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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Iphone photo 'art' controversy clicks in

Iphone photo 'art' controversy clicks in


This in-the-moment snap at Bakong Temple is a classic example of ‘iPhoneography. Photograph: Alessandro Vannucci

One of photographer Alessandro Vannucci’s favourite photos is of a small boy running towards the camera, Bakong temple standing proud in the background. It is thoughtful, moody and beautifully composed – and shot on an iPhone.

The image is part of Vannucci’s “iPhoneography Project” of the temples of Angkor, and reflects the growing trend of Hipstamatic photography.  He has had good feedback so far, including from a couple of boutique hotels that have bought some of his Angkor iPhone photos.

Hipstamatic is an iPhone app that gives a photograph the look of having been taken with a vintage camera, using filters to create an arty, retro effect. One look on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook shows just how popular this app is. But Hipstamatic, cynics would argue, makes anyone a good photographer – or worse, makes everybody’s pictures look the same. So what is a professional shutterbug like Vannucci doing using it?

“Actually it started like a kind of game, an experiment,” Vannucci, who is also photographer guide, explains. He was taking photographers round the temples, advising them.  One of the photographers spent the whole day snapping away on his iPhone, despite having a ‘proper’, SLR camera.  Vannucci was surprised but impressed when he saw the photos.

He’s now a convert, and for the last three months he has been shooting on just iPhone.

“I am very happy with the result,” he says, showing me a striking picture of Ta Prohm. “It is made with Hipstamatic, and then there is some small post-production. The last step was with Instagram to make it a little bit sepia. I think Hipstamatic is very nice, for a very strong contrast.”

The other appeal, he says, is the instantaneous element.

“I went to Phnom Penh a few weeks ago on the bus and it had wifi. It’s amazing, because we stopped in Kampong Thom, took some photos and got back on the bus. I did some easy post-production to the photo I had just taken and then I put it online on Facebook while on the bus… It’s crazy! And it’s fun.

The other bonus, he says, is that with an iPhone you don’t miss anything. With an SLR camera you may lose precious seconds fiddling around getting the exposure and focus right. Using an iPhone you can be sure to ‘catch the moment.’

Vannucci refers me to the photo of the little boy.  “This is exactly an example of the kind of photo you can miss. This guy was running to play with me and I was just in time to take my iPhone out. It was already set up so I didn’t have to open the application – just open and click. It’s very easy to compose because you have a big screen. And actually I was just in time because he was almost out of the frame.”

Are people surprised when they find out Vannucci’s little secret? Always, he laughs. He describes how a famous photographer in Italy, “the guru of black and white”, was full of praise for Vannucci’s photographs and the quality of his prints.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God,  how can I tell him?’  I was embarrassed! So I said, ‘Listen I have to tell you, this is made with a telephone.’ Five seconds of blackout, total blackout, and then he said, ‘Well you know, very nice.’ So people are always very surprised.

“There is a lot of prejudice. But what is important is the result, not what you are using.”

In fact the app is the source of much contention among photojournalists, several of whom were up in arms last year when New York Times photographer Damon Winter came third in Picture of the Year International contest for his Hipstamatic image of troops in Afghanistan. It’s fine for ‘arty’ pictures, the argument raged, but not for serious, journalistic photography.

Vannucci can see both sides.  “Photography is an art, but photojournalism is a bit different. So I can understand these complaints, but anyway this is the present and the future will be – I mean we are always moving forward…”

As for Vanucci’s future with the iPhone, he says, “For me it’s still a kind of a game. Maybe in a year I’ll be bored but for now, most of the photos I’m taking are with iPhone.”



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