The camera that changed the world

Actually, it may be a phone.

The camera-enabled cell phone is rapidly becoming the default tool for crowd-sourced photojournalism (the most recently example of which comes from Iranian election protest coverage). Someone walking through the streets of Beijing or Islamabad  has the reporting and distribution potential of what, 25 years ago, would have taken an AP bureau to produce.

The universal nature of imagery means that phone camera reportage can easily reach a world-wide audience and no translation is needed. Couple that with the swarm affect of several people focused on the same event and a powerfully clear message can emerge.

IMHO, the number one reason cell phones are so efficient is because if you own one you tend to carry it all the time (even pro shooters don’t carry their cameras all the time). And, as developing nations leapfrog over land-line technology directly to cellular this results in a whole lot of potential photojournalists walking around.

But being able to capture and transmit images is meaningless unless there is the support of a distribution network. Historically, this has been the differentiator for legacy media organizations.   Crowd-sourced photojournalism now becomes “cloud-sourced” as it goes straight to Facebook, Twitter,  blog, or website.

Is it possible that we’ll look back on the cell phone camera the way many of us look back on the Leica M camera? The same tiny camera that Henri Cartier-Bresson used to usher in a new way of seeing in the world.

I’m interested in your thoughts?


~ by keithphilpott on June 22, 2009.

2 Responses to “The camera that changed the world”

  1. It’s going to be curious to see what settles out from the chaff. I think back to the 1970s/early 1980s and all the Kodak Instamatics: they seemed pervasive — at least among my family and their friends, whatever or wherever, someone always had a camera and a lot of photographs were made, albeit mainly of mundane events.

    Where we now have easy platforms for mass distribution, it seems that the thing that will separate the fruit of the field from the waste will be be the intentionality of what’s produced, the degree to which the person with the camera aims at revealing a point of view (as opposed to propagandizing a political position or simple narcissism), but that’s always the difference.

    Back to the notion of the Instamatics, I’d suggest that’s kind of the quality reference for the cell phone cameras — that or the old Polaroids. They’re utilitarian.

  2. All good points, Mark. I was just listening to MacBreak Weekly and they were raving about how good the new iPhone camera is. They added that though good, iPhone images are still only technically suitable for on-line use. Which made me think, at some point on-line use may surpass print as the benchmark for technical quality.

    Thanks for your comments.

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