Erik Kessels (KesselsKramer, Amsterdam) | Photography in abundance
Through the digitalisation of photography and the rise of sites such as Flickr and Facebook, everyone now takes photos, and distributes and shares them with the world – the result is countless photos at our disposal. Kessels visualises ‘drowning in pictures of the experiences of others’, by printing all the images that were posted on Flickr during a 24-hour period and dumping them in the exhibition space. The end result is an overwhelming presentation of 350,000 prints.


What a fantastic idea and an important reminder of the era we’re living in.

Then, I saw this press release yesterday :

Aurora Photos is excited to announce the launch of the myPhone Collection of stock photography, a collection of images taken with iPhones and other mobile devices by some of the world’s top photographers and iPhoneographers, and now made available to pictures buyers for both editorial and commercial licensing.

What struck me was how worthless I think iPhone images are and how I can’t imagine anyone licensing them. Obviously, this blanket statement cannot be true since it’s never mattered what photographers used to take their pictures with but I can’t get over the feeling that pictures taken with a camera in a phone that everyone owns have no value. I think iPhone images only have value when they depict breaking news or when they are curated by someone to understand a bigger picture.

Creating value beyond how a picture was created and what the picture depicts is the most important challenge facing photography professionals today.

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  1. Just for the record: I don’t own an iPhone. And it annoys me that every iPhone owner assumes everyone else has one, too. I can’t think of any other consumer product inspires that kind of assumption (or rather, presumption)…

    As for the value –or lack thereof– of iPhone photos for editorial & commercial licensing purposes, I am honestly not sure what to think or say. (But as you [Rob] said yourself, it has never really mattered what camera photographers use to take their pictures, so why wouldn’t photos taken with an iPhone have any licensing value…?) I can say this much: I’m kind of tired of seeing iPhone photos; for some reason they’re all starting to look the same to me… Perhaps because everyone’s using the same one or two Apps to post-process them (?). And the end-quality just isn’t that good most of the time if you really look at them as photographs — and not just as “miniature newsflashes of the here & now.*”

    *Wasn’t sure how to put that last thought into words, but hopefully I got my point across.

    • “The best camera is the one you are carrying…”

      • That being said, it’s only logical to carry a better camera.

      • Yeah, I already said the same thing (essentially) — see my response to Rick L. below…

        • Tim, your reply snuck in before my response to Jonathan G. — my comment was intended for his comment.

  2. neat-o!

  3. iPhone envy Cynthia? Just Kidding…mostly :)

    While a lot of images taken with an iPhone are trending to look the same, I think it matters not whether that is true. As has been said before, it’s the vision of the photographer and the moment captured that really matters.

    I used to be a tech geek who was more interested in super stop action photos and how tack sharp I could be with my focus (that beast still lives in me and raises it’s head often) but for the most part, lately, for me…it’s about the expression and feeling that a photo generates. I’ve seen some iPhone photos that truly exemplify that last statement. They evoke an emotion, convey a story and are visually appealing.

    Whilst I agree from some standpoint that an iPhone is a sub-par method of capture, and crowd-sourcing stock ‘phone photography’ does not sound like a good idea – it matters not to me what equipment I capture images on a Hasselblad H4D or an aging and beat up Canon 5DII, so long as I capture the essence of what I’m trying to portray.

    I’ve taken some really great shots with my iPhone but the ratio of crap to non crap is seriously not in someone’s favor to use it as a preferred method. That said, if you’ve got a great shot, there’s an outlet that pays, why not?

    Anywho, my 1.5 cents…


    • I totally agree that a great shot is a great shot — no matter what camera the person used. (Trust me, I am the last person to be a gear geek/snob, and am a big believer in “the best camera is the one you have with you” approach to image-making.)

      Maybe my generalized feeling about iPhone photos is related to the original premise of Rob’s post, which relates to the sheer QUANTITY of output (of imagery) that we are experiencing nowadays. We are reaching a saturation point…if not an over-saturation point. And let’s face it, now that practically everyone has a phone equipped with a camera, the ratio of great iPhone/cameraphone shots to mediocre or downright bad ones is pretty low. (Or would that be high? Math has never been my forte!?)

      P.S. Regarding my “iPhone envy” I only have a little. But I also don’t want to be wedded to my phone like all y’all. ;)

  4. BTW, ~$0.15 x 350,000 prints is roughly $52,000 and that’s assuming it’s cheap-o 4×6 prints!!!
    That’s some Jack for an exhibition!

    • Yeah…because there isn’t any kinda discount for buying more than one….

      • That’s why there’s the “~” and “roughly”. But your right, I’m sure he got a discount. Even then at 50% it’s still 25K!
        Tough crowd….

        • I think you’re missing the point.. 25k worth of what could be junk mail images for a warehouse sale ? ..the devaluation of the majority of photography continues at breakneck pace, iphone pics included.

          • maybe someone will “collect” the work for $100,000 or more though so then it will be all worth it.

  5. Iphone cameras sure are cheap (compared to professional grade gear), but stating that no relevant image can created with it is the same as giving all the merit in a good photo to the gear alone.

    For me, the fact that everyone owns Iphones just shows how important skill and vision are in the creation of an outstanding photograph – and I’ve seen some of those taken with cell phone cameras.

  6. What are the copyright implications of Erik Kessels installation?

    • None. Flickr is public domain. It’s no different than other sites that you post your data to. Once you upload they can do what they want with it. Take facebook for instance. You upload images, it becomes public domain. There are no “legal binding agreements” or “license clauses” associated with the images. anyone can go and download your drunk pictures from last weekend.

      • Careful there @Evan Richardson. A blanket statement like that is not entirely true.
        While I’m not a lawyer, I AM sure that you can’t just go do ‘anything’ with them as you say. I do think there is some creative license that is given for an installment as this…Best for someone like Leslie Burns to answer though ;)

        • True, I was refering more to the fact that most public sites like that can/will use your images for their own use. If I recall correctly, one site, can’t remember if it’s dropbox or another, clearly states they can use your files. plus, as I stated, there is no “license” attached to your images on facebook/flickr. Also, per yahoo/flickrs TOS:

          “Yahoo! does not claim ownership of Content you submit or make available for inclusion on the Yahoo! Services. However, with respect to Content you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo! Services, you grant Yahoo! the following worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive license(s), as applicable:”

          Therefore you clearly are granting flickr/yahoo the right to use your images if they want.

        • true, my lecturer’s told me of how a previous photography student had someone take a self portrait off a website and use it in a porn ad!!
          Obviously, this is not legal.

      • Sorry, that is simply not true about Flickr. The copyright holder retains all copyright in images uploaded to Flickr. Individual users may change the license for an image or group of images to Creative Commons or more specialized versions of more permissive licenses.

        • did you read their TOS?: Section 9:


          Yahoo! does not claim ownership of Content you submit or make available for inclusion on the Yahoo! Services. However, with respect to Content you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo! Services, you grant Yahoo! the following worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive license(s), as applicable:

          With respect to Content you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of Yahoo! Groups, the license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Yahoo! Services solely for the purposes of providing and promoting the specific Yahoo! Group to which such Content was submitted or made available. This license exists only for as long as you elect to continue to include such Content on the Yahoo! Services and will terminate at the time you remove or Yahoo! removes such Content from the Yahoo! Services.”

          You give them access to use your images as they want. OF COURSE you still own the copyright, but you are giving them the right to use your material

          • the bottom line, as always is… NEVER post something you don’t want others to potentially use.. pictures, text…whatever.

          • I’m sorry Evan, but when I read these TOS, I think it is you that misunderstands them.

            “With respect to Content you submit … the license to use… solely for the purposes of providing and promoting the specific Yahoo! Group to which such Content was submitted or made available.”

            To me this says they only have the right to use the images for providing/promoting relevant Yahoo services.

            With regards to the original story about an artist printing out the images, this has no relevance. It is not Yahoo doing this or even giving permission for this. It is a completely separate act by a separate individual.

          • CB may be right.
            I have about the same wording in many of my photo contracts.
            Even if someone pays me to shoot something for them, these lines in the contract basically mean that I reserve the right to use the photos in my portfolio or in photo contests.

            For Yahoo, it only means that they don’t get in trouble if they promote Flickr events, new features or contests using submitted photos from the users.

      • Flickr is NOT public domain. Each user sets their licensing terms on a wholesale or per item basis, all the way from complete Creative Commons release to All Rights Reserved. Please do not spread this absolute fallacy.

        • Plus one David, bang on, the user manages the level of rights and usage.

      • I’m sure you are not alone in thinking that Flickr is “public domain,” or that all images on Flickr are “public domain,” but that is patently FALSE.

        • For clarification: my comment was directed @Evan R.

      • Flickr isn’t public domain, but some of the content may be, or have other licensing. You can’t walk into a library and take out a book and read it over the radio for entertainment; however including passages and citing the author for a news story is fine.

        They can download pictures but it doesn’t mean they can sell or display them legally. There are certain fair use agreements, but I assume the art installation is not one of them.

        The Internet public domain myth is a growing problem.

    • interesting. it would have to be fair use to be legal. since I’m not a lawyer I can only speculate, but I’d say it might qualify for that. he’s commenting on the sheer volume of images hosted on flickr and using a very small portion of what’s there to make his point. also, it’s a sampling of many different photographers and does not seem to have a negative effect on their potential market or value.

  7. The camera on the iPhone 4s is scary good. At least on par with any other 8mp point and shoot. And with the visual vocabulary of society being dumbed down, technical quality in image making seems to be irrelevant. All this disposable imagery is being momentarily consumed on the web and discarded. Theres got to be a buck to be made in there somewhere. . .

  8. Wonder how many of those photos is of people’s shoes, toilet stalls, subways or toilet paper rolls?

    • I have shown images taken with my phone. They were in fact accidental images of my feet, and others. Taken as I was putting my phone into my pocket after taking an intended photo at eye level. What amazed me was how well they printed at 7 inches square and how well the compositions worked inspite of being random and accidental.

      As a side note, one of my clients was in the parade I was shooting. She paused and laughingly asked me “What the hell kind of a photographer was I to be shooting with my cell phone!”

  9. I’m pretty surprised to hear such a comment like that here.

    So, 5D images must be pretty useless now days as well since pretty much everyone owns one of those. Conversely, Phase One IQ180 images must be worth a lot since not many photographers use it.

    I guess that means it’s true when people say “That photo is great… you must have a good camera”.

    Are a majority of iPhone photos useless… yes, because a majority of people taking the pictures are horrible photographers.

    Pretty sure Miles Davis could have made a Fisher Price trumpet sound good.

    • Jeff Singer = definitely an example of someone who can produce great images with the iPhone. :)

    • @Jeff Singer – Bingo – “…a majority of iPhone photos are useless…”
      That said, there are the accidental gems and creative use of the tools at hand that net good photos…and some even great photos.

    • I highly doubt Miles Davis could have even played a Fisher Price trumpet, I hate statements like this.

        • Well Jeff you can think whatever you’d like. A miniature guitar is not the same as a toy trumpet. You’ve got no legs to stand on, your statement resides solely in hypothetical and I find it useless.

          A better discussion is whether Miles would have sounded better through a crappy or toy trumpet as opposed to the amazing instruments he was able to afford after becoming successful. Or whether the old dude playing the mini guitar wouldn’t sound better through a Gibson or Fender. I’m pretty sure you know the answer to that one.

          Not having my best camera/equipment with me does not stop me from making a photograph. It does however bother me when I feel I could have made a better image (or one closer to what I was trying to achieve) if I had only had different equipment with me.

          • Oh, now we’re defining what a toy instrument is. Well I’ll tell you what Josh… you draw up the specs and I’ll find something to fit them.

            The point of my statement was clear. And I’m not quite what you’re arguing about since your last statement, dissatisfaction with your on hand equipment notwithstanding, was exactly what I was saying.

            What’s that other saying you may not like… The best camera is the one you have on you.

          • Oh, and I don’t believe I said “Miles could have recorded Kind Of Blue with a Fischer Price trumpet.” I just said he could have made it sound good.

    • Nicely put, Jeff S (referring to your initial comment)!

    • You are obviously not talking about the Do Bop album. Because I’m pretty sure he tried that, and it sucked. I kid though.

  10. “… how worthless I think iPhone images are”

    What a ridiculous thing to say!

    • Replace “iPhone” with “Instagram”.

    • ‘ “… how worthless I think iPhone images are”
      What a ridiculous thing to say! ‘
      However it is a testable statement.
      If the iPhone/smartdevice specific stock collection is selling images in 12 months time we will know it has value (or not). I suspect they have some value.

      What I think is disingenious is creating special standalone collection for images created on possibly lower res smart devices.

      I am quite positive that a number of pro photographers will still be selling images made on their 4MP 1Ds or 6MP D100s. The sensors in those cameras are almost certainly not as good as the sensors in the iPhone or some of the Android phones ( though there is no argument the optics were almost certainly better).

      IMO If stock agencies are going to allow image produced on smart devices into their collections, then they should simply be integrated into the larger collection and judged on their technical and artistic merit.

      At most the collection device should me an optional meta data field.

      I suspect the creation of a special collection of smart phone photos has its origin in a few silly/cynical beliefs:

      1) the popularity of the iPhone – they can ride off the iPhone’s marketing hype/success
      2) that some media professionals, (shooters, editors, media buyers) have an inbuilt bias against such devices, so they defend the value of their brand/other collections by separating the smart device images into a separate collection. They also let the amateurs know they are not as good as the big guys with the fancy gear, and therefore they should consider themselves lucky to get their shots marketed, even if it is a cheaper price.
      3) they can claim the images have less value and therefore sell them for less (and probably sell more of them due to that lower price)

      With regards 2) I am pleasantly surprised by the number of commenters on this article who don’t seem to have the bias against smart devices. I thought there would be more people who think the tool does matter to a greater extent.

  11. I take “snaps” with my Android phone every day. I have even printed some, and shown them. Images have value. It matters little how they were produced.

    Digital cameras and now camera equipped phones have democratized photography like only the Polaroid cameras and Brownie before them. What has changed, and what has diluted the pool is the accessibility of these images. Flikr and Tumblr among myriad other sharing sites have enabled everyone with access to see all the pictures taken and posted every day. By everyone. Of everything.

    There is a sameness to many cell phone pictures owing to the “grooviness” of the apps being employed. Too bad, because it is boring.

    I believe there are more people taking pictures now than before, but the big change is access.

    However, if you go through the shoeboxes of anyone who has passed away and left a legacy of prints and slides to be mulled over by their survivors, you realize that there have always been millions of images out there. All shot by different people of all the same things.

    What separates great photography now as it did then, was a unique vision.
    That will always stand out.

    • @Ivor Evans – Good point!! “…if you go through the shoeboxes of anyone who has passed away and left a legacy of prints…”

  12. Because people have two hands and a pencil, does that mean they’re great illustrators? Of course not. Did the Polaroid receive such treatment when it first started spitting our instant photos all those years ago?

    • good point with Polaroid. I think Edward Land created a program that set out to prove the film could be used for artistry. how much of the value of those images is in the authorship?

      • He did start a program. Walker Evans was one of the recipients of a polaroid camera and tons of film. One of the last projects he shot. There is a great book of the work, “Walker Evans: Polaroids”.

    • I rather think it did. I remember the novelty of a Polaroid in the 60s.
      I was unaware of any forum like this to explore it in this fashion, but there is no denying it changed photography, it changed what kind of pictures people took, and eventually it enabled artists such as Evergon to create new and important work based on it’s very character.

      Polaroid did indeed receive the equivalent share of discussion, I am pretty sure. I think pros were just not as threatened by it because they didn’t see the market for their work decimated the way it has been by the proliferation of more or less properly exposed and in focus images, as has been happening recently. So, less hand wringing maybe.

  13. There are those who would whip out their iPhone and snap away,
    maybe even get a swell frame or 2 or 3. Personally, I’m not that kind.
    Not the kind who thinks that the best camera is the one you have with
    you, not the kind who wants to take and post fotos of what I had for
    dinner or some stupid detail that catches my fancy but is really nothing
    but some stupid thing that catches my fancy. Small talk.

    I have nothing against small talk, it greases the wheels, makes the world
    go ’round. But to confuse that with solid, rigorous practice is a mistake.
    I tend to think that if something is too good to be true it’s probably false
    and if an endeavour is just plain easy it’s probably not worth too, too much.

    Whatever camera you use (I don’t care) is only powerful if it’s coupled to
    a brain that’s in gear. There is no easy way out.

  14. “I think iPhone images only have value when . . . they are curated by someone to understand a bigger picture.”
    I love this! So right on!
    So here’s my question back, if there are soooo many photographs taken, how come there aren’t more Photo editor, curator, or DAM consultant jobs?

    A = I believe thats b/c most of all of those photos are CRAP.

    What happens in the future when all that CRAP clogs the servers of these free social network/photostorage clients?

    A=The past is forgotten and erased due to the strain on storage space.

    A new definition of the “Now Network!”

    • ““I think iPhone images only have value when . . . they are curated by someone to understand a bigger picture.”
      I love this! So right on!
      So here’s my question back, if there are soooo many photographs taken, how come there aren’t more Photo editor, curator, or DAM consultant jobs?”

      Because no one wants to pay them!

  15. I agree with the commenters who say iPhone pictures as a part of a photographers overall body of work or as a component to telling a great story are not worthless. iPhone stock photos seem so utterly worthless to me. Anything that is disconnected from the author feels that way now.

    • But isn’t most stock worthless these days (literally and figuratively).

      • absolutely, but that’s not limited to images at stock agencies. most iPhone pictures can be categorized as stock.

        • Stock is the reason assignment photography as a whole has suffered, but therein lies the reason that great photography of the past will increasingly be worth more, as it stands head & shoulders over the mass of crap below, just like the pile of worthless prints shown above..

  16. Cel-phone camera images are equivalent to cel-phone verbal conversations. They are the visual equivalent of casual talk between friends and family. The images may be interesting to the folks producing and sharing with loved ones, but they’re certainly not interesting to others unless they’re able to provide a source for gossip. For example, a beautiful picture of flowers at sunset might be interesting to the person that took it and his friend that he shared it with, but very few others will be interested. However, a picture of a fatal car wreck will probably generate broader interest because it’s something that can be gossiped about around the water-cooler. Bottom line: Cel-phone pictures only have value as “visual gossip.” Any attempts to assign artistic value to them will probably be met with howls of laughter by future generations.

    • Just so I am clear, Bresson is admired because of the IQ of his images? You would contend a current micro chip camera couldn’t match the IQ of said Bresson? Is there lots of crap by folks just taking snapshots? Sure, but don’t forget there was a SLR craze in the 70’s that produced a lot of crap. I’ll take a less than perfect, pixelated, emotion evoking photo over a tack sharp, high Res, 20×30 snooze of your model sitting on a train track any day. Artistry has no bounds when it comes to medium in my opinion. More crap is created by cell phone cameras simply because they are near universal while the interest in photography as an art form is not.

  17. It not the camera, ya dummies, it’s the shooter tht makes the image!

    • The shooter doesn’t make any images without a camera though. Both are obviously a necessity.

  18. I have to agree with you here. I’m a photographer so maybe I’m a little biased but I see iphone, blackbery, droid, smartphone pics as worthless pieces of disposable digital. I shoot for media and even if I shot some sort of awesome images on an iphone I’d have a hard time getting my editors to post the pics because of quality concerns.
    That being said, I heard a story that this summer Rafa Nadal shot a pic in the locker room with an iPhone and it did get posted on GettyImages site. I just did a quick search and didn’t find if but if I do I’ll post a link.
    Why not? Once digital came about anybody could become a photographer. Now that iPhones are the norm and the quality is getting better and now we have an outlet for such disposable imagery there will be even more mediocre photographers out there. Is the bar of quality for photography dropping now that it’s so easy that anyone with an iPhone can be a photographer?

    • Anyone who has even slightly honed critical faculties would agree with you I think. I personally find great utility in the images my cellphone camera gives me.

      I don’t paint, but if I did, I think I would likely draw a clear distinction between sketches and preparatory work and the final piece,

      In my work, cell phone images definitely fall into the category of “sketch”. If not sketchy. Not worthless, but largely not worth publishing.

      • Just a thought on this,… I’ve been to a museum show where I’ve seen Michaelangelo’s “Sketches” as well as another in Spain of Picasso’s “Sketches” of the Guernica. I guess if you’re Annie Liebowitz or David LaChappell or someone famous for their photography or even artwork for that matter a cell phone pic would hold more weight and people would like to see them. A sketch is more about the process of the art where the final piece is the culmination of all the sketches and practice put into one. I still enjoy looking at famous artists sketches because it shows a different glimpse into the psyche of the person and the artistic process.
        I still wouldn’t condone selling iPhone pics on a stock premis though. It’s crap.

  19. In the same way the Rein II sold for $4 million, there will surely be photo buyers who will find photos taken with an iPhone and license it. The value of the photo, whether you love it or hate it, is created the moment someone is willing to pay money for a license. The rest just doesn’t matter.

  20. It’s not the arrow, it’s the archer…..

  21. One last comment and then I will shutup.

    It seems every advance in technology which makes media more accessible often comes about with a decline in standards and in quality.

    There was a joke making the rounds in the printing industry about Heidelberg showing a proof of his Bible to a monk. The monk held it to the light, examined it closely and said, ” Well, it’s good, but it’s not calligraphy.”

    • I think you mean Gutenberg.

  22. Though I totally understand there is this major concern of being flooded with thousands and thousands of images everyday. It’s even more apparent to have a sense of skill and vision in order to distinguish oneself.

    People should stop complaining about how everyone is using an iPhone for taking photographs littering the internet. This is what we technology does. It democratize the way of taking photos even more. There is no need invest a lot of money on camera gear. Because of this level of playing field other factors are becoming even more important: talent, drive and vision.

    People should seriously take a look on some of the names right now that are using their mobile devices as a photographic tool to tell stories.

  23. This has been a very interesting string of comments to read and digest, it’s a great discussion to have about the value of a photograph or digital image in today’s landscape of technology. Rob, I have to say I was really taken aback by your initial comment about the worthlessness of iPhone images, and still surprised by your insistence that iPhone stock images are worthless. As Thomas Pickard states above, as far as stock photography goes, an image is really only valuable if someone is willing to license and pay for it. On that count, we will have to see if this collection is a market success with picture buyers or not.

    But that fact aside, and whether you like it or not, iPhone photography and the post processing stylization of the images through the various apps available have become part of today’s visual language and culture. Why wouldn’t picture buyers, whether buying for editorial or commercial purposes want to buy into or reflect that visual culture? It is for that reason that we at Aurora feel this collection of iPhone (and other camera phone) stock photography has a good chance of being a commercial success.

    In the end the images can only be judged by the images themselves, and not by the camera, phone, or whatever device created them. So I encourage you to come, look at the collection we have put together, and judge for yourself the quality and creativity and value of the images.

    Karl Schatz, Director
    Aurora Photos

    • I think the reaction is toward the “schtick” of the whole thing, the gimmick, the buying and selling of some sort of bullshit “street cred”. This is no different than people buying “Relic” Fender guitars, all of the “history” with none of the honest hard work.

  24. As a former photo editor, and a damn good one at that, Rob, should also know that it’s about the curating, the selection process. Twist the old saying, “There’s gold in them there hills.” To “There’s art in them there phone photos.” You just have to find them.

    • The most interesting thing about the image is the credit: Photo by Nadal/Getty Images. FB?

        • Current FB Terms (in Canada anyway) state:

          “You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition:
          For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”

          I guess Facebook is selling the image through Getty and can continue to do so until Nadal takes it down from his site on facebook.

  25. There will be a few keepers in there for sure!

  26. I believe this digital era is really liberating. People everywhere feel empowered to create photographs with any kind of devices available, including iphone. So whether you are a professional photographer or not, you gotta be itching to deliver something that is even more creative, outstanding than anyone else did before. And after all, if the market still do not recognize the value in your art work, it means you must adjust your choices and keep evolving to create your own demand! It’s pure entrepreneurship…

  27. Photos are merely becoming more like words. Like most verbal “communication,” visual communication via digital photography is ephemeral and meaningless. People blabber all day with words that have no real meaning or importance (just filling the silence), yet that doesn’t mean sometimes some of it doesn’t rise to the level or great speeches, theater, etc. Same thing now with visual communication. Most is as meaningless as the words it may replace, but all of the worthless visual blabber has no bearing on the creation or existence of lasting, meaningful art.

    • Make that “most” visual communication in the second sentence there.

  28. I am all for a camera being built into a phone. When photography is your job I find myself not at all wanting to bring my camera with me “everywhere” I go. But in this case heck I have a camera built into my phone and I will use when I need to.


  29. A good snap shot can be like a good aphorism.

    But it won’t replace novels.

  30. The problem with digital and iPhone images as well is that not one is concentrating in the same way anymore. Josef Koudelka and William Egglelston do not shoot digital. Neither does Richard Mosse. Shooting film creates an expanded moment and digital never can do this.

    • really? isn’t that up to the photographer?
      that mot people who take pictures are lazy, doesn’t mean that the means by which they make them is sub-standard

      putting technical differences aside —
      while shooting with a large format camera forces one to apply more care, the artists who don’t need to be ‘forced’ to do so shouldn’t have any trouble creating ‘expanded moments’ with any device

  31. It’s a ludicrous assertion that the particular camera that an image is captured with can either negate or confirm the ultimate commercial or artistic value of that image. As earlier posters have mentioned, one can make worthless photos with the most expensive cameras, or create the most sensitive and compelling fine art with a plastic toy Holga. Personally, I use my iPhone as an expressive tool, when I don’t want the bulk or acuity of my DSLR, and I find that there is a special quality to the images that I can’t attain with other cameras. I can’t imagine trying to shoot an assignment for a client with it, but I have had many of my iPhone pictures selected by Getty Images for inclusion in their stock library, and I have had sales of those images, so obviously some people find value in them.

    • It’s not ludicrous. Try showing a flickr portfolio to an art buyer and see how far you get no matter what the content.

      • That may be so, I’m not involved in the fine art world… And I wasn’t suggesting that Flickr would be an appropriate substitute for an actual portfolio, regardless of the customer… (in fact, I don’t seem to have mentioned Flickr at all…?). By since you bring it up, I think that one of the reasons that Getty started the Flickr group is because their customers are hungry for imagery that is more “real” than what has traditionally been available through stock agencies. Sourcing the thousands of talented amateurs that contribute to Flickr was a very savvy business move by Getty, and they wouldn’t have done – and continue to do it – if there was not a commercial demand for it. This naturally includes images captured with cell phones.

        Here is an example of at least one successful fine art photographer who joyfully embraces whatever tool best expresses his vision:

        • Flickr is a cheap source of photography and iPhone images will be the same. No matter how much artistry goes into the image the perception will drag it into the gutter.

          • +1

            Sadly, that “perception” (from those who often are considered professional communicators) is so often stifled. There is a common sensibility in the commercial, editorial, and fine art markets/industry, that a creative artist must have only one particular look/style/brand/identity. Having more than one is somehow considered a flaw (sometimes a fatal flaw), a detraction, or impasse. A qualifier – if a very well known, established, or heralded artists does the same they are often considered a renaissance man.

            Where is in our world is life so limited?
            Can a chef only prepare one type of food?
            Can a person only appreciate one type of food, visit one locale, embrace one type of book? Is a CD/AD/ED limited to only one type of story or campaign?

            Yet here we are stuck with a narrow perception, which often better defines the person/sensibility embracing that perception than the work they perceive.


            The market (world) is still over glutted with images, and pre-packaged ‘looks’ from an iPhone (or any other camera) add to the overkill of images in our environment.

  32. […] Erik Kessels hat alle Fotos, die innerhalb von 24 Stunden auf Flickr hochgeladen wurden ausgedruckt und diese 350.000 Bilder in einen Raum gekippt. Puh. (via) […]

  33. […] Was ich schon lange gedacht habe, bringt jetzt einer gut auf den Punkt: Drowning in Photography […]

  34. When 35mm cameras broke out as the tools of news photography over 4×5 Speed Graphics the old timers cried the same cry. History repeats. Everything old is new again. As it’s been said over and over, it’s the image, not the tool. Picasso could have sketched a masterpiece with the ash from a cigarette butt. Get over it, get out and get shooting.

    • Can you cite a source for this statement?

      The ease of 35mm compared to a Speed Graphic enabled journalists to work faster and more efficiently. The final printed image in a newspaper was at quite low dpi so the quality was not affected. Why would they cry?

      An image speaks for itself, it doesn’t matter what it was captured with, to sell an image, based on what it was captured as some sort of “value added” is a joke.

      • … captured “with”….

      • A source for the statement? Sure, I first heard it from Mr. Joseph Costa, instructor of photojournalism at Ball State University, in his advanced photojournalism class, 1979.

        Costa was one of the founders of the National Press Photographers Association as well as a news photographer with the New York Daily News and Sunday Mirror magazine. He lived thru the time of the Speed Graphic and all the changes in the technology of the period.

        Many news photographers at that time did not believe the 35mm camera was a professional tool. They believed the quality of their 4×5 negative (and prints from those negs) was vastly superior to anything the 35mm could produce. They were not concerned with DPI and they were just fine with the ease of use of their trusty Graphics.

        The point I was trying to make was simply as technology changes there have always been naysayers and people who stand fast within their tiny comfort zone. In the same regard, there have always been pioneers — those individuals who forge ahead, leading the pack, looking not at today, but toward tomorrow.

  35. The iPhone is a moderately priced point and shoot camera installed inside a phone which is also a computer giving them the ability to upload it to a social media site instantly. It is the gen-X polaroid camera. I think there will be artwork created using it, just as happened with the use of instant film.

    The bigger picture is the dilution of imagery by the massive amounts of snapshot taken on a daily basis. How many of us plow through photography posts on FB or G+ ? I don’t have time to look at 9K+ different individuals posts to view all of the photographs everyday. I would like to, because I have met quite a few talented people who don’t work as a photographer.

    Personally I don’t care for the equality of the camera in the iPhone 4, I own one too. The only reason I change from a Blackberry to an iPhone was the phone was beginning to have problems. I wont be upgrading to a 4s any time soon. I would have to expect to until the SP is use make it so that you have to upgrade because they won’t support the older OS of old smart phones.

    I don’t care that someone is going to capitalize on the plethora mediocre snapshots from an undersized digital camera. Good for them! I wish I had thought of it. Maybe I will make something that equals the popularity of the even one app for today’s smart phones.

  36. First, I think the medium/tool does indeed matter for the viewer, and not just the artist. The wild popularity of the Instagram is that it mostly makes an image look like a distorted toy camera film image, and much of the masses out there find that very cool, because then any crappy image can look green and cool!

    Second, 99% or more of all cell phone image will *never* be printed. In fact, it’s highly likely that most won’t exist after a ceratin period of time passes (wish someone would do some research on this). The visual catch of the exhibit shown is precisely the fact that a huge volume of images are printed, showing you just a tiny fraction of those created each day. Actual prints are different from ones and zeroes.

  37. Jörg Colberg has an interesting post about cell phone pictures here:

    Basically, he says that cell phone images are perceived as more credible because of the lack of quality–they seem like they haven’t been through the filter of the media. I definitely think the popularity of Instagram, Lomography, Hipstamatic, etc is a backlash against all the retouching, hair & makeup, lighting, etc in commercial photography. And if this type of imagery is popular, then there will be a market for it.

    • I personally have been shooting my holgas and film point and shoots lately because I’m sick of digital, retouching, clean images all the time.

  38. I think the point of this exhibition is not about “if gear changes your results”, it’s about making photography a trivial matter, a nonsense.

    You can make a great picture with any camera but mostly, serious photographers care about a tool that gives him/her certain freedom and control. The fact is iPhones are giving to everyone, including your parents, sister, brother, cousin… the sensation that they are photographers, thus creating a huge idea that photography is not a big deal. Mostly technology is giving the idea, at least for the ordinary iphone owner, that YOU are only serious if you have a pro camera… that’s a never ending story of how people perceive professional. And, since results are “emulated” with Instagram filters, it’s even more confusing to them. Now add to this the saturation that Cynthia is talking about.

    The phenomenon here is simple: Technology for everyone seems to give the idea of instantaneous power in any field, knowledge and talent appears to be secondary, that is mainly the problem.

  39. I have to say this is quite and interesting read.

    Are iPhone photos worthless? I don’t think so. Are iPhone photos less deserving of being called art? Again, I don’t think so. My biggest issue with iPhone photos is that they’re called “iPhone Photos” instead of just “photos”. I feel a lot of the negativity surrounding phone photography is related to the fact that, whether an image is good or bad, noting that it was taken with a phone is either an excuse for it to suck, or is a way of congratulating yourself for being so awesome that you can produce a decent photo with only a phone.

    Bottom line… they’re just photos and if you separate the image itself from the rest of the crap they’re no more or less worthy of praise or money than any other image out there.

    And as far as a collection of stock iPhone photography… in many ways I think this is a brilliant idea. With the slew of online publications, blogs, and iPad magazines out there this seems like a great way to meet their needs in a budget conscious way. Also, if you look at the different supply chains – Pro Photographers, Amateur Photographers, and people with phones – the people with phones are by far producing the greatest volume of photography. Why not try and take advantage of that, so long as the final output is carefully curated I don’t really see how this could not go well.

  40. […] everyone now takes photos, and distributes and shares them with the world – the result…Via GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); GA_googleAddAttr("LangId", […]

  41. “What struck me was how worthless I think iPhone images are and how I can’t imagine anyone licensing them.”

    I’m surprised Heidi, et al. haven’t posted any of the non-breaking news iphone created photos that have been featured lately in top-tier editorial publications. I’ve seen them in the NYT, New York Magazine and other high profile places. What makes them any different than Nan Goldin’s or Terry Richardsons’ work shot on cheap little 35mm cameras? There was just a PDN story about Queen Annie loving the damn thing –

    Curious how this post has gotten more comments than the last 50 or so TDE posts combined. This site used to lead the discussion about the photo industry, but now you only get traffic when you make boneheaded statements like the above. You’ve really got your finger on the pulse Rob, keep it up.

  42. everything the I-Phone spits is art

  43. You know what else is worthless? This article… The iPhone has revolutionized the point & shoot! Its all about the snapshot. Get over it.

    • The snapshot as art happened a loooooong time ago. Well before any iPhone or similar. Snapshots are now as common as brand name coffee.

  44. After viewing your first 350,000 to 1,000,000 snowflakes,
    the 1,000,001 snowflake….meh!

  45. Consider how many photographs a professional photographer must take before he/she could perfect his/her work, your argument sounds really silly to me.

    Nobody is a natural born artist–not even the greatest painters in past could create a masterpiece without the poor works that came before.

    You also could not write like you can today without the poor writing you did in the past.

    • i never said YOU didn’t find them valuable. just the the people who hire and buy photography. remember them. it’s how you make a living.

  46. At the beginning I too was a skeptic of iPhone Photography. Then I tried it and fell in love with the concept. I soon realized what an amazing device I can carry with me that captures, processes and post images. I also realize the possibilities are endless in the creativity that is added to an image. Beside the fact that they make beautiful prints.

    In the past year I have learned everything I possibly could about iPhone Photography. I now travel the world with only my iPhone, iPad and have become a better artist with the iOS applications. Through my blog I help others to see the possibilities and inspire other to to the same.

    Recently I was given an opportunity to be apart of Aurora Photos myPhone collection. I am honored to be apart of it.

    I am very fortunate to have discovered iPhone Photography!

    One final thing… In 1984 I was owner of a software development company that wrote programs for the Personal Computer, PC. I remember a gentleman in a 3 piece suit coming up to me and saying, “A PC will never run a real business.” Today I think of how some are saying, “An iPhone will never take a real photo.”

    Teri Lou

    • It’s not surprising people dismiss the iPhone as a serious artist’s camera, but I bet those same people don’t really know how to use it like an artist, let alone print out the gorgeous works that are coming from it.

      I am both a Canon DSLR and an iPhone shooter. I use both with purpose, rarely
      just “snap” images, and although the iPhone is not my choice camera for events, it does pop out of my pocket on a daily basis, because I know the endless possibilities with choice high-res apps bring about such wonderful creations. Both the DSLR and the iPhone have their place in my life and my work.

  47. iPHone images didn’t drown us in photography, the advent of digital photography did that. It enabled anyone who knew nothing about photographic technique to come up with good and marketable images, one of the results being the end of stock photography as a viable source of income. The iPHone and the apps are only more creative tools and something that amateur and professional photographers alike want to learn, and being in the photography education business, works fine for us.

  48. Well….. Like any “new” medium or process it takes a while for the masses to catch on and give their “approval”. So who cares? Apparently Erik hasn’t checked out the Aurora site — if he had he might have written a different article. But I figure he is afraid and threatened by change as so many people are. Too bad for him.
    I would hate to be so opinionated that I could never be open to new and wonderful things such as the iPhone and iPad art medium. He seems to forget that it is the spirit of creativity that is so exciting and wonderful, the camera (no matter how big or how small it is ) is just a tool for translating that creativity into a piece of art we can all see and enjoy. Again too bad for him. Theresa

  49. Mr. Kessels:
    As I “googled” and reviewed your work, previously unknown to me, it became quite obvious that this was your intent.

    Buon Opportuno if it works (however you would define that), kind of a “Flash in the pan.” if it doesn’t.


  50. Just like anything…….worth is determined by what price one will pay.
    However, very cool Photography….is being created with the iPhone by amazingly talented photographers.
    It is a fabulous device for creating an artistic image…..maybe give it a try.

  51. We’re drowning in EVERYTHING digital – not just photographs, but that is not the fault of the iPhone and phone cameras and this technology; and this proliferation, in my estimation, doesn’t diminish the value of what is being produced today on the iPhone and the iPad.

    There’s more stuff sure, which means there’s more poor stuff AND there’s more good stuff, and, like cream, the good stuff rises to the top. All you have to do is look at some of the premier iPhone sites such as iPhoneArt and, particularly the juried site, PixelsAtAnExhibition, to see that highly artistic images are being created and shared daily, and to see that this sharing is helping raise the quality bar very rapidly.

    For me, the most important thing this technology does is to put it in the hands of nearly everyone. Now, each of us can have an opportunity to discover his/her creative voice using a medium that is available, accessible, and shared around the world. If we think of what is done with these devises in terms of individual growth and an individual’s ability to explore his/her own creativity, then what a revolution this is! Before Gutenberg, no one could mass print. Before the computer, individuals couldn’t easily touch others with ideas or be touched by them. Today, with communication being what it is, many people now are able to do and experience what only a few may have been able to do and experience before, and to my way of thinking and experiencing, this is a very positive thing for individuals and for society as a whole.

    What is art supposed to do and be anyway? Is creativity not something that is innate in each of us? Providing another tool, another mechanism, to facilitate an individual’s exploration of his or her own creative potential is a wonderful thing. The cream will rise to the top, and maybe some of what has never been cream before will be churned into it.

  52. […] Do you like a bit of discourse with your blog?  Well, unless the Tumblr blogger does some customization to their theme with something like Disqus (which most don’t seem to do) forget about an interesting comments section.  What you get instead is a list of “hearts” and “reblogs”.  I couldn’t imagine a site like A Photo Editor on Tumblr without a comment section, where a lot of the interesting content lies. […]

  53. If photos taken by iphone or any cellphone are worthless then why there are photography sites that put mobile phone categories on their weekly/monthly contests?

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