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Monday, 05 April 2010


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What really is the point in shooting something on a digital phone and then crafting the trappings of instant film media around the edges. I don't even get the concept behind it. Even in the pre-digital days would a photojournalist even use a Polaroid? What is the purpose of implying that it could have been one?

Because it looks good that way? The pictures seem evocative and impressionistic to me.


The curmudgeon in me says "Bah!" at using an iPhone + a 'roid app. The realist in me says "Who cares? It's the image that counts."
A few months ago I was having an online discussion with a group of fellow/sister college-level photo instructors. Most of them were whining that today's college photo students don't carry their cameras with them at all times, like we did when we had hair and smaller waists. I disagreed, pointing out that the students shot at least as much as we did, only now the students use phonecams. Not only that, but thanks to email and websites, far more people actually see this work, compared to the numbers of folks who dropped in to the miserable little galleries where we hung our precious, archival silver prints. I still like to hang out in those galleries, but I do enjoy viewing hundreds of images each week on the web. Are all of these images good, or even worth viewing? Heck no, but neither are many of my photos, either.
Guttenfelder's phonecam pix are certainly worth seeing. I'm also planning to poke around and see if I can view his other work.

I was struck by how similar these photos looked to some of the photojournalism from the Vietnam War. To me, the message was how similar such conflicts must be from the perspective of the grunts who actually do the fighting, and how timeless it seems (in the way that one could squint and see these soldiers' fathers and grandfathers in Vietnam, or Korea). Removing the detail erased the specificity of the situation, and reinforced the generalities... the cold, the heat, the dust and dirt, the privations faced by the infantryman, getting down into the mud and looking for the enemy.

Is it photojournalism? Maybe not. Does it tell a story about the Afghan War, and of war in general? IMO, definitely yes.

Evocative and impressionistic my ass. I do not accept sugar-coated war. War is about killing people. We each must come to terms with it. Putting a Polaroid frame around it and some sort of goofy softening effect does not do service to the sacrifice of the innocents.

I downloaded this little app and put in on my iPhone and I really do like the results.

Unfortunately, they've taken the Polaroid experience a bit too far, IMHO, being that you have to wait for the picture to "develop", even allowing you to shake the phone to speed it up. The app, at least for me, crashes often, too. And it strips out the EXIF data like the GPS coordinates which I find handy.

Here's the first photo I took with it out my office window in downtown Bend, OR -- it's a rather pedestrian photo (pun intended) but I rather like it: http://www.flickr.com/photos/msisk/4479783272/

Maybe he is using an IPhone because it is much lighter in weight than the pro Canon gear, dripping with dust and sand, on the floorboards of his vehicle...yet, for some reason, the images look the same...


Like Keith (above), I would not consider these IPhone images as "documentary"...but I do like them.

Thanks for posting that Mike!

Cheers! Jay

Cheers! Jay

I want to hate it simply for the gimmick-factor, but darn it, I really like it...a lot.

I'm with Bob Dale, above, on this one. I was more interested in this war story this morning http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/05/wikileaks-us-army-iraq-attack and find the iphone/polaroid business trite.

Representations of war should not be burdened by gimmicks and filters. These photos fail on so many levels to describe the ugliness of war...instead relying on nostalgia triggers. They are the ultimate yuppie response...

If you want to connect people to what is going on in a war zone, a simple objective representation can be powerful enough to engage viewers. For example, I doubt anyone can view this video of Reuters photographers being gunned down and not react:


If David Guttenfelder likes playing with his iPhone, fine, but in reducing everything to a slick, contrived surface he does a disservice to the people on both sides of the war he is picturing.

I actually have an opinion this time, and despite of danger of getting ranted...

Many of his iPhone photos are not shots that would have been taken with more adequate photographic gear, or perhaps it is more about that they would have got published. They are snapshots of war.

I know that using bigger guns usually mentally restricts the shooter to focus on certain kind of shots. The tool does imply what to do with it. (And that is why there is some kind of effects there to make the image "worse" than it would actually be).

While I see snapshots of war worthwhile, I'm a bit puzzled that they seem to get labelled as photo journalism.

Vesa YLE said: "Many of his iPhone photos are not shots that would have been taken with more adequate photographic gear, or perhaps it is more about that they would have got published. They are snapshots of war. While I see snapshots of war worthwhile, I'm a bit puzzled that they seem to get labelled as photo journalism."

I think they're labeled as photojournalism because he's a photojournalist on assignment -- just as simple as that. I was in Iraq for a few weeks carrying a D3 and three lenses (the F2.8 zooms), while wearing armor and a helmet, and that's a lot of weight, and you just get tired of carrying it all around, especially if you're also burdened with a laptop and a sat phone and all the other crap you have to take. Really tired. There were times when there was a shot possibility, and I just couldn't be bothered to to get it out. I might not have used a cell phone, but I would have used a small pocket zoom, something that you could just shoot with and not worry about...

So I think they're just photographs of the war done with an alternate instrument. The Polaroid thing is mildly annoying, because it seems to deflect from the seriousness of the situation, but it doesn't bother me too much. Just another choice.

The Reuters photographers being shot up by the Cobra does bother me, a lot, but not for the usual reasons. The soldiers are to blame for almost nothing, but Reuters for quite a lot. You have a chaotic situation in which people are being killed by insurgents not wearing uniforms and moving about in civilian cars, shooting AKs and RPGs; so a car comes rushing into a firefight and people leap out carrying what could be RPGs. They get killed by Cobra gunners. A car comes rushing in to rescue them, and they get shot up. Well, that's a war. The gunners weren't trying to kill photographers, they were trying to kill insurgents, and the photographers were behaving like insurgents.

Reuters *is* to blame for hiring locals as photographers, and then paying them the kind of money that almost requires that they take insane risks -- the kind of money that can make a huge difference for a third-world family, though not as much as having a living father can make. So you've got these local media people taking crazy risks, rushing into active fire-fights to "get the good stuff," and they get killed. I think what these news agencies do is unconscionable. They should pay First World photographers First World combat prices, because that's enough that a photographer can make his own judgment and say, "That's insane, and I'm not doing it today." For the Third World guys, too often it's a case of no shooting, no job. The further fact is that these photographs are not necessary to document anything in particular -- do we think it's a war without fire-fights? Without people being shot? -- but rather, as entertainment, or as a prop for a some tendentious editorial or political position.

I've thought that if an agency wants to be accredited to US forces (and they all do), they should be required to post a $5 million insurance policy for each accredited photographer. It probably wouldn't stop this brutal exploitation, but at least the families would be taken care of.

I don't know if the information is out there anywhere, but I'd like to see stats on the number of Third World vs. First World photographers killed in these conflicts...it'd be somewhat illuminating.


How the photographer gets the message over, makes the image stick in the mind, illicits an emotional response is the thing. War photos don't have to be gritty B&W.

I suspect this is more to do with some camera geeks getting their knickers in a knot all because these were shot on an iPhone. Maybe if they looked closely at what was lacking in their own work they'd realize that the camera is just a tool.

It's the making a point of them being taken on an iphone that makes me think, so what? Is that really meant to make them more interesting? Mind you, even Joel Sternfeld is making a point of it http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/3865219160?ie=UTF8&tag=conscientious-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=3865219160

What I find most interesting about the use of iphones etc, is the affect they’ve had on photojournalism. The rest, I filter out.

Really angry reactions here. I'm kinda surprised. How do they NOT document what he sees and lives on a daily basis, both him and the soldiers. 'Cause he used a phone? An App?

Make these photos B&W and many would look very much like those of a very famous photojournalist who just happens to shoot for VII agency. Gritty and crooked, maybe not sharp. How nice is war supposed to look?

You try it.

I think it goes to show that if the content of the photo grabs you, then the sharpness/pixel count/tonal range/ take a back seat as you dive into the image.

Great photos more better more expressive and dynamic than those taked with the DSLR and lenses near perfection.

Interesting pictures, but do you know what caught my eye? The first line in the article that states "... documents the war in Afghanistan with traditional digital cameras ..." Traditional digital camera? Has digital been around long enough for it to be considered "traditional"? Ugg, makes me feel old this morning.

Don't like this fuzzy, veiled approach. War should not be veiled over. There are other small cameras that would give sharp photos with real colour. If we--i.e. our countries--are going to do war, then we ought to see it for what it is.

On the other hand, Guttenfelder points his camera and frames with skill.

i like the quality of the images, who cares if they're stylized images of war. Style carries quite a bit, really.

The only thing I REALLY HATE about them is the stupid Pola/sx-70 border. Lose the border and let the color stay.

I think if Mike had cropped off the frame and not told anybody these were iPod photos, then there would be raves and not rants. So much of the critique here seems to be because the app gives it a Polaroid look that is artificial. I don't care for that part either, but the images themselves are really good.

Unfortunately, it appears some of you dismissed these photos as soon as you saw the word "iPhone". I almost did, as well. However, these "snapshots" (a highly inaccurate term in this case, btw) show slices of soldier's day-to-day lives in a way that is reminiscent of the photos in a family album. These images, by the very nature of their lack of pixel depth and tiny lens and sensor are, in their own way, more accessible and real than had they been shot by a $5000 dSLR.

Had these images been shot by a G10, would you folks still have objected? It seems that the method, rather than the results, are what is being judged.

Be it war or a wedding, there is always a hundred ways to skin a cat.

Nice pics

quote from the head of the linked article - 'not only documents the war... with traditional digital cameras...'

Made me laugh, really. What does that make those of us still shooting film?

Simple tools are easy to use, but difficult to use well. Guttenfelder's a real craftsman with a good eye.

1. It doesn't make any difference whatsoever what camera Guttenfelder uses. Only devoted point-missers on shutterbug sites would give a damn about such trivia. A phone camera, as others have alluded, has great go-anywhere advantages, although at the dramatic compromise of quality.

2. I do, however, take some issue with this fellow applying that Polaroid effect to the shots. He has crossed the line from documentary to war-as-art with that affectation. Making the images look "...evocative and impressionistic..." is for Flickr posters.

My opinion.

I don't know. I think they are good photos. Some of them clearly would not have been taken with a larger camera--the very act of raising the DSLR would have caused a reaction. Others, perhaps he wold not have bothered taking without a little snapshot camera handy.

Plus I don't imagine he wanted to change lenses much in the desert. I'll bet that big zoom stayed on all the time, and he used the iphone for wider-angle shots. Would there be any complaints if he had used a more conventional compact in that role?

Not sure the Polaroid filter has a lot of point, but I don't get the strong reaction to it. Would it have been better if he had used a B&W filter? Is there some serious reason to think that these snaps don't represent what he saw?

And of course the story of the Reuters photographers is more important than these photos. So what? Must we pay attention to only one thing at a time?

I have been impressed with the Denver Post, between this, various images they post during the year, and their Holga project a year ago, they seem to be quite open to showing our world in ways that aren't necessarily straight out of the camera. Despite being in upstate New York, I enjoy going to the Denver Post to read their page and take a look at what their photographers are shooting.

That being said, wouldn't it make sense that Guttenfelder had these for his personal collection and then his editors encouraged him to send them to the paper so they could use them? Especially as I pointed out, the Denver Post has been pushing the photojournalism paradigm the past couple years.

That being said

Perhaps it's because I own, use, and enjoy both the Iphone as well as the Shake-it app; but I am a little surprised by the disdain that people are feeling by this photography. I can't speak for Guttenfelders but I really don't like the images that come straight out of the Iphone, however the colors that do come out of the Shake-It app are 9 out of 10 times exactly what I wanted image to look like and unfortunately you can't remove the frame (like say the Lo-Mob app). Perhaps the next update of shake-it will allow the user to turn off the frame, the cropping and keep the color.

All that said, I think the images give us a good picture of the details of what he is experiencing as well as the soldiers. Despite the low resolution, you can see the dirty, gritty, isolated, barren, and seemingly harsh conditions. I these particular instances I am sure Guttenfelder felt this formula best conveyed his vision.

It's probably the fact that the iPhone has a wide-normal lens more than anything else. When 99% of our current photojournalism is shot through a 70-210 zoom or a wide 20mm, the pictures start to look alike.

The facts that they were taken with an iPhone and that they were processed with a Polaroid emulation filter don't bother me in and of themselves. It's the results I don't care for. They look like snapshots taken with a 126 Instamatic in the 70's. Which is neither good nor bad. But in this specific case, I think it lessens the photos. The photographer is clearly skilled; the collection of photos as a whole is somewhat interesting and a few of the photos could warrant further examination, but there's nothing to look at. No detail. No highlights, no shadows, just fuzzy color & shape. Which would be fine if they were sufficiently interesting fuzzy colors & shapes, but in this case, the subject matter demands more info; more detail.

I'm not objecting to lack of dynamic range or detail out of some pixel peeping motive. I've been impressed enough by lensbaby shots & cheap digicam shots that I've been tempted to play around with those techniques for fun. (I actually did buy a Holga lens adapted to the Alpha mount from holgamods.com). But in this case, the end result is mediocre to my eyes.

I've seen war correspondence shot with older Oly digicams that probably cost less than an iPhone that I liked much better, so it's not camera geekery speaking.

We've come a long way since the Polaroid and I don't see the point in purposely degrading photos except for aesthetics and here the aesthetics don't do it for me. So it ends up a gimmick. "Look, with a cell phone camera and post processing, I made my pictures look like they were taken 40 years ago !" It "works" in about 1/3 of them ... the effect and the content of the photos work together to achieve something that looks like it could have been shot years ago. In some, there's a disconnect. But it's the clearest shots (where the filter's effectes are hardly visible) that I find most appealing.

I'm surprised and disappointed that even some of this blog's presumably image-savvy readers are knocking these shots for being "evocative and impressionistic" or otherwise subjective and affected; as if the skillfully shot, edited, cropped, post-processed, clinically sharp, high resolution images published on news sites are not.

I'm finding more and more in this digital age that people are looking to acheive a result more and more like film. Look at the "art" filters on Olympus cameras as an example, or how people review some cameras as producing results that are "film like"..

I used to shoot Polaroid - I shot my last pack a few months ago when I found my local camera store had a supply of film that was only just out of date....regardless of what anyone says Polaroid had a unique look.

Then I found POLADROID on the web..

It's a free program that lets you convert any jpeg into a "Polaroid" - the photos even develop before your eyes like a Polaroid, and no 2 are the same (and yes - I've been known to process the same photo 5 times to get the "look" I was hoping for)

Not the same, but until something better comes along lots of fun

Dear Bob, latent and others,

I should start out by emphasizing how much I politically agree with you. 'Cept that you're probably nowhere near hardcore enough for me. I loathe and detest war and anyone who practices it, from the highest level of command to the lowest trenches. I will never, not for one moment, respect, reward, nor honor any single one of those who participate. Like I said, way hardcore.

That's unimportant background-- it really doesn't matter where I'm coming from, or whether you feel the same way; you should just know it so you can appreciate where I go.

I don't think these photos in any way prettify warfare. If they did, I'd be repulsed by them. What they most strike me as is usefully artless, like postcards from the front. Unvarnished reality. They seem to me to simply be 'what is.' You can read some of them as horrific or as banal as evil itself. Or possibly even not, if you think this is a noble venture. Me, I don't see glamor in them, I don't see glory. I see an unenviable day-to-day existence. Nothing impressionistic nor dreamy and too 'amateurish'to be sugar-coating anything.

And so I think they work, very well, indeed. Because they just... are.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

" They look like snapshots taken with a 126 Instamatic in the 70's."


Thanks Dennis, that's exactly what I was feeling and couldn't formulate. These photos remind me so much of all the colour-shifted, badly exposed and faded images that came out of VietNam and show up in photobooks and on websites about that war, that it almost seems to be a pastiche of that time and situation.

I have nothing else to add, just making the comment.

Now that everyone has made there comments and have pinpointed what effect it looks like (126 Instamatic from the 70's) Does anyone know how to achieve this effect using photoshop?

someone please help!!

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