Meri Walker is no stranger to photography or to technology. She began her career as a photojournalist and fine art exhibiting photographer in the early 1970s and was teaching photography at the University of Texas at Austin when the tech wave began in the early 80s. Meri was selling stock photographs and exchanging photo processing formulas online well before most of people ever heard of Windows or Google. During the 80s and 90s, she helped many of Austin’s most famous computer manufacturers market PCs and software to the masses.
Besides being an early adopter of desktop image processing, Meri earned worldwide accolades for her photographs and prints, publishing in major magazines and books and showing in galleries and museums across the US and Europe…but that was before she became an iPhoneographer.
But wait…what’s an iPhoneographer? Keep reading and you’ll find out…
Relocating from Austin to Ashland in 2006, Meri bought a home/studio last year in Talent where she expects to live a long and happy life. Over the past year, she’s taken more photos, is having more fun, and sharing her photos with more people around the world than ever before. Since January of 2013, Meri’s works have shown in London, Berlin and Stockholm and at the Talent City Hall, Rogue Art Gallery, and in this year’s Rogue Valley Biennial Survey of Contemporary Art at the Grants Pass Museum — all without her stepping one foot on an airplane.
Meri is a daily participant in both public and private social networks of mobile artists on Facebook and at the mobile photographer’s mecca, EyeEm. She is compiling online galleries of her work at EyeEm, iPhoneArt, Flickr, on her two Tumblr blogs, and at online print stores. This Spring, her work has been featured on two of the most prestigious Mobile Art websites in the world.
On Sunday, August 4th, the Hilltop Gallery in Ashland will open a one-woman show of Meri’s iPhoneographic prints on a variety of media. Not surprisingly, the show will be called “Phone It In” and viewers will be encouraged to bring their eyes, ears, hearts – and their smartphones – to enjoy the experience.
These days, Meri works exclusively using her iPhone 4S to photograph the world around her, editing the images either right in the iPhone or on her iPad, using mobile apps that she says make digital cameras and desktop software – like Photoshop – obsolete.
Participating with other artists, art lovers, and gallery and museum curators in a 24/7 visual conversation using social networks to exhibit art and learn with other mobile artists both nourishes, and accelerates, human creativity and visual literacy in ways that Meri calls deeply generative. By minimizing ‘talk about’ the visual arts and maximizing the use of visual imagery to communicate everyday human experience, Meri says mobile art venues are the growing edge for visual artists of all kinds.
“What human beings are experiencing right now, using smartphones and tablets, is the end of traditional photography – and the first wave of ‘digital art’ – and the beginning of a whole new kind of human communication that is so interesting and so compelling that it’s forcing the human race to rethink books, magazines, galleries and museums, from the ground up.”
Whereas, in the past, Meri would have carried around specific cameras, lenses and films for every special assignment, today her iPhone’s intuitive interface and the ubiquitous iTunes App Store provide her with a huge supply of free or very inexpensive camera, lens, and film replacement apps that blow away the capacities of most conventional cameras. Also available through iTunes are photo editing, painting and drawing apps that endow users with creative powers that make computer and camera manufacturers and traditional software sellers weep.
With some basic coaching, anyone with a modern smartphone can learn to take amazing photos, edit them into compelling artwork, and then share their creations with more people faster and more intuitively than many people have yet to imagine.
The speed of this transformation in the photographic and digital arts has art peers and colleagues reacting in all kinds of ways – from delight to disgust and outright outrage. But one thing’s for sure: iPhoneography and photography with other mobile devices isn’t going away. In fact, according to this veteran photojournalist and exhibiting fine art photographer, iPhoneography is already blowing traditional photography and digital art down the street … like a tumbleweed…
Get ready to see the world as never before with the iPhoneArtGirl, Meri Walker.
Hi Meri, let’s start right from the beginning. What is iPhoneography and how is it shattering our current photographic and visual paradigms?
iPhoneography is a newly coined term for the process of shooting and editing images using an iPhone camera and a variety of photo editing, drawing, and painting apps that run on mobile devices, ie., iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches. The process is also called “mobileography” and “mobile photography” and “mobile art” to cover everyone using a smartphone or tablet camera and apps to make, edit and share images through any mobile device.
What distinguishes “iPhoneography” or “mobileography” from other kinds of camera work – and other kinds of digital art-making using computers – is that everything is done right on the mobile device. No other cameras, laptop or desktop computers, nor computer software is involved.
iPhoneography is shattering current photographic and digital painting paradigms from two directions. From the right, mobile devices are freeing human beings to express ourselves visually, whenever and wherever we find ourselves, without any of us having to spend a lot of money on cameras, lenses, film and high-end computers. From the left, the built-in technology for sharing images – right from the camera/easel – is breaking down traditional publishing and exhibition paradigms that require artists to jump through complex technical, editorial and curatorial hoops just to share their work with others.
Having an iPhone 4S in my pocket gives me immediate, 24/7 access to a wide array of cameras, lenses, and “films” I can use to capture an image, the ability to alter and enhance the image I’ve captured using my custom-configured “pocket studio,” and the power to both publish and exhibit my work around the globe – all without getting up from my table in my favorite coffee shop. It’s absolutely mind-blowing!
You have spent the past 40 years working with cameras and technology. This is the most excited you have ever been about changes in the photographic arts that you see being triggered by the iPhone and beyond. Tell us more.
I could talk for hours about this, Shields. I have a photographic education that is both broad and deep and have made photographs and prints for 45 years. My work has been published, exhibited, and collected all over the world, including some of our finest museums. And I’ve never been as excited about what I’m shooting – and sharing – as I am now, using the smartphone I carry in my pocket.
One of my lifetime photographic heroes is the versatile, feisty Imogene Cunningham. Imogene was a female participant in the infamous F64 Group that included Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. It was the F64 Group that brought photography from a “technical craft” into the Modern Art world.
Imogene shot all kinds of subjects. And, because she was also a mother who needed to care for her children, she often shot nudes and flowers and everyday scenes around her home. The intimacy of her work and her technical artistry shattered visual and ideological paradigms about women and serious photography during her long and prolific career. Imogene never once apologized for her subject matter, her printing style, or her quirky ways of shooting. When asked, late in life, what her favorite photograph was, it was Imogene who made the infamous quip, “Well, of course, my favorite photograph is the one I’m going to make next.”
Throughout my career, I’ve made all kinds of photographs and done my best to emulate Imogene’s courage using cameras to enter the mystery of the moment – regardless of where I was shooting, from CEO’s offices to children’s bedrooms in the poorest areas of the Deep South. Even when it took every cent I had to buy film and chemicals and paper and paint and drawing media that I applied to prints while my kids were sleeping, I’ve made it a practice to stay as free as possible from attachment to any images I’ve made. I shot, printed, delivered the images, and then hurtled myself, full-throttle, at the next assignment, around the next corner. It’s been a fascinating ride.
When I bought my first iPhone in 2009, what excited me most was the freedom I felt to simply surf the edges of my curiosity with the camera. Having a “good enough” camera and some apps that made a darkroom unnecessary, I was freer than ever to keep shooting and exploring around the next bend – and the next and the next. With no worry about the cost because there was none besides the cell network access fee I was already paying to talk on my camera. Ha!
No “isolated” unit, the iPhone was already on the web, so it yoked my free play to around-the-clock access to a vibrant, generous learning community and an adoring audience. Wow! And both were ready and willing to respond to my play within moments of me sharing it. An intoxicating cocktail of potentially nonstop excitement and engagement! Sometimes, I swear I see Imogene out of the corner of my eye, laughing at my rapture as I follow the White Rabbit after the next image – right around the corner!
Part of the reasoning for doing an interview in the LocalsGuide is to share your passion with the public at large and also to offer some services and education. Can you tell us more?
Besides gardening, biking, and hiking these beautiful mountains of Southern Oregon, two things get me out of bed in the morning: making images with my iPhone and teaching. When I’m not exploring with my iPhone, I love sharing my favorite apps and simple processes with people who want to more deeply encounter the beauty and mystery of their lives.
I offer inexpensive, individual tutorial sessions for folks who want to work with me one-on-one. Kind of like piano lessons – except we can do the lessons anywhere you like. I like coffee shops, so I use them often. But I can come to your home or we can meet in a park. The beauty of mobile is that we can work anywhere – which enables you to get the full value of what you’re already paying for your smartphone satellite service!
I’m also teaching short courses this summer at the Rogue Art Gallery in Medford. You can sign up for an Intro to Mobile Night through the “Drink and Draw” series or take the 3-session series on Sunday evenings, beginning July 14th. Registration is available online on the Rogue Gallery site: http://www.roguegallery.org/adult_classes.html
In September, I plan to start +my weekend intensives and 5-week workshops, probably at the Talent Library.
If you want to join one, you can use the Contact form on my website to reserve a seat: http://joyofiphoneography.com/classes_joyofiphoneography
There are now creative apps for the iPhone that can make Photoshop users weep. Tell us about this.
There are more photo, painting and drawing apps for the iPhone/iPad/iTouch than anyone can keep up with. Dozens of new ones are still being released every week at the iTunes Store. Most of them are either free or cost $1 or $2. The most expensive app I’ve bought myself is Snapseed – an amazing, full-featured photo editing app – for which I paid $5. These days, you can download Snapseed for FREE either at the iTunes store or Google Play because Google bought it to make their Android phones more attractive to photographers.
There are dozens of camera replacement apps, specialty “lenses,” specialty “films, and apps that do everything photographers used to do in the darkroom – or in Photoshop. They serve photographers and digital artists in a far more intuitive, more playful way than Photoshop ever did on the Mac or PC platform. (There is, of course, a version of Photoshop available for mobile devices, too, but I still prefer other apps.)
I bought the first version of Photoshop available for the PC way back in the early 1990s, so I’m no stranger to it. But I always felt Photoshop added a confusing and complicating overlay to my personal creative process. So, about four years ago, I just let go of it and started using free photo editing and painting apps through my browser (Chrome).
Many of the early browser plug-in apps are now available for the iPhone and other mobile phones. Pixlr Express and Aviary are two that I have loved from the start. For me, apps are so much more fun to work with than desktop editing software because (1) they break down complex functions into simple steps and (2) they allow you to edit and paint directly with your fingers- instead of clunking around with a mouse or a Wacom pen, tracking your way through endless, arcane menus.
Often times the Art world has become fixed on a particular value system for how art can or cannot be created. Or displayed. Or published. What’s happening out there and what is the big opportunity?
The biggest opportunity – and also the biggest threat to existing publishing and gallery systems – is the fact that mobile art can be shared directly by the artist whenever and wherever he or she likes. 24/7. Across the globe. This is making the “art consuming public” less interested in waiting around for the publication of art magazines, physical books, or gallery or museum shows – unless these traditional venues offer the viewer some connection or experience they can’t get any other way.
Artists are using their blogs and other social media venues to learn with and from one another – and the art-loving public is watching right over our shoulders. On Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and EyeEm. And on a host of websites around the globe that exhibit mobile art every day of the week. Not once a month. Not once a quarter. New work: every day.
People are now compiling their own digital collections of artwork they love and want to live with using Pinterest. Or more sophisticated sites like Artsy.com. And, since many of us have oversized desktop displays, we can view our collections without having to go home to access the prints or art books we used to buy. Living in the modern, digital milieu is truly creating radical changes in the appetites of the art-loving public. Friday Night Art Walks, for instance, are no less popular in towns and cities across America. But art sales are plummeting as the experience becomes more of a live, social and entertainment venue than the best chance you have to be stimulated by new art – for a month. Add to this the fact that a huge-segment of the art-buying public has lost – or downsized – their homes and no longer has a lot of excess cash or space to hang new images in their homes and you have a recipe for a whole new kind of “art scene.”
In this milieu, lots of mobile artists are foregoing gallery affiliations entirely, opting either to license their images directly to consumers for flat-screen television displays, or offering them as hard goods in online stores where buyers are free to select the precise size and media they want the image displayed on and get the work delivered straight to their front door, ready to hang where they want it. Including right on their body…
The 21st century is, indeed, going to be a brave new world for visual artists and visual art exhibitors, art lovers and art sellers.
Meri, please talk about visual literacy. What it is and where do you see it is going?
Visual literacy, according to Wikipedia, is the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in the form of an image. It’s a term coined back in 1969 by John Debes and is based on the idea that pictures can be “read” and that meaning can be communicated through a process of reading.
Being able to “read” pictorial content with a critical eye – instead of simply believing images we see – is not a new skill. But it has become an essential new literacy over the last 50 years as television, film and still cameras have blanketed the world with still and moving images. With the rise of social media – and broadband internet – being able to make and distribute a compelling image is key to our ability to get and keep other people’s attention long enough for them to take in our messages.
Steve Jobs was a genius. Hands down. And if there’s one thing he understood – perhaps better than anyone who ever lived – it’s the human appetite for graphical expression. Pictures really can be worth more than 1000 words. Beginning with the very first graphical tools provided on the earliest Apple computers, Jobs led the human race into a new era where our humble words and personal pictures can be paired and shared – around the globe. First on the internet and now on the satellite network. When Jobs conceived the first iPhone, he opened the door for human beings to communicate with one another directly – using images of what’s right in front of us – without having to translate our feelings into words in languages we may not know.
I’m not sure any of us yet understand the immense possibilities of mobile devices. I know I don’t. But what I am seeing is the mobile photography community lit up in a 24/7 conversation using images on Instagram, on EyeEm, in Facebook groups, on Tumblr blogs, on Pinterest. It’s a new kind of dialogue that nourishes a depth and breadth of emotion connection – across generations, across nationalities, across languages – that exercises visual literacy and puts it right next to reading, writing, and arithmetic another essential skill for modern life.
What is one way you can see the future changing – right before our eyes – that we could not have imagined even a few years ago?
Well, as I said, the appetite of the art-loving public has been forever changed. First by the ubiquitous access to visual imagery on the television and the internet. And now by the ability of cell phone cameras to show others what we are seeing and feeling, wherever we happen to be on the planet.
Human beings want to see new creative expression today. And tomorrow. And next week. From everywhere in the world. We are no longer content to invest in one expensive piece of art that we hang on the wall over our couch or bed and leave it there to decorate the room for the next two decades, hoping it accrues value that our children might one day cash out. Things are changing far too rapidly for that paradigm to work anymore. So, like libraries, museums are closing – or becoming places for experiences that go beyond just “showing.” And galleries are closing left and right, except for those figuring out how they can offer their patrons more than just a physical showroom for static, expensive images.
Everyone in the human race is waking up to their innate individual creativity and wants to explore it, not just watch other people explore theirs. Mobile devices are speeding this awakening, radically.
What are your top ten apps for the iPhone?
I have over 200 photo, painting and drawing apps on my iPhone so this is a hard question. I don’t use all of the apps I’ve downloaded all the time. But I do use all of them sometimes. That said, no one needs that many apps in their phone to have a blast making your own images. I’m still a bit app-obsessed.
I tend to put apps into three basic categories: shooting, processing, and social/sharing. A baker’s dozen I never want to be without include: ProCamera, KitCam, Hipstamatic, Snapseed, Touch/Retouch, Procreate, Juxtaposer, Layover, Laminar Pro, Dramatic B&W, Facebook, EyeEm, and PhotoSynch. But there are a couple dozen more I love to teach…
The thing about all photo apps is that they are either free or very inexpensive, and you can learn them as you play with them. It’s not like you have to buy a ton of them to have fun and get some great results pretty quickly. Nor do you need to limit yourself. As you learn and grow as an iPhoneographer, new apps can and wll become your new best friends. For the last month, for instance, I can’t get enough of Layover.
If I want to get started, do I purchase an iPhone 3, 4 or 5?
If what you’ve got is an iPhone3, you can get started there. Lots of apps still work well on the iPhone3. Most of them aren’t high resolution. But until you’re dying to print, you don’t need more than that. In fact, you don’t need to have an iPhone at all. People who don’t have a smartphone contract – and don’t want one – can pick up an iTouch, load all your favorite music on it and start using it as a camera and studio with WiFi capability. (For those who don’t know, an iTouch is actually an iPod that also has all the functionality of an iPhone except you can’t talk on it. It’s like a tiny iPad you can carry in your pocket.)
And, of course, you can work with an Android or Windows smartphone, too. I just prefer the iPhone OS and interface.
If it’s time to upgrade your phone contract, you can still get an iPhone 4S much cheaper than an iPhone 5. I love my 4S and, of course, one day I’ll upgrade to a 5. The resolution of the camera in the 4S has been good enough for me to make 16×20 prints and larger, using high resolution apps. (I had a piece accepted into this year’s Rogue Valley Biennial at the Grants Pass Museum that was a 16×20” print straight from my iPhone4.) The iPhone 5, of course, can do even better.
And yes, I’ve had lots of digital photographers frown and disparage me when I tell them I haven’t touched my cameras for three years – or Photoshop for longer than that. Some get downright hostile when I say I don’t plan to pick up any of that equipment again in this lifetime. It makes them feel … um … cheated, I guess. It took me years and years to master all that equipment, too. But, another wise statement from Einstein is, “The only thing that interferes with my learning … is my education.”
If it’s true that the best camera is the one that’s with you when you need to shoot, that makes my iPhone 4S the best camera I’ve ever owned. It’s certainly a lot lighter than carrying around a big heavy bag of camera bodies and lenses. And it’s a ton more fun to edit images in a coffee shop or on a park bench than having to strap myself to a desk for hours in a darkened room, blinking and squinting at a monitor, gripping a mouse or a Wacon pen until my arm goes numb.
Tell us about your favorite iPhoneography websites.
There are dozens of wonderful new mobile art sites and I have many friends in the mobile community who are also keeping their own blogs. To get started, I always suggest folks look at EyeEm.com (on your computer, if you like) and then download the app to your mobile device. EyeEm is both Apple- and Android-friendly. If you follow me there (I’m @Meri) you can look at some of the amazing artists I’m following and follow some yourself to give you great content to get started learning.
iPhoneArt.com is the place I’m sharing my best work and it’s a mind-blowing experience to open the door there and start “walking” the galleries of some of the finest mobile artists on the planet.
PixelsAtAnExhibition.com is a highly curated site, run by the inimitable Knox Bronson. Knox has been screening and showing the highest-quality mobile art from the beginning of the movement. This has given him a jaundiced eye for “app tricks” and a deeply seasoned perspective on what’s new and fresh in the field. On any given day, a great way to get the 3000-foot perspective on iPhoneography is to walk through the pics of the day at P1xels. (I’m humbled and honored by the fact that Knox has featured over a dozen of my pieces on P1xels this spring.)
WeAreJuxt ran a feature about me this spring that tells the story about the shot that made me fall in love with my iPhone. It happened as I was walking the access road next to I5, just south of Mountain Avenue, in Ashland on a bitterly cold January afternoon. If you’re curious, you can read the story here: http://www.wearejuxt.com/2013/04/27/1000-ipa-apr-13-2/
Meri, take us behind the scenes for the creative process of making iPhone Art.
iPhone art-making is a three-tiered process of shooting, apping and sharing.
The bulk of my work starts with images I shoot with one or more of my favorite camera replacement apps as I’m taking a late-afternoon walk with my dog, Blaze. Sometimes I shoot in black-and-white (just like I did with traditional film cameras) and sometimes I shoot in color, knowing that I can always take an image back into a black-and-white state while I’m apping it.
My “habit,” if I can say I have one, is to shoot and shoot and shoot, enjoying the light and the wonder of whatever I’m seeing around me. Then, maybe an hour or 90 minutes later, I find myself home. I feed Blaze and me, and settle down on the couch or my favorite chair to scroll through my Camera Roll. The time between the shooting and the editing process can be a few hours or even a few days. Often it’s just a few hours. When I’m getting ready to app a shot, as I scroll through my Camera Roll, I’m feeling as well as looking for images that strike me as interesting enough to pursue further. When I find one, I am apt to take it right into Snapseed to make a lot of the same kinds of adjustments in contrast, color saturation, brightness, sharpness, cropping, etc. that I would have made printing in a darkroom. (Old habits – as a photographer – die hard. Everyone doesn’t work this way, nor must you.)
Once I’ve got the image into its best possible state, I’ll listen for what’s on the inside of me that wants to be said with this image. That part is wordless … and mysterious. Impossible to describe.If you were watching me from the outside, you would see my fingers finding a variety of different coloring or texturing or layering apps – or an intensifying app if I’m working in black and white – that allow me to marry the outside image with the emotions rising to meet it from inside me.
Who knows how long the “apping” part takes – it varies, of course, from image to image. Awhile later, something in my heart says, “That’s done.” Whatever that something is that talks from my heart also names the image either during the apping or as it’s coming to a close. I don’t really know how to explain that either.
When the image is titled, I navigate to EyeEm to upload and share it with the folks who follow me there. I also go to Tumblr to post it to my blog and to Facebook to share it in one or more specific mobile art groups to which I belong there. If I’m really struck with the image, I’ll upload it to my gallery at iPhoneArt.com and I might also upload it to P1xels or some other curated site to see if one of the curators finds it worth their while to share it with their subscribers.
A few days later, given the feedback I’ve received from peers on the sites where I share, I may print the image through my desktop printers at 5×7 or 8×10 size and live with it on the walls in my office or studio for a few weeks before deciding whether to let it go… or enter it into a local or global exhibition… or move it into a print store… or enlarge it myself on my Canon large format printer and add paint or pencil or pastel or charcoal to the print before offering it for sale as a monotype.
The joy I’ve discovered working this way as a visual artist is incalculable…
Tell us about your upcoming show and how readers can connect with you and learn more?
“Phone It In…” is a one-woman show of some work I’ve done over the last year using my iPhone and iPad. Viewers will see different sizes of prints from 4×4” to 20×30,” rendered on on a variety of surfaces, including traditional photographic papers, acrylic and metal. The show will run at the Hilltop Gallery in Ashland, from July 28 through Labor Day, with an opening reception on August 4th from 1-4pm. The address is 859-B Mountain Meadows Dr. Phone: 541-708-5141
There will be a multimedia dimension to the show that makes use of QR codes to enrich the viewing experience. So, if you have a smartphone or an iTouch, by all means bring it with you to the gallery. If you haven’t already downloaded a QR code app, we will suggest a free one that can download immediately to your iPhone, Android, or Windows smartphone. There will be people available to help you use it.
Of course, all works will be available for sale and new commissions happily accepted.
What can you teach people who want to learn more about iPhone art?
I navigate my art life using a touchstone from Albert Einstein: “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”
I’m a highly educated photographer and an experienced teacher. That said, I think the most valuable thing I have to offer folks who want to learn iPhoneography is that I know how to relax and have fun using a pocket camera and studio to express myself. People need to trust themselves to move into this new media. It really is okay to get up and leave the little rooms we’ve locked ourselves into with our computers for the last two decades. It’s past time for human beings to get back on our feet again. Outdoors, on the Earth.
I can show you how to use that next generation “personal computer” in your pocket – the camera that you can also talk on – making it easy for you to develop your inner photographer/artist and once again experience the wonder and joy we all knew as children.
Do you have any classes coming up or a website that we could visit?
I’m running two blogs right now. JoyofiPhoneography.com is where I share the work of other mobile artists that inspire me and news about my classes and workshops. I blog my own artwork at http://iphoneartgirl.com/#/blog and there’s more information on that site about me and my classes, as well.
This summer, I taught for the Academy at SOU and I’ll be teaching some short, introductory courses at the Rogue Art Center in Medford. There’s a “Drink and Draw” session called “Intro to Mobile Photography” on Friday evening, July 12, that you can sign up for on the Rogue Gallery website: http://www.roguegallery.org/adult_classes.html Then, there’s an inexpensive 3-Sunday-Evening Series that starts on July 14th running through the end of July. You can register for it on the RAC web.
I love working with people one-on-one and in small workshops. As I said, there’s information about my ongoing tutorials, weekend intensives and 5-week workshops on my blogs: http://joyofiphoneography.com/classes_joyofiphoneography and http://iphoneartgirl.com/classes_joyofiphoneography
Finally, do you have any last words or thoughts for our readers?
Just do it.
If you’re finding yourself hungering for a deeper experience of the beauty of your everyday life, go on and get yourself a smartphone. Or an iTouch or an iPad.
Not because you need another phone – or another computer toy – but because you need the simple but powerful camera that has global connection capabilities built into it so you can capture, enrich and share your experience on the fly. Exercising your visual literacy using a mobile device is the fastest, cheapest way for visual artists – and people who want to be visual artists – to strengthen the human creativity muscle.
An iPhone, iTouch, or iPad – or an Android smartphone or tablet – can become such a powerful support for your personal creativity that you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.
Joy, an everyday experience. What a concept!