Iphoneography as an emergent art world

This paper was written by Megan Halpern and Lee Humphreys, it examines the use of iPhones by those who identify as artists and the construction of an artistic community revolving around the term ‘iPhoneography’. I’m interested in what this paper defines as artistic activity, and whether social media and cameraphone users can actually be considered as practising artists. I’ve taken quotes and sections from the paper and reflected on them in relation to my own research project.


In 2010, the most popular camera among Flickr users was the iPhone 3G

This is a really interesting statistic, as for this paper it was able to define that a large number of users operating on a photography-based media platform were actually using a smartphone. As the iPhone was the leading smartphone when these first-generation social media sites were the most used, it makes sense that a community was built around using this model of phone. It would be interesting for me in my research project, to try and find out how many Instagram users are still participating in this identification with the iPhone brand. Whether the user is engaging with the iPhoneography community, or whether they are simply pointing out that they love the iPhone as a brand. As Instagram is an application that was designed for the smartphone, I don’t feel that my research needs to prove that the majority of users are using a phone over a digital camera, however the fact that they are using a phone to make the images, needs to be acknowledged and researched.


The lens of remediation helps to place iphoneography in historical and cultural context by drawing attention to the conversation between iphoneography and photography, as well as other visual media

The theory of remediation addresses the idea of technology progressing through reform. This paper draws on Bolter and Grusin and their theory of immediacy and hypermediacy as the twin logics behind remediation. However this paper appears to skim over the definition of remediation and what place it actually has in this article, so I will be researching Bolter and Grusin further to make sure I have a clear grasp of how this article wants to talk about remediation, as I feel it may be relevant for my own research project.


 The massification of photo taking  and making that technology has facilitated over the last 100 years have been noted by many scholars (e.g Benjamin 1972, Bourdieau 1996, Sontag 2001)

Benjamin defines aura as that which evokes artwork’s (or natural object’s) uniqueness and permanence.

Bolter et al. (2006) re-examine Benjamin’s concept of aura in the context of virtual and mixed reality.

Aura is not dead with reproducible visual media, the claim, but rather, is constantly lost and found again, existing in a permanent state of crisis.

I picked out a few quotes from the section titled ‘Theorizing photography’, although it appears to be less about theorizing photography as a practice, but rather theorizing mass produced, social photography and redefining it in relation to Walter Benjamin’s theory of aura, in order to be able to establish this type of photography as art. Benjamin’s theory of aura is a classic debate, over whether photography can be considered as possessing a quality of aura and originality when the medium itself does not base the production of visual material on one single copy. Whereas painting, sculpture and other forms of art always produce an original, singular piece, photography, even analogue photography always allows for an exact copy of the proclaimed original. What is interesting about the use of Benjamin in this paper, is the fact that they include another writers take on Benjamin in relation to digital media. The idea that aura is constantly being lost and found in digital media is an interesting take on the theory in a contemporary context. Walter Benjamin, although still appearing to be highly accurate for the contemporary world, was writing when photography was an early invention. Therefore in order to use Walter Benjmain in relation to current, contemporary research, the researcher must acknowledge that Benjamin’s work was written for a different time period and find a way to situate this theory in relation to the current material.


The cultural significance of photography has not been dictated by technological advancements alone, but also shaped by evolving social practice (Wells 2000). Bourdieu’s study of photography revealed photography as a process of “collective identity formation”

Liz Wells is one of the key writers on photography and I will definitely be considering her work in relation to my own research project, when it comes to theorizing photography and the practice of social photography in my own research project.  However I haven’t yet researched Bordieu’s writing on social photography, and this quote about photography as a process of collective identity formation is very relevant to what I want to research; my own project will be engaging with how users express identity using the social media application Instagram.


Becker defines an art world as the patterns of collective activity surrounding the production of a specific form of artistic expression

Defining art in relation to a social practice was important for this research paper as it allowed them to consider the everyday user of Flickr and the iPhone as a practising artist, because a collective group of users engage in an identifiable way. This definition of an art world could be relevant for my own research project, if I want to consider Instagram users as practising artists.


To examine the phenomenon of iphoneography, we chose an interpretive qualitative methodological approach because we were interested in exploring the social practices of iphoneography as an art world

In total, we conducted 20 in-depth semi-structured interviews with those who self-identify as iphoneographers

These quotes were from the ‘Case and approach’ section where the writers define the process and approach behind their research. They explain recruiting research subjects through the website Pixels and by finding Hipstamatic iPhone users from Flickr. The participants from the different places allowed a balance of perspectives. Through a period of six months and research that consisted of interviews and participant observation. The researchers explained that their approach was interpretive, which means that they relied on the fact that the interpretation they made of the subject’s interview answers and the activity they observed were accurate, and what the subject wanted to convey. This is not the approach I have proposed for my own research project, I won’t be conducting interviews but instead combining auto-ethnographic and ethnographic observation of Instagram activity. Therefore my research will be somewhat interpretive, because I will be reflecting on my own activity and attempting to identify choices made by others.


The third key practice of iphoneography is the manipulation of photographs through apps or what we call the presence and visualization of the artist’s hand in the iphoneographic image

For these informants, apps literally re-introduce the hand of the artist, thus re-creating aura within their iphoneography

The reintroduction of the artist’s hand in the creation of the image provides an interesting counter to Benjamin’s idea of aura, connecting to Bolter’s theory of aura being lost and found again in digital media. The hand is a concept that keeps cropping up in writing about cameraphone photography, because of the tactile nature of the device, it will definitely be a concept I will draw upon in my own research project, both as a way to research the material and as evidence of the user in the creation of artistic material.


we found that opinions on what it meant to be accepted as a legitimate art form also varied. For some, finding a specific aesthetic and set of rules through selective and careful curation, both online and in brick-and-mortar exhibitions would help build an art world similar to visual art worlds already established. For others, legitimation meant thinking about visual art in new ways.

There is a purpose behind this paper, although this is a research project into whether iPhoneography could be considered as art, the writers are really trying to convey that iPhoneography should be accepted as a legitimate art form. However despite this, the voice of the researchers are never seen in their writing, there is this detached sense. This could be because the paper is co-authored therefore the researcher’s can’t really use the word ‘I’ without establishing which researcher is ‘talking’ at one particular time. However in my research project, this is an aspect I will benefit from, this will be my own singular research, therefore I will have the opportunity to use my own voice. I have maximised my opportunity to express my voice as a researcher by also using myself as a subject. This paper feels a bit too clinical for me, when they are effectively describing a highly emotional, subjective concept, which is the creation of art. The concept of art is formed, discussed and reformed with the different movements and to act as if, are a researcher, you are unaffected by the existence and presence of art, seems somewhat ridiculous.


Overall this paper has been really beneficial for me to read, in terms of identifying theories I need to research further, writers on photography that I should engage with from a cultural theory perspective and also in considering the approach taken by the researchers. Although I personally feel that this paper seems to be too clinical and detached when describing a highly emotional practice, it does engage with some really interesting and relevant theories. The use of Benjamin and aura is situated and legitimised in this contemporary context by using another writer who has built on this concept of aura in relation to current photographic practices. The concept of the hand, as I identified earlier, is one that is being built upon by many researchers considering the smartphone/tablet as a tool for their subjects and also a tool for their own research. I will need to carefully consider the role of the smartphone in my research concept and also in relation to how I actually carry out my research.



A Snapshot of Social Media: Camera Phone Practices

This short piece of text was cowritten by Larissa Hjorth and Natalie Hendry, it is only a couple of pages long including the references, but it provides a really good starting point and summary of the relationship between the camera phone and social media. The ideas raised in this short piece of text, will both give me ideas to research and think about in relation to my research project and I can also use this reference section to identify other texts for me to read. In this blog post I have identified important quotes and ideas from this text and explored how I can relate them to my research project.


Contemporary social media just compress and spread ideas in a more accelerated and data heavy manner

Instagram as a social media encourages succinct visual expression, posting a singular image or video and an accompanying caption. The posting has become more free with recent updates and the development of accompanying apps which allow explorative video editing and the collage of multiple images. I have before likened Instagram to the dynamic of a postcard, particularly when the user has posted an image from the travel genre. However the digital form of this postcard dramatically changes the speed at which the material is received by the intended viewer, where a postcard might take days or weeks if the post is slow, with a sufficient internet connection an Instagram post can be made and uploaded within seconds. It is the speed of photography that has changed the nature of the practice and has encouraged some practitioners to revert to the slower process of analogue photography. Instagram has acknowledged this retro revival of the analogue image in the development of the app by offering a set of editing filters that apply a particular aesthetic to the image.


second generation camera phone apps can be understood in terms of “emplaced” visuality. Emplaced visuality puts a theory of movement at the center of our understanding of contemporary media practice.

This is where Larissa Hjorth has focused on her own ideas from a separate paper, which she wrote with other author Sarah Pink. First generation social media would resemble platforms such as Flickr, that were designed for users who had digital compact, bridge or SLR cameras, whereas second generation social media, such as Instagram are designed for users who take images using their camera phone. Rather than the social media being hosted on a website like Flickr and redeveloped to become an app, Instagram was designed to be an application for a smartphone before then being redesigned to be accessed from a laptop. Emplaced reality is closely linked to the portable nature of the smartphone/cameraphone, whereas photographers with cameras would go out to shoot and then come back home to edit and share, cameraphone users have the ability to shoot, edit and share in that one device. The fact that the device can connect to the Internet in almost any location, means that places that were previously dedicated to banal rituals of waiting such as travelling, have been changed to represent explorative periods of creativity.


Just as young people collaged fanzines or decorated their bedrooms with posters, they also use platforms like Tumblr to creatively visualize and “circulate everything”: their intimate, consumer and aesthetic desires; personal politics; and endless animated gifs

Although limiting, the bedroom wall metaphor points to the ways that young people predominately “renovate” their spaces, and, in turn, their identities and relationships

The bedroom wall metaphor is a really interesting idea to describe how young people creatively express their identity, it really reminds of the video game Life Is Strange, where the main character Max takes a self portrait of herself in front of her wall of photographs.


The ritualistic idea of the college or university student creatively decorating their room to express their identity is recognisable in popular Western culture. Despite the fact that the occupant knows their occupancy of this space will only be temporary, this may have been the first chance they have full control to express their personality in a space that they effectively own for the duration of their stay. Social media and the user’s profile/newsfeed represents this chance at freedom, the platform and their profile is their four walls, which they experiment with in order to express their personality to those who choose to visit/those who are allowed to see. However despite the physical constraints of a bedroom meaning that only a few people could see the decoration of the bedroom at a time, social media can be accessed and seen by a global audiences of millions simultaneously.


The histories of young people as a population under surveillance are remediated through camera phone practices as new anxieties and moral panics are revealed

Photos exchanged through Snapchat, Instagram and Kik convey a sense of being with each other and reinforce shared emotional experience across time and space

These statements both ask and answer a similar question, it is undeniable that with the increased focus on treating mental health that there has been a massive increase in the diagnosis of such conditions, especially in young people. The number of 15-16 year olds with depression has nearly doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s according to mental health statistics from youngminds.org. However a rise in awareness of mental health is not the predominate reason why so many young people are now being diagnosed, it is this age of the smartphone and surveillance that makes many feel like they are under pressure to fulfil unrealistic expectations. Selfies can be considered as a narcissism that has developed as a response to increased insecurity about body image, as young people feel encouraged to look and act much older than their age, with resultant risk of minors being sexualised.


However for every young person that is feeling this sense of moral panic, social media also appears to provide a link to other people feeling the same, hence the creation of memes. People share their moral panics on social media in order to get a response, which can support them and tell them that are not alone. However equally this offering of vulnerability could become a target for Internet users that thrive on making hostile, personal attacks on other users, known as trolls.


As Daniel Palmer notes in his study on iPhone photography, cameras have colonized the mobile phone over the past decade. Nokia has reportedly put more cameras into people’s hands the in the whole previous history of photography

This is statistic that explains the changing nature of photography completely, despite a number of professionals still using top level SLR cameras in their work, the majority of photographers in this age are using smartphones to take pictures. The mobile phone industry have recognised this want for better cameras and developed phones that often have better camera than some compact digital cameras. In addition to this, the front camera has continued to develop in order to allow people to take self portraits or ‘selfies’, helped along by add on inventions such as the selfie stick. It is the smartphone/cameraphone that is the tool behind the increase and also the change of social photography in the digital era, as it collapses and combines the photography, editing and sharing in one portable device.


This piece of text despite the shorter length has given me a great starting point and encouraged me to consider other ideas to research in relation to my research. The bedroom wall metaphor is a concept that I feel is so relevant, as it describes the nature of creativity and the relationship between creativity, identity and self expression in a way that people can really understand. However I feel that this metaphor might only be relatable to the Western population, where moving out and going to university or college is central cultural concept. If I am going to use concepts that relate to Western culture, I need to begin thinking about shaping my research to Western culture as well. My position as a young, white, Western individual means that I can understand this example in relation to my own creativity and self expression, therefore I will be able to supplement this research idea with my own experience. However I have to consider that if I narrow my project down to engage with Western users of Instagram, I am excluding other subjects which have been traditionally othered by academia.