The rise of the camera-phone


This is a good long article over at the Guardian about the dominant position the camera phone now plays in all our lives — even those of us who don’t have one. The best camera, of course, is the one you have with you, which makes the camera phone the best camera in the history of photography. On the other hand, I’m reminded of Don Delillo’s novel White Noise and the scene that takes place at “the most photographed barn in America.” As Murray Siskind says in the novel, nobody sees the barn.

It’s concerned me since I became a parent that there’s a tendency to attend events involving my kids and spend too much time on the photo opportunity and not enough time being there and experiencing it. I’ve become resistant, in recent years, to taking many photos at all at these kind of events and I reserve my photography for when the light is right. But then I’m old-fashioned enough to still want to carry a real camera rather than a phone. Here’s a snip from the article:

Another great thinker, the Leeds-based sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, wrote in his book Liquid Love that, in a modern world in which those purportedly fixed and durable ties of family, class, religion, marriage have melted away, we look for something else to hold us together. Hence, no doubt, the rise of social networking sites – and hence, too, the feverish snapping with camera-phones to take images that can validate our existence to our Twitter followers, our speed-dial intimates, our online “friends”. It’s a new Cartesian cogito: I photograph, therefore I am (and don’t my uploaded images glam up my Facebook profile a treat?). Maybe Marcuse was wrong: we’re not so much in thrall to technology, as using it for an unanticipated emancipatory project.

In that context it’s not enough to moan, as Telegraph columnist Nigel Farndale did recently, that “photography, once a noble art, has become, thanks to the move to digital, a mental illness” Riffing on the verse of Welsh poet WH Davies, Farndale wrote: “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare. Click. No time to stand beneath the boughs – click, click – and stare as long as sheep or cows. Click, click, bloody click.”