Pixels: The Art of the iPhone
John Lennon once said, “I’m an artist—give me a gourd and I’ll do something with it.” I would loved to see what he would have done with an iPhone.
I have always harbored a secret desire to be involved in the art world, but I can’t draw or paint (and abstract work doesn’t hold a lot of meaning for me) and I never felt the urge to pursue photography, as much as I love the medium and a number of artists working therein, so it was a blessing to discover iphonography, a brand new medium I could embrace, discovering, in the process, a world-wide community of like-minded, passionate artists. Here is an excerpt from the resultant website, Pixels—The Art of the iPhone.
One year ago today, November 29, 2009, I registered the iphontography.org domain and began work on the Pixels website with the express purpose of putting out a call-for-submissions for a juried gallery show—the first ever—of iphonographic art at the Giorgi Gallery at the top of Claremont Avenue in Berkeley California.
I had been shooting pictures of my cat, Baby, for her photoblog, Baby’s No Help, daily for quite some time, but had only discovered photo apps for the iPhone on October 4. All hell broke loose. I was obsessed. I started taking pictures of everything and apping them with Toy Camera and BestCam.
I have always embraced technology for artistic purposes, sometimes mutating technology as well, as in this sculpture, Falling Panties, I did using a heated conveyor-belt shrink-wrap machine, strapbands, lead strips from an old hand-set type foundry, when I worked at a printing company back in the eighties. The eighties also marked my acquiring and learning modular synthesis with a serge modular synthesizer. I got my first Mac in the late eighties, discovered HyperCard and created the first multi-media novel with sound and animated illustrations. So it was no stretch for me to believe I had discovered a new art form with the photo apps. I had no idea what to do with the images, although I kept shooting pictures of Baby and posting on her blog. And kept it to myself. I had no clue what was already out there happening.
Around this time I showed Maia Panos Toy Camera and, a little later, Best Cam. Maia started making pictures and got as obsessed as I was immediately. As all this was happening, I was also getting to know Rae Douglass of the Giorgi Gallery in Berkeley.
One day, Maia sent me “Tree,” which I still consider to be a masterpiece of iphonography, and some other pictures. I looked at what she was doing and then at what I was doing and was amazed at the difference in the work, with such a limited toolset. It confirmed for me, without a doubt, my intuition that we had unwittingly stumbled upon a new art form, a new medium. Pixels would not exist were it not for Maia Panos’s early work: of that you can be sure. So quite a bit of iphonographic history flows from her magical Toy Camera shot, “Tree.”
Shortly thereafter, Maia, her daughter Sophia, and I were in the Giorgi Gallery, talking to Rae. We showed him some of our pictures. I asked him if he would like to do a gallery show of iphonographic works. He said yes immediately, adding, “You have to curate it.”
I went home and did an online search and determined there had never been a gallery show, exclusively of iphonographic works, and that, as such, we could be the first in the world ever to present such a show. It was quite exciting. Within a day or two, Rae committed the gallery to the exhibit, Pixels At An Exhibition, for the month of February, 2010. I registered iphontography.org exactly a year ago today and proceeded to build the site. The first call for submissions went out in early December of last year.
I am no stranger to piercing hermetic online communities, having been the among the shock-troops when AOL released its hordes upon the pre-world-wide-web usenet sphere back in 1993, experiencing much contempt and disdain from the self-styled guardians of the realm and taking on people of apparently great importance in vast flame wars. The same when we West Coast synthesizer enthusiasts unwittingly invaded the little midwest mailing list Analogue Heaven a couple years later, dedicated to analog synthesis, and kind of upset that apple cart by talking about actually making music, rather than replacement diodes and capacitors.
Little did I know about the hierarchies of the online iphonographic world. I found some iphone photo blogs and invited them to submit work to the show; a number of them never responded. At the time it bothered me, but no longer. Some did and helped spread the word. In particular, my gratitude goes out to Marty Yawnick of LifeInLoFi.com, who was enthusiastic in his support. He has since pointed out any number of artists who rose to the fore thanks to the Giorgi show (and to my ignorance in not knowing who was who).
Early on, I discovered, to my great dismay, that some people, even well-known iphonographers, manipulated their pictures on the computer. This instantly seemed wrong. I knew that the only way to keep the medium pure was to not allow computer manipulation: otherwise we would just be another photoshop site, of which there were and are thousands. I hold true to this tenet to this day: the art form is defined by the device, the iPhone itself. Sticking to this principle has ruffled a few feathers along the way, needless to say, but I hope that other mobile phone art sites will demonstrate this same commitment to the purity of the medium at some point.