How Smartphones Have Changed the Way We Experience Photography

On the last day of this year, I looked out my window to find dark clouds full of fear. Then a row of winged beauties circled the sky .. high. As I watched them fly, I silently bid the yearÕs memories goodbye and made room for new ones to come by - Cairo, Egypt 12/31/2013 / Photo & Text by @laura_eltantawy
Laura El-Tantawy
Dec. 31, 2013. On the last day of this year, I looked out my window to find dark clouds full of fear. Then a row of winged beauties circled the sky .. high. As I watched them fly, I silently bid the year's memories goodbye and made room for new ones to come by. Cairo, Egypt.


From film reels to memory cards to cell phones, it seems perfectly logical to trace the roots of the last dozen seismic shifts in photography to the physical devices used to capture images, but an exhibit at the Center for Photography at Woodstock has taken a more philosophical approach to the rise of smartphones and their drastic impact on the way we use and respond to photography.

The Space Between: Redefining Public and Personal in Smartphone Photography is curated by photographer and film maker Henry Jacobson, and through a survey of 10 photographers, one collective and one collaborative project, delves into the never-ending debate around smartphones and their function as cameras capable of capturing a moment in time and distributing it all over the world in a matter of seconds.

“Photography has always depended on technology, and every change in technology has affected the history of photography, but the smartphone, in its nature, is a device that is not for photography. It’s a device that is for communication,” Jacobson tells TIME. “It makes perfect sense that a new kind of photography would evolve from that.”

The exhibition at Woodstock not only attempts to explain this shift, but also to bridge the gap between the screen of a smartphones and the walls of a gallery, a process Jacobson says legitimizes work that, until very recently, was dismissed by editors and gallerists alike. But as photographers adopt smartphones as cameras and adapt to social media, Jacobson says they’ve realized that platforms like Instagram and Tumblr can provide exciting and accessible ways to produce and distribute images.

“The purpose of photography is changing, and as a photographer, on some level, you have to address that,” Jacobson says. “I think there is a lot of amazing photography out there, but I was looking for people for whom the question of the camera, the question of ‘How is photography evolving,’ is a central theme in their smartphone work through images where the technology itself is both consciously reflected and explored in a way that’s pushing their own traditional photography to places that they’d never expected.” Some photographers included in the show are veteran photojournalists like Mark Peterson, who uses Instagram’s filters and editing features to visually amplify his work, turning his political photographs into call-backs to B-movie posters and dramatized campaign advertizements.

Through cross-continental collaborations like Tiny Collective, whose members contribute images to a single feed, and Echo/Sight, where photographers Daniella Zalcman and Danny Ghitis combine their images into artfully blended photographs, smartphones are expanding the geographic reach photographs have while completely changing the way photographers communicate, both with their audiences and with each other. The layered images on the Echo/Site feed are reminiscent of double exposures, but are created through an app called Image Blender, which gives photographers the ability to combine images and add textures and layers to create surreal and unique photographs. “There are a few people in the show whose work couldn’t have existed before now,” Jacobson says, “people from different parts of the planet who are now combining and sharing this experience of living in contemporary life by sharing and combining images.”

Jacobson, whose own work explores similar themes of space, place, privacy and personal connections, says smartphones have democratized image making in an unprecedented way, more than even the Kodak Brownie or the 35mm Leica had done in the past. “I think  the smartphone is a radical change,” he explains. “The fact that everyone is a photographer has changed the way that everyone thinks about photography. It’s become about the sharing of experience, rather than the sharing of a moment, and that’s something that I think is entirely new.”

The Center for Photography at Woodstock is a non-profit photography organization founded in 1977.

Henry Jacobson is a photographer and film-maker based in New York City, and the curator of ‘The Space Between: Redefining Public and Personal in Smartphone Photography”. Due to popular demand, the exhibition has been extended through Sept. 15, 2014.

Krystal Grow is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale

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