iPhone 3, cost me 200 GPB, my iPhone 4 was AUD$600, my first Samsung Galaxy S3 was AUD$620 and my current Samsung Galaxy S4 cost AUD$650. Between the four of them, over the last 3 years since I started doing mobile photography, I have taken over 60,000 photos. Yes, you read that right.
So, how do I select images to process, from so many different takes and angles? Many photographers use the Rule of Thirds or the Golden Ratio religiously; I bear that in mind when I frame a subject in my S4′s viewfinder, but for me it’s the whole picture and the colours I see that I try to capture, rather than a perfectly proportioned image. I have on my external hard drive folder upon folder of images that I promise myself to return to for future projects, yet never seem to have the time to, as more exciting projects beckon to me.
After selecting an image, the next question is, what do I want to do with it, and how do I set about doing it? I know some mobile photography artists (also known as iPhoneographers or Androidographers in the mobile photography art world) who have settled on a particular style or technique or subject and use it again and again, until it becomes their trademark. Not so I. When I begin, I don’t set out to achieve any particular effect; rather, I run the image through this App or that, until I get a look that I think could work. Then I run that image through another App or two or three or more, and tweak the contrast/saturation/hue/brightness/warmth/size etc etc, until I am satisfied with the end result. I enjoy the element of chance and randomness that some Apps and filters allow, and sometimes but not always, I can’t decide between two end results, so I keep both. My style is as eclectic as my subjects, and I use a digital signature to mark all my images as mine.
It may all sound easy, but I assure you, it takes a lot of groundwork and time finding and testing out Apps that I can use for processing images, and filing them on my mobile phone screen accordingly for ease of future reference. (I will dedicate a future post or two to show you the Apps I use, both on iOS and Android). These Apps then become my mis-en-place, much like a chef’s store of essential herbs and spices close at hand to his/her workstation. It is my job to learn how to use these Apps, understand their user interfaces, strengths and limitations. Then, and only then, am I able to utilise them effectively for processing images.
Mobile photography Art may be “cheating”, in the sense that the elements are pre-fabricated and readily available, subject to creative user tweaking and modification. But let me give you an analogy, by way of Music. In the old days, composers would score for an entire orchestra, laboriously writing out individual parts for strings, brass, woodwind and percussion. If they were lucky enough to have an entire orchestra to hand, they could test out how their music would sound if this instrument did This, instead of That, and Here instead of There, or Now instead of Later. Those lacking said orchestra would have to contend with playing out the parts on a piano and imagining the timbres of the individual instruments. Beethoven, of course, when he became profoundly deaf, was such a master that he was able to “hear” the individual strands of his music purely in his head. Fast forward to the 20th century and the advent of electronic music. Ahh…now the penny drops. Suddenly, everyone is a musician, anyone with a mind to can now create music at the touch of a button, the push of a slider, the tweak of a knob. Is it “cheating”? Yes, of course it is, in the traditional sense. Bach, Beethoven and Brahms may be turning in their graves, but maybe not…consider the possibility that if they were alive right now, those three greats could well be jammin’ and jivin’ with the best of them, and utilising the tools available to them. And creating divine electronic music.
I think it’s not WHAT you use, it’s HOW you use it. It’s only cheating if you’re following a set formula without deviation, like painting a Van Gogh by numbers and then claiming it is an original. Or transposing a Chopin Prelude up a 3rd and saying it’s an original (one of my classmates in LaSalle Music College in Singapore actually did that in Composition class, back in 1990; I mean, did he honestly think he could get away with it??).
In my next posts I will let you in on the iOS and Android Apps that I use in creating my mobile photography art and design.