Life In LoFi, Marty Yawnick’s wonderful pioneering iphoneographic website, launched on September 20, 2009, with a detailed review of the Camera XL app for iPhone. The review was very well written and thorough, as would be all of Marty’s app reviews and articles over the years.
His next post, on September 30, 2009, was a more formal announcement of intention for his new blog. It was entitled, “Welcome and My Thoughts on LoFi.”
In it, he wrote:
Welcome to my gallery and to how I see and capture the world.
I love LoFi photography. I have a nice Fuji digital SLR of my own and can use my girlfriend’s Canon Rebel XL any time I need to. I prefer to shoot LoFi. My iPhone is my favorite camera. For me, it provides enough image quality to capture the image, while introducing enough noise, texture, and digital “light leaks” to add presence to the image. I believe that this texture adds to the image much like film type and grain adds to an analog image.
I believe that these limitations make you compose the best possible image in camera, adding a set of criteria that are not present when shooting with a high end camera. There are great moments to capture and images everywhere. Basically, LoFi photography is making art out of snapshots.
He then posted a gallery of four photos:
His passion for our art form and generosity of spirit has always shined through on Life in LoFi. Over the years, Marty and I have had hundreds of hours of discussion about all aspects of the iphoneographic art movement. With his easy-going demeanor, he has always gotten along with everybody, unlike some people we know, namely me. I told him once he reminded me of the scene in Godfather III where one of the mobsters asks who can walk between the worlds of both the mafia and the Vatican and the other answers, “Lucchesi.” I told him he was the Lucchesi of iPhone photography.
One afternoon in 2012, we had a long conversation about what would happen when the iPhone camera got too good and regular cameras became wifi or bluetooth enabled … we weren’t looking forward to it!
Both of us loved the limitations of the early iPhone cameras and the buggy apps we had to deal with back then.
Today we talk about how social media has eaten the movement. We have also made a pact to not let people write us and grandmaster Glyn Evans, of the venerable iphoneography.com, out of iPhone photography history. Sadly, there are those who would, given the opportunity.
Just to be clear: anybody can make a logo and create a group on Facebook. It does not impress me. To run a website for years is a huge commitment of time, money, thought and work. I speak not only for myself, but for Marty, who still posts occasionally on LifeInLoFi.com, but for Glyn as well.
Glyn coined the term iphoneography and predated Marty and I by a full year with the launch of his site. I will be doing a separate piece on his immense contribution to the movement and how the “mobile photography” jackals harassed him years later.
Iphoneography or iPhonic art … what we are doing is not “mobile photography,” no matter what the wannabes say. I’m just warming up!
For this fourth installment of the early history of Pixels and iphonic art movement, I dug up a couple of old interviews with Marty which I have consolidated here. We will hear from Marty again as we get more current in my informal and serial memoir here at Pixels..
Pixels: Marty, I want to thank you for taking time to share your experiences and thoughts about the early days of iPhoneography.
Marty: No problem, Knox. Thank you very much for the opportunity. You and I have had some great conversations about the early days over the years.
Pixels: Let’s start at the beginning, before Life In LoFi existed. What were you doing before the iPhone?
Marty: I was shooting with a combination of an old crap Panasonic digital camera and the phone camera of my Blackberry. It was just stuff, you know? A lot of what I call “everyday moments” that I thought were capture-worthy but that if you weren’t looking, you might miss. The Panasonic was horrible. It was 2 MP which was pretty good for a point and shoot back in the day. It was slow. It had no dynamic range to speak of. But it had Carl Zeiss, which is why I bought it.
After being inspired by the artwork from the band Underworld’s River Run Project, which was shot on a cell phone, I started shooting my own with my Blackberry camera. It was a low-res, low quality camera, but the noise, artifacts, and lack of color range on it I felt added a unique quality to the photos. It was the digital equivalent of one of the plastic lo-fi toy cameras. I never finished that project. I got my first iPhone and pretty much forgot about my Blackberry.
Pixels: Can you tell us what happened when you first started shooting pictures with your iPhone? What led you to create Life In Lofi website? Speaking as a fellow madman, I am really curious about what it was that ignited your passion and led to you being one of the very earliest bloggers for the movement.
Marty: Oh, I was thrilled when I started shooting with my iPhone! The color was better than my point-and-shoot. It was a 2 MP camera. And it made for a much smaller bulge in my pocket. I loved how it shot certain colors really well.
I started downloading photo apps. I think Camera Genius was the first camera replacement I bought. Then Pro Camera. I started using the iPhone’s camera here and there for my design studio, mainly to capture images, billboards, and other stuff I wanted to file away and keep. I was writing for a graphic design oriented blog at the time and started publishing photo app reviews as they related to my business. After a few of them, I realized that these reviews probably needed their own home. So, Life In LoFi was born.
I had been reading Glyn’s iPhoneography blog for a few months at that time and felt I also had something to contribute online — which at the time was mainly me whining about apps.
Pixels: I have been referring people to Life In LoFi for six years now, especially when they ask me about apps or hardware. But I know your site is much more than that, so I’m curious to hear how you yourself would describe Life In LoFi, its purpose and meaning.
Marty: It’s a blog about apps and hardware.
No, seriously, though… I think Life In LoFi reflects a lot of what I’m interested in at the moment, whether that’s photo apps or even photo styles others are shooting themselves. We can’t really stay on top of everything (as much as I’d like), so we pick and choose what I think would be of most interest to our readers. Often times that’s sharing a review of a new app or news of an update. Sometimes that’s sharing a gallery of images from our Flickr group. Sometimes that’s just calling bullshit on App Store shenanigans.
Pixels: Were you active on Flickr as iPhone usage exploded? Who were the first iPhoneographers/artists who caught your eye?
Marty: Have you seen my Flickr feed? I’m rarely active on Flickr, Knox!
When LoFi first started posting the galleries years ago, there were a few iPhoneographers who caught my eye. Greg Schmigel was doing some great street photography at the time. Sion Fullana was capturing these awesome moments in New York City that just told some amazing stories in a photo. One of my favorite photographs of all time is one of his. Tony Cece was doing some great stuff. Jose Chavarry was shooting his kids and apping some great, dreamlike, iPhone photos. Jaime Ferreyros had started sharing his abstracts. Edi Caves, Aik Beng Chia, Jason Parks, Nicki Fitz-Gerald, Jordi Pou, Dominique Jost — I look back at a lot of their early works and they hold up. They’re good works. Timeless.
At the time, no one was really shooting with mobile phones, so you could really get into a scene or close to a subject without really effecting the photo the way a traditional camera might. I think the best iPhoneographers of the early days realized that and used that to get some really great photos.
Every one has a smartphone now. I’m not sure the iPhone camera is still invisible any more. I think over the years, mobile phone cameras now break that “fourth wall.”
Pixels: Did you get a lot of email from “real” photographers telling you how to run your site properly? I sure did! If so, how did you handle them?
Marty: I never did, really. I did get some flack from “real” photographers. When I’d show them my portfolio, they didn’t believe at first that they were shot and processed on an iPhone. In the early days, I made one or two converts. Really, just one or two …
Pixels: Where do you stand on the eternal debate about iPhone photography: is it simply a subcategory of traditional photography or do you consider it to be a new medium?
Marty: I think iPhoneography definitely deserves its own sub-category of “Photography.” It’s like Polaroids, Lomography, or toy cameras. You can shoot, process, and share all on one device. While you can now do essentially the same thing on Android, I think the sheer number of photo apps available for iPhone and all that you can do with them sets it apart. I still think there’s really nothing like a well-equipped iPhone camera.
Pixels: Do other art forms inspire you? If so, which, and which artists? Other than photography, do you work in any other artistic mediums yourself? Writing, painting, music, for example?
Marty: Yeah, my background and degree is in Fine Arts, so pretty much all of ’em. I got a broad education in music, art, theatre, and film growing up in Los Angeles. I was an actor, a street performer, a pupperteer, and a DJ in previous lives. I’m fortunate that there are some pretty kickass museums here in Dallas/Fort Worth and love the collections and curated shows at the Fort Worth Modern, The Kimbell, and The Nasher museums.
Henri Cartier-Bresson. The original street photographer. It’s amazing the images he got with the equipment he dragged all over Paris.
I love the portraits of artist Vik Muniz — he’s brilliant in how he captures the essence within, as well as some of the media he uses.
I love the look and staging of Cindy Sherman’s photography.
I like the straight documentary style of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s monochromes.
I’m inspired by great cinematography — photography that moves. Say what you will about Stanley Kubrick, but most of his frames were art in themselves. Chris Nolan’s DP, Wally Pfister is another one who’s vision I love. Andrzej Sekula, who shot Tarantino’s early films, has some great composition. I think Robert Rodriguez has a great eye, and Larry Fong — Zack Snyder’s eyeballs. That said, Frank Miller is a great visual artist and one who’s work I’ve loved for years.
Currently, I’m fascinated by commercial art because of my day job as a graphic designer. It’s ubiquitous and disposable. Some of it is brilliant and good commercial artists need to have a knowledge of a range of the the visual arts in order to meld all of the different components into a coherent piece that looks good and communicates.
Pixels: What model of iPhone do you use today? Do you miss the early iPhones with all the limitations and the buggy apps? What were your favorite apps in the early days?
Marty: I currently shoot with an iPhone 6S Plus. The camera is great, but not very lo-fi. I love the stabilization feature of the camera, which is why I chose it over the smaller 6S.
I miss my original iPhone 2G. Like I’d mentioned earlier, the noise, the dynamic range, the color — it has a unique, lo-fi photographic signature. It was great in its day, bu each generation of iPhone camera kept getting visibly better. I keep it charged up and take it out every now and then. I think it’s still running iPhone OS 3.
Marty favorite early, early apps were Perfectly Clear (now Lucid). I still use that one even with the 6S Plus. Camera Genius. I shot a lot with a an old jailbreak camera app ClearCam. CameraBag, Photogene, Vint B&W.
Pixels: We’ve witnessed firsthand a lot of craziness, good and bad, in the iPhoneographic community over the years. Passionate online battles. Romances. Skullduggery. Alliances and betrayals. An incredible evolution of talent and the medium itself. Hustlers, prophets, and lunatics. What is your take on all of it, in retrospect?
Marty: It’s all bullshit. Yeah, I remember some of those. I’ve tried my best to stay out of most of them — I just don’t have the time. I have always thought that we are fighting for the same cause, which is the recognition of iPhone photography (and later mobile photography) as a legitimate art. There are a lot of awesome, giving artists out there. I feel there were a few out there who let their egos dictate their actions and may have shot themselves in the foot, maybe taking other opportunities down as collateral damage. I think the aborted Warhol Museum exhibit would have been an awesome, high profile exhibit that would have given a lot of credibility to iPhone photography and iPhone art, which I think we could have used at the time.
Pixels: Well, I read, once, in a sacred text, “There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.”
Marty: In the end, we didn’t have that show, but everything seems to be working out. iPhone photography and iPhone art became much more mainstream anyway.
Pixels: If you had to choose three creatures, real or imaginary, to be your personal totem pole, what would they be?
Marty: A cat, a bird, and a frog. No particular reason or order. Those were the three that came to mind.
Pixels: I asked you in the beginning of the interview what it was that first stoked your passion and led to the creation of Life In LoFi. I am even more interested in what keeps you going after all this time. I know it isn’t the money, because there isn’t any.
Marty: Hahaha! You got that right! Habit, I think. There are still some great photo apps out there to share and iPhoneographers are still creating these amazing works.
Pixels: How much are you shooting with your iPhone today compared to the old days? Are you apping pictures still? Any new apps you would like to recommend?
Marty: A lot. Stacy and I still take regular road trips. She is an incredible shooting partner. We’ll pick a direction and go for a day or two. I still app, but it’s more like apping the raw photos to give it the qualities of old analog photos — ironically the type of photography that digital has largely replaced.
I still like SimplyB&W for black-and-white conversions. It’s got a very analog-style workflow that I appreciate. I like RNI Films for the film simulations. i’ve shot with a lot of those films over the years and these filter may not be 100% accurate, but they are how I remember them to be which is important. I like VSCO for its photographic style simulations. Hipstamatic is still knockin’ em out of the park.
Pixels: A last word perhaps, Marty?
Marty: Balance. It’s easy to get obsessed with all this. Enjoy your friends. Enjoy where you are at the moment. Shoot it a little, but enjoy it in real time a lot. Call your mom on your camera every now and then …
Pixels: An excellent suggestion! Thank you, Marty. For everything.
Marty: Thanks for the opportunity, Knox!
Here is sampling of Marty’s work, mostly early stuff. The first two were in the first two were in the first Giorgi show.
Thank you, Marty, not only for your dedication and passion in your generous service to iphoneography, but for your friendship over the years.