So we left off in Part 1 where we had come up with a name for the show and were about to begin promoting the show.
Before we get into the the next month or two leading up to the show opening, we should talk about Rae Douglass for a moment.
Rae was the proprietor of the Giorgi Gallery on Claremont Avenue in Berkeley at the time Maia and I were getting obsessed with iPhoneography. When I was growing up in the neighborhood, it had been a fire station, with room for one fire truck. In the early seventies, the fire department moved to a new building at College and Russell and the building was sold to a rug dealer.
It’s a wonderful little building tucked underneath the Claremont Hotel at the foot of the Berkeley hills. It was Persian rug store for many years. At some point, the man died and his widow and her daughter turned the space into an art gallery. They would periodically travel to France, where they had a house, and would stay there for a year or two, renting the gallery space to people like Rae.
Rae is an architect and artist and a very cool guy. He has done a number of beautiful large-scale permanent art installations around the country. He has won numerous awards for his architectural work and is an accomplished artist, in the sense of drawing with pencil and charcoal, as well. He is also an inventor, holding a number of patents from the U.S. Patent Office.
Truly a Renaissance man. You can get an idea of the scope of his broad creative talents at his website, Lightrays.com.
I have already told the story of how Rae agreed to host the very first juried gallery show for iPhone photography in Part 1 of this series.
Suffice it to say that we owe Rae Douglass a huge debt of gratitude for his willingness to mount the Pixels at an Exhibition show, committing his space, time, and money to the enterprise. In retrospect, I will say that Rae was as instrumental as Maia was in the launch of Pixels and, therefore, everything that followed.
If you are reading this, Rae, thank you very much.
After we decided on the name of the show, I told Rae I would make an image for a flyer. On December 11, 2009, I went down to the hat store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and bought a costume bowler hat. I think I paid $10 for it. I still have it. I went home and took about forty shots of myself in a cheap plastic handheld mirror using the ToyCamera app. As always, I had the image capture settings set to random, so even if the picture was right, the edit might be weird and so so I had to keep shooting until I got one I liked.
I remember it was cold that day. I was shooting outside and the sun was going down, but I finally got this shot and a few others that were okay if Rae didn’t like this one.
You know, I think Rae used a different picture for the flyer, now that I look at it! Oh well, I spent a half-hour looking for this one, so it stays! It’s the one that actually ended up in the show and also has been the basis for all subsequent logo designs.
At this point, with the website built, I began researching the iPhone photography scene in earnest, looking for ways to promote our exhibition.
I went on Flickr, of course and found a number of iPhone photography groups, so I joined and began uploading photos. I’ve already posted some of them, but you can see all 298 I posted over the next year or so here. Kind of painful to look at, but a few are pretty good, still. I hope!
I went to the various iPhone groups on Flickr and posted calls for submission. I contacted all the iPhone photography blogs I could find. Obviously, Glyn Evan’s iphoneography.com and Marty Yawnick’s lifeinlofi.com were at the top of the list.
There were a few other blogs who are long gone now, but they all posted announcements. It was at this time a very small community. It was barely a community. But everyone had a part. The tsunami was rising up out of the Zeitgeist.
There was one guy, Tony Cece, whose iphone photography blog I found, who never responded to my emails. I have always thought he was a tool for that: I don’t like bad manners. I have replied to every single person who has ever written to me on Pixels, even if they were rude. We will get to that later, one’s responsibility to the community.
I just googled Mr. Tony Cece and he has a Facebook page identifying him as a “Humanitarian Photographer.” That says hustler to me. Take it from a geezer: if you must announce that you are a humanitarian, or that you are kind, or that you are a man of integrity®, I am certain something else is going on there. No posts on FB from Tony since 2017, so I don’t know what that’s about. I see he worked for Operation Blessing International, which is a non-profit founded by by TV evangelist Pat Robertson, so you know it’s a straight-up grift.
You might wonder why I mention Tony Cece. Well, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to try to tell it all. For whatever reason, I’ve not forgotten the snub.
He was just the first opportunist I had encountered. There would be many more, whose actions would be far more egregious in their impact on the movement. At this point, we didn’t even know there was a movement! And, as I said, I just correctly surmised he was a tool. Haven’t changed my mind.
A small sampling of submissions from December, 2009.
The reality is that, over all, these early days, weeks, and months were a truly magical time. We would learn about a new app. Had to have it. They were buggy and the iPhone cameras at the time were awful. What were we shooting with? And iPhone 2? Yes. A 3GS? Yes. They were buggy too and you had to app the pictures to make anything interesting, most of the time. It was great. Many were the nights I would fall asleep sitting in my easy chair, phone in my hand, just trying out a different edit on picture. Or realizing I had to start over … because something needed fixing to be okay at later stages of editing.
We did get our first bit of press from Oakbook Magazine, a local glossy print and online presences. On December 8, the published our call for submissions on their website:
There are more than a 100,000 photos on Yahoo’s popular photo sharing site, Flickr, that have been taken with an iPhone. And most of them are way better than you expect pictures taken on a phone to be.
“A folk art form has unfolded where the depiction of reality and spontaneous events has been assisted not through the sophistication of the camera, but through its ubiquitous presence in our everyday lives,” writes Oakland-based architect Rae Douglass, who runs a local art gallery – Giorgi gallery.
With that in mind, he and Knox Bronson, a local musician/graphic designer/ photographer, are collaborating on a show that will only exhibit photos taken on an iPhone.
“The iPhone’s camera is a pretty basic camera,” says Knox. “Other phones have more advanced cameras. So, in my mind, if you can take good photos with the constrains of an iPhone – it doesn’t even have a zoom – that’s interesting.”
Here’s their call for submissions for Pixels at an Exhibition. They’re inviting artists and non-artists alike to send in their iPhone photos. The deadline is January 15.
We still had no idea what was coming. Did you notice the “100,000 iPhone pictures on Flickr” number? Three years ago, people were uploading half-a-billion pictures a day to social networks.
As far as submissions for the show went, pictures started to trickle in, via email. I would show them to Maia. We would talk about about them. I would post them on the site.
It was December, the Christmas season, so we were busy with that, but were both obsessed with making pictures all the time.
On December 28, we got a huge surprise. The New York Times wrote up the Giorgi Call For Submissions in their Venture Beat section. They even published three pictures from the site. Now that I think about it, they didn’t bother to ask permission, but they did credit the photographs.
When photography became commonplace in the late 19th century, it took several decades and pioneers like Alfred Stieglitz before it became accepted as fine art. Today, with ubiquitous cell phone cameras and now mobile live-video streaming, expect the divide between high and low art to become even narrower.
A San Francisco Bay Area gallery is testing that idea with a photo contest that asks people to submit their artiest iPhone-taken pictures. At between 2 and 3.2 megapixels, depending on the model, the iPhone has a weak camera compared to competitors. But Giorgi Gallery, which is running the competition, says, “The eye of the artist is always more important than the technology in the creation of beautiful art.” Two hundred winners will get prints of their photos shown at an exhibition in Berkeley next month.
Needless to say, we were pretty excited about that! As you might imagine, the rate of submissions coming in increased substantially.
More images received in December.
Beyond the call for submissions for the first-ever gallery show of iPhone photography, the most important thing that happened in the nascent iPhoneographic movement this month was my discovery of an interview with renowned iPhone street photographer, Sion Fullana.
I am aware that many prefer the term “mobile photography/photographer” to iPhone photography or iphoneography, or my phrase, “iphonic art,” but I don’t like it and I will address this in great detail later on in this series.
I do believe that Sion’s interview, on a photography blog from long ago (I can’t find it now) was the first ever interview with an iPhone photographer.
A small sampling of Sion’s work.
Sion is a very talented photographer and artist. His place in our iphoneographic firmament is well-earned. He is a kind, generous, and upstanding man beyond the parameters of his art. I remember those qualities all came shining through in the interview.
But then, the interviewer asked Sion about post-processing his photos. Sion mentioned a couple apps. I can’t remember which (there were hardly any back in those days!) and then he mentioned that he also did some post-processing on his Macintosh computer.
While the remark was innocent enough … millions of photographers did image processing on their computers, I had spent the last two months obsessed with what I firmly believed (and believe to this day) was a new artistic medium, images shot and processed on the iPhone.
It is not an overstatement to say that my heart sank when I read this. I really had no idea who Sion was, nor was I aware of the Flickr pecking order at the time. Flickr iPhone groups were dominated by street photographers and Sion was the rightful and undisputed Godfather. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him in late 2010 and, also, I got a wonderful interview with him for iPhotographer Magazine a couple years ago.
Back to the interview: as is my wont, I blithely posted a comment to the effect that Mr. Fullana’s pictures would not be, unfortunately, eligible for submission to our show. No one knew who I was. I’m not sure how many people noticed the comment, but I know some did, including Sion.
And so, battle lines were drawn that day. The battle was for the very soul of iPhoneography.
I wasn’t aware of this at the time: I was just asserting what I knew to be true and mandatory if we wanted to maintain the purity of the medium. I instinctively understood that the art form was already under assault from the photographers who wanted to make iPhone photography a subset of “real” photography, and were therefore willing to allow off-device editing and I was going to be damned if I would allow the movement to devolve into another bunch of Adobe Photoshop websites among thousands of others.
The battle over off-device editing would get very heated over the next eight months or so. And it was Pixels (me) against the world. I shall address this issue, along with final outcome (Pixels and, therefore, the whole iPhoneographic movement, won.), in great detail in a future post for this series.
I am going close with this piece I wrote sometime in December of 2009. I am not sure for whom or what I wrote it, but since it refers to “iphontography,” I know it was from that month. I got the new domain, pixelsatanexhibition.com on New Year’s Day.
The piece will convey very clearly my perception of our new medium and what my (and Pixels‘) priorities would be.
Okay, here goes:
The iPhone IS a simple, limited, almost awful camera, which is part of its great allure for me personally. But I also love the apps. Almost every iPhontographer I like has a “toolkit” of apps he or she favors. Marty Yawnick, who had three pictures in the show, and flew out from Dallas for the opening, calls it his “camera bag.”
So the images we see are not manipulated as those in advertisements, or fashion magazines, or Playboy, to SELL something, but (and this is my opinion only) rather to bring out the greater truth of the image for the artist – and this is where, after the initial shot is taken, the artist’s personality emerges. And, naturally, the subject of the photo tells us volumes about the artist as well.
I refer you to my own much-manipulated images: https://knoxbronson.com/art/ – lots of experimentation. and every once in a while i get lucky. another couple people who do a lot of creative manipulation and layering, using multiple apps, on the site are Jon Betts and Maia Panos, both of whom are in a league of their own as far as i am concerned … I’m sure there are others but I know a lot about each of their methods, so they come immediately to mind.
The rule for the show was no manipulation on a computer.
It is a mistake, though an easy one to make, to compare iPhontography solely to traditional photography.
It is a new medium, which simply begins with the photographic process.
I’m not quite sure how everything fits together, but i believe it is also a new form of printmaking (now that Rae and I have demonstrated how lovely the prints look with the gallery show for all to see – and the book will spread the message much further), and of course all the other things you mention come into play as well.
True, these are images taken in the moment, but sometimes I take forty shots in that moment (I am not the only one who does that) and then spend a long time massaging the image and combining or layering it with others which have also been filtered, sharpened, tinted, saturated, desaturated, vignetted, or whatever … which would be akin to pushing the film and dodging and burning prints in the darkroom in old time analog photography.
This is all brand-new. No one else is doing this, that I know of. People hear iphontography and think of their cell phone pictures from the bar. No one in the real art world is taking this seriously yet. I do, but I am an outsider.
However, it is my goal to push this art form, and the art of people whose work I like, including my own (!) out into the gallery and art world. It’s going to take some time. And it’s going to be one little show at a time, I think. The book* will help immensely, of course.
But it will happen.
I am going to publish this now. I will probably add more pictures later, but I think it is a long enough read as it is. If you have thoughts about any of this, feel free to comment or to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next installment will focus on January of 2010 and the opening of the Pixels at an Exhibition show at the Giorgi Gallery.
*A book I have yet to get published, although I have a comprehensive proposal and outline for. Any agents, publishers out there? :)