1. Photo from Nick Knight's project for #DIESELTRIBUTE, shot entirely on an iPhone

  2. "Rayograph" 1922 by Man Ray

  3. Sean Connor's Reformation album cover

On Film and iPhones

Photographer and ADC Member Sean Connors opines on mobile

Fashion photographer Nick Knight was quoted last year as saying, “essentially, an iPhone camera is as good as the Hasselblad I used to use.”

This is nonsense, right?

I know more than a few photographers who would adamantly deny Knight’s claim. I can hear them now, ‘No fully automatic, 8 megapixel phone camera can come close to replicating the images you get from a Hasselblad!’. There is a traditional logic in that argument. Compared to shooting film, a phone camera has obvious limitations. As mentioned above, phone cameras generally offer lower resolution images and no manual control, as well as less range of color and only have a fixed lens.
If the iPhone is so technically outmatched, what qualities balance the scale for Knight?

“…it gives me so much freedom.”

Photography has become so accessible since the advent of the camera phone. With its ultra-portability, inconspicuous nature and connectivity, an iPhone offers such a unique and simple photographic experience. With just a few taps you can shoot, edit, and share an image with millions of people. Amazing.

Such capabilities are accompanied with an adrenaline rush. The instantaneous feedback on your work from social media followers, the ability to immediately send a capture to anyone with an email address is a kind of vivacity only found on the mobile platform.

If we are to enter the rush of mobile shooting and sharing into the conversation, then we must discuss the magic of working in the darkroom.

Exposing an image, placing it into the developer and watching the photo slowly appear on your light-sensitive paper, and then physically being able to grasp it, is an experience that will never be replicated on an iPhone. There is also the aesthetic quality of a film photograph, a depth and fullness in the grain, which cannot be duplicated- no matter how many filters you add to your iPhone shot.

“Exposing an image, placing it into the developer and watching the photo slowly appear on your light-sensitive paper… is an experience that will never be replicated on an iPhone.”

With the advantages and unique elements of both the iPhone and darkroom in mind, which choice should one favor moving forward?

For me, the future is in a combination of both formats. I find the juxtaposition, contrast and contradiction of such a workflow incredibly intriguing. On one hand there is an analog process that is laborious and time-consuming, and on the other, a fully digital experience with instant results.

So, how can they work together?

When creating album artwork a few months ago, I employed such a hybrid approach. The initial layout was meticulously created in the dark room. Inspired by Man Ray’s technique known as Rayograms or photograms (which are ‘camera-less photos’ made by placing objects directly onto the surface of a light-sensitive material and exposing the composition to light) I placed flowers and leaves onto resin-coated paper. After much trial and error I selected a final photogram to move forward with. This selection was then scanned and transferred to my iPhone. Knowing that the album was a digital-only release it made sense to me to edit the image on the platform in which all users would see it. Utilizing a photo editing app, the artwork was cropped to its final square layout and the color palette was devised, then applied to the piece. Once completed, it was ready to go directly to fans on Instagram for promotional purposes and we were able to receive immediate feedback.

I got the best of both worlds. First, working with some of that darkroom magic, and then getting the rush of the instant-share.

This example was just a start. I have been experimenting further in combining these elements since, and while I am still searching for a more formulaic approach and ways to incorporate film more directly, I do think that this is a route that should be explored by designers and photographers alike in this new age.