Over the past decade mobile phone photography has rapidly gained popularity, first becoming the medium of choice for many amateur snappers, and gradually getting recognised as an important storytelling tool by professional image-makers. The ability to always carry a camera in your pocket further democratised the medium, making everyone a photographer and challenging the notion of what makes a good picture.
For the first time in history of the medium, the quest for technical perfection gave way to ready-made filters that left photographers with limited control over post-production. Many image-makers embraced the raw aesthetics of ‘digital lomography’ and accept the relatively poor picture quality as a trade-in for making the process of creating and sharing images a lot easier and more immediate.
Thanks to those qualities, mobile phone photography quickly entered the editorial world, creating heated debate over the aesthetic quality and ethical implications of mobile photo reporting. TIME magazine was one of the pioneering publications to feature mobile phone photography on its pages, and provoked further debates when it commissioned five professional photographer to document the aftermath of hurricane Sandy via Instagram.
Alongside new visual aesthetics, mobile phone photography introduced new modes of image distribution. Social media platforms like Instagram allow photographers to build a large community of followers, generating interest in the story by sharing work-in-progress and even creating separate bodies of work specifically for that platform. VII agency photographer Ed Kashi/ @EdKashi regularly shares updates from his commissions, while Anastasia Taylor-Lind/ @anastasiatl created a series of portraits under a hashtag #ViewFromMyBellybutton, sharing pictures and later videos that document her working process by capturing the view through her medium format camera viewfinder in the seconds before and after taking a photograph.
Named the Instagram photographer of the year 2014 by TIME magazine, Associated Press reporter David Guttenfelder/ @dguttenfelder became known for his mobile phone coverage of North Korea, offering glimpses into the daily life of a country behind the iron curtain.
In the same spirit, photographers and journalists behind the Everyday Africa collaborative project were inspired to share daily life images from Africa that are often neglected by the traditional media. Their Instagram account @everydayafrica quickly gained popularity, currently followed by more that 75K people and counting. Moreover, it inspired similar initiatives starting in different corners of the world, with @everydayasia, @everydayeasterneurope, and @everydaymiddleeast launching last month and confirming that both the medium and the presentation are incredibly effective storytelling tools.
Suggested reading: FLTR magazine created by the editorial team behind the British Journal of Photography and focusing solely on mobile phone photography.