Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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Art? There’s an App for That

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Courtesy of Christian Peacock

It’s a strange thought that the words “iPhone” and “gallery exhibition” can coexist in the same sentence. But the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art manages to do it with ease for their “Pixels: The Art of iPhone Photography” exhibit. The photographs showcase the work of unrecognizable, average Joes like you and me and, as you could guess, all the photos were taken with an iPhone.

That being said, the photos at the exhibition are not what you would expect for iPhone photography. In other words, they look nothing like the photos the average person takes with an iPhone camera. Looking at them inspires the thought: how could these possibly have been taken with an iPhone?

The reason is that most of the photos are not photography in the typical sense. Many of them are abstract, and look even more like they could be drawings or graphic art. You may even have a hard time convincing yourself that they aren’t.

Curator Jeff T. Alu can’t figure out how some of the photos were made, but he does inform viewers that nearly all of them were made using photo-processing applications on the iPhone. Painting, blurring, vintage and fisheye lense effects are only some of the available photo-processing tools available through iPhone applications.

Alu came up with the idea for this exhibition after stumbling across fellow curator Knox Bronson’s Web site,, which is dedicated completely to iPhone photography. The Web site is open to anyone as long as they follow a simple rule: all photography and processing must be done on an iPhone. The exhibition follows the same rule. Both also take care to specify that this means no photoshopping; a strange notion when so many of the photos look photoshopped anyway.

But there is a point to this rule. “iPhoneographers” pride themselves on using what little they have to work with to create amazing photographs. On his Web site, Bronson says that, “The iPhone IS a simple, limited, almost awful camera, which is part of its great allure for me personally.”

Despite its limits, the iPhone seems to be capable of everything a regular camera can do, and the exhibit is testimony to that. You have to wonder how many limits there really are when you see effects that seem to spotlight a single person in surrounding pitch-black darkness, bend and curve buildings, and blur an image without movement. There is even one underwater photo. The few photos that do not use effects are still striking as well. They are so crisp, they look as if they were taken with a professional camera.

Though the exhibition just opened last weekend, it has already attracted a lot of attention from other publications. Alu thinks that a lot of the press is due to the fact that people are attracted to exbihitions that “are a group of one thing,” or that put a label on a new form or trend.

But many other factors seem to be at play. Emerging trends do catch attention, but when that trend has to do with anything iPhone-related, they blow up. Think how important and ubiquitous apps have become in our lives — smartphone users gather them like treasures. iPhones even seem to dictate trends. Would any of us actually be playing Scrabble if there were no “Words with Friends”? Or think how many people would be interested in “Angry Birds” if it were merely an Internet game and not an app. I would even go so far as to venture that Facebook might not have become as big if it weren’t for smartphones.

There is a whole culture born with iPhones. And it’s no wonder; people have their iPhones with them all the time, and they use them all the time. Our entire lives are mediated by them. What’s interesting is that they were made to provide for us, but now we have turned the focus from us to them. The tables have turned and now we are “slaves” to our iPhones. Their apps dictate what we like, and we impulsively follow any trend related to them. This exhibit probably owes its popularity more to its relation to iPhones than to its being an emerging group or art form. Cross out the word “iPhone” from the title of this exhibit and it is half as interesting.