Rise of the smartphone (getting with the programme) Part I

Rise of the smartphone (getting with the programme) Part I
Hayes Engineering works, Oturehua, Central Otago
Samsung Galaxy Note 5, Snapseed
F=4.3mm, ISO 1000, 1/11s @ f1.9


“You realize that our mistrust of the future makes it hard to give up the past.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Survivor

 This article is part one of a 2-part article on the rise of the phone as camera. this article originally appeared in my monthly column in f11 magazine. I felt it germane to start here. Part II will delve a little deeper into why I have suddenly got with the programme and begun using my phone as serious working tool. As always, your thoughts and input are both valuable and valued.


Sometimes the past, which we have carefully ignored, will rush up behind us and attempt to run us down. This is as true for photography as it is for anything.


How we handle that will decide our future direction. We can close our eyes and pretend that we are not a part of it, and risk dismemberment from the mainstream of the medium, or we can get with the programme and look for the opportunities.


Photography, our medium, is littered with the bones of those who blinked and were crushed by the juggernaut of advancing technologies that frankly didn’t give a damn, and left the corpses of those who refused to move over scattered across the motorway. In the beginning of the medium, nearly 200 years ago, many portrait painters were overwhelmed and despatched to the abattoirs of history. Photography moved on, crushing all in its path, and portrait photographers (known then as camera operators) made a handsome living, all the while standing on the bones of painters who couldn’t offer that something extra.


Then the box Brownie emerged in the late 1800s. ‘You take the photos, we do the rest’, George Eastman’s tagline proclaimed. Suddenly the medium was for everybody, not just those who were closeted members of an arcane brethren. I imagine that many professionals, whose services were no longer required, went out of business. The behemoth rolled on.


The medium advanced, shape-shifting as it needed to meet the circumstances of the day. Film progressed and developed until its own use-by date came. Until the eventual day that the great God Kodak was caught in the headlights of its own hubris.  It collapsed and disappeared quickly. The brash new technology, digital photography, took it from hero to zero in a few short years. The king was dead. Long live the new king.


Matters proceeded apace until the next juggernaut rumbled over and crushed the brash new child digital photography, a phoenix risen from and fashioned in the likeness of its film ancestors.  The smart phone had arrived. Suddenly our phone was able to fully engage with our digital world. We could check our email, engage with Facebook, tweet and keep in touch with world events in real time. Oh yes, and we could make voice calls. What a novel idea.


However the best thing was that we could make photographs.  Wherever and whenever we were we could document our world and share it immediately. Globally. From one end of the planet to the other.


And all the time the technology in my phone leapt forward. Suddenly I realised I was using a camera with a phone on the side. I found that it had built-in stabilisation. It made beautiful 16 MP files. Hell it would even shoot RAW. And it never ever fluffed an exposure. In the background I noticed that the venerable digital point and shoot, the heir to the Brownie throne, had been quietly despatched in a palace coup and sent to a deep dark hole far, far away.


I began to use my phone more and more. I found myself, much to my disgust, preferring it over the hassle of getting out my DSLR and setting it up. The phone simply worked and it worked brilliantly.

Then one day I had the occasion to visit a heritage engineering works in a corner of New Zealand. In its day it had developed products which had been cutting-edge and ahead of their time. As I moved through the place I felt the dry bones of the past and the remnants of a technology lovingly preserved. There was an allegory here, a link between the old and the new, between the silent machinery and the small box in my hand.


I lifted my phone and began to make images in the likeness of the current king. I realised that I could document the fleeting transience of the past and the dusty breath of the past while driving the leviathan du jour. It seemed entirely right to fashion the past in the likeness of the present. Just me, my phone and Snapseed.


The king is dead. Long live the king.



I had been thinking about this article for some time and it had been writing itself in my head. I was in the middle of a workshop; there was minimal broadband but plenty of phone signal; and I needed to get it up to the editor before bedtime. I crawled away into a corner and thumb-wrote the (this) article in Word on my phone, then uploaded it and the image , manipulated in Snapseed, to  a shared Dropbox.






4 Responses

  1. Sometime around ’95 or ’96, I was still lumping around 20 kg of Nikon F4 kit. Sir Russ lent me an Apple QuickTake 100 camera. It was capable of taking 8 digital photographs (not to be sneezed at, because remember it was a time when 12 exposure Kodachrome 35mm film was still being sold). Each file consisted a remarkable resolution of 640×480. There was no preview function, no focus. There was “trash” button, but it rather cruelly deleted the entire contents of the camera. So for the serious photographer, the workflow was quite simple: three Hail Mary’s, fire away, and with a serial cable, download to the nearest Macintosh, before Shadrack, Meshack and Ambendigo ran amuck with your stuff. Today, Apple’s QuickTake 100 and my once loved F4 and its Kodachrome has been long confined to the archives. For In the meantime (as you so rightly say), the digital juggernaut has relentlessly and mercilessly rolled on. Until today, with a Fuji X-Pro2 in one hand, an Apple iPhone 6 Plus in the other – and Wearing Snapseed and Filterstorm Like you, part of me finds myself fascinated by looking out upon the trampled path and sometimes scorched earth of where it has been. The other part of me is irresistibly drawn to that “other” question “Where on earth does it go from here?”

  2. Tony Bridge says:

    Now there is a question!

  3. Jurgen Suppan says:

    Nokia, Motorola, Blackberry: they are all gone because they ignored the needs of the users. When Apple introduced the iPhone I was using a so called HP smartphone. In theory that thing could do a lot, I was happy if I was able to make a phone call. Up to now most camera makers don´t gave a s… what their users really need (I don´t know why the word Sony comes to my mind and why it reminds me on my old HP Smartphone. Interestingly they must have a normal operating system behind the worst user interface in the world and support apps). We still have displays without touch interface, if we have a touch interface it has a quite small functionality. Did really Hasselblad needed to be the first to introduce a modern user interface with the new mirrorless medium format? Fuji has success with the X-T1 because it is easy to use. But it is using technology coming from a museum. Unbelievable that some reviewers consider the number of programmable buttons to be an improvement. Are they completely nuts, in which century are they living? When will we have the first camera maker really offering an easy to use camera with a good quality result like a smartphone? Are they all waiting for the smartphones to become even better?

  4. Tony Bridge says:

    O I so agree with you, Jurgen. I so agree.

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