PHOTO | The Agony and The Ecstasy: Mobile Street Snaps

For the last three years, I considered all mobile phone pictures to be somewhat disposable, an ephemeral little visual bonus to help buoy the day. Over time, I found that I wasn't just taking more photos with my phone than any of my other fancy cameras...I was also taking my best photos with that phone. Is it time to start taking my mobile street pictures more seriously?

Here's the thing: I love my big, hunky Canon DSLR. I love its speed, its resolution, its low-light ability, its lenses. I love my film cameras: the satisfying ka-chunk-flub! of my Hasselblad 500 C/M, the sleekly minimalist, ever-reliable solidity of my German Leica from 1988, and the "Photojournalists Love Me" vibe of my 70s-era Nikon SLR. 

But here's the other thing: having them on me at all times is impossible. The DSLR is too big and heavy, as is the Hasselblad. The Leica is convenient enough, as is the Nikon, but because I'm a millennial spoiled on the immediacy of the digital era, I often can't be bothered to wait to develop film (I have 78 rolls in the back top shelf of my fridge as I type this). 

So, I do what everyone else does: I use my phone. It's a quick swipe up from the home screen and a discreet, speedy snap to get that just-so slant of light before a cloud passes over the street, or the perfect positioning of a total stranger against a cool backdrop. Then, I share it on Instagram, put the phone away, and forget about it.

That is, until this whole website re-vamp came along, and I had to really go through my archives to sift through the best of what represents my aesthetic as it is, right now...and then I came up with nothing. That's because most of the best pictures I've taken in the past year are on my phone. Were on my phone, actually, because I cleared most of them away to make room for more spontaneous street shooting. Without backing any of them up. What an idiot.

That gorgeously sun-kissed shot of a Welsh hillside, shaded just-so by a cloud, dotted by a lone white house, and caressed by an impossibly perfect amount of fog? Deleted. The best portrait I've ever taken of my husband, snapped in secret while he brooded over a lunchtime mug of coffee? Oh, it's gone. The serendipitous shot of a Parisian lounging in his rolling office chair to enjoy the sunshine right in the middle of the sidewalk? I don't have it anywhere.

Thank goodness for Instagram, because that's where I uploaded these babies before shortsightedly obliterating them, forever, from memory (quite literally). The important lesson I've learned this week--now that I truly appreciate the images I've happened upon via my beat-up little iPhone's camera--is to save every mobile image I care about, and to back it all up twice. And why not? I do it for all of my other cameras: all of those images are triple-backed up and then saved in the cloud. It's about time I started to take mobile images seriously, too. 

What I failed to realize--and that perhaps a lot of us shooters (professional or amateur or sometimes hobbyist)--is that the camera obscura is always evolving. The actual kind of camera itself doesn't determine the value of the image: it's what's in the image and what it makes you feel. And who doesn't like to hold onto a good feeling? I certainly do.

Post forthcoming on how I'll be backing up all mobile phone images with redundancies, just like I do with all my big-girl cameras. In the meantime, see you around on Instagram


Jill FutterComment