Daily Life Revisited
Towards the end of last year I looked back at the early days of picture messaging and the birth of citizen journalism at the BBC including our first attempts to ask for, and use, readers' pictures. At that time in 2003 we wondered if the cameras on our mobile phones would replace conventional cameras. Well now it seems we have come to that point.
Richard Schofield has just been awarded a distinction in his master's degree in photojournalism and documentary photography at the London College of Communication. Nothing odd about that, but what makes it different is that the pictures were all shot on a simple mobile phone.
Richard's project was called Daily Life Revisited and was shot in Lithuania where he has been based since 2001. The title of the series stems from the work by Antanas Sutkus, Lithuania's most celebrated photographer, whose work is often compared to Henri Cartier-Bresson or Andre Kertesz.
Richard found that Sutkus' work gave him a way of ordering his own pictures, a framework in which to bring together the project.
He said: "The main connection is that we're both interested in celebrating the ordinary lives of ordinary people. The title of my project incidentally, Daily Life Revisited, was respectfully commandeered from Sutkus' extraordinary Daily Life Archives (Kasdienybės Archyvai) project."
Richard's pictures show his ability to get physically close to the subject and this is undoubtedly aided by the use of a mobile phone. Some of the pictures are close-up shots, where the person depicted is unaware the photo is being taken; in others you can see the reaction of the subject.
"There are two clichés I like. Firstly, it's often been said that the dream of every photographer is to be invisible. I've discovered that the dual functionality of a mobile phone can create enlighteningly discrete photographs of life on the streets thanks to its propensity to render photographers almost entirely invisible.
"With a mobile phone I can photograph people without their knowledge, which, if you ignore the large can of worms it opens, can create some startlingly candid pictures hitherto impossible to create with more cumbersome and obvious equipment.
"Secondly, it's the photographer that takes the photograph, not the camera. This sends out a positive message to people who can't afford the luxury of an expensive camera but who'd like to take good photographs. I know a lot of people who've spent frightening amounts of cash on a fancy camera only to discover they still don't take very good photographs.
"The mobile phone is simply another tool that if used wisely can be used to create great photographs."
Indeed that's true. I'm sure many of us have shot pictures on a mobile phone and the reaction you get is very different to that you'd receive if you pulled out a large SLR, but as Richard says, it's another tool, another technique. Whilst it's the person behind the camera that makes the picture, the type of kit you use will affect the type of pictures you take.
Using a mobile phone might make it easier to shoot discreetly, but I'd say as long as the final result is a faithful representation then it's not a problem, or at least the issues are the same regardless of what kit you are using. Much of it comes down to how the pictures are used, not so much that you've taken them.
There are many different ways to work on the street as a photographer and I asked Richard to talk about his views on this, he told me:
"There's a particular style of street photography prevalent among photographers working in the medium which I believe is more about the actual finished photograph and the person taking the photograph rather than the subject itself.
"Personally, and a lot of people disagree with me, this goes against everything I believe good street photography should be.
"An awful lot of street photography celebrates the playfulness of people as they unwittingly interact with their environment, which is undeniably clever and that often produces great photographs, but for me this type of photography says more about art than it does about life. It's certainly not particularly accessible to the average person, who I'm trying to reach with my own pictures."
"I've been using the two-megapixel camera phone for over two years and have pretty much exhausted its possibilities, but I've only just started experimenting with the potential of using mobile phones as serious tools for creating professional documentary photography. I recently bought the eight-megapixel Nokia N86, which not only produces infinitely better quality images than my old phone but that's also a lot more sophisticated.
"I'm still getting to know what it can and can't do, but have plenty of ideas for future projects. I used to make documentary films and worked a lot in Cuba in the 90s and am currently researching a project there that I started as a film but never completed."