Phone photos reach fine art proportions 

Winning photographs from the inaugural Mobile Photography Awards, an international juried competition, on view at San Francisco’s ArtHaus gallery exemplify today’s digital times.

“I think creativity is unleashed in a different way when you can pull a camera out of your pocket,” says Mobile Photography Awards founder Daniel Berman. “There’s a Wild West feeling to phone photography. Not everyone carries their camera with them, but everyone has their phone.”

“Everyone” includes professional photographers such as  Nick Laham, whose recent iPhone portraits of the New York Yankees in a locker room went viral.

Berman — a photographer, filmmaker and self-confessed iPhoneography addict — accepted submissions taken with any mobile phone; 2,200 images were submitted, narrowed down to 26 winners.

Fifteen awards were given for formal photographic merit in categories including art and architecture, landscapes and self-portraits, while 11 “app” awards were given for skillful use of  photo processing applications such as ShakeItPhoto and Filterstorm.

“It’s a bottom-up kind of movement instead of top-down,” Berman says. “It’s very DIY. I can work with a 99-cent app made by a girl in South Africa who’s created a neat way to layer images. Companies like Adobe are way behind, they’re trying to get into it, two years too late.”

Berman’s goal is to make the fine art world take notice, and give exposure to mobile photography talent.

While photography’s digitization has democratized the field, most phone photographers don’t bother turning the pixels into print, but in this show, the original 4.5-inch-by-2.4-inch snapshots are blown up into archival prints, mounted and sold as limited editions.

The photos are diverse. Painterly, softened and distorted images show up in “scratchcam” and digital art-collage categories. Vivid, on-the-fly moments are captured in street, black and white, and “beachlife” categories.

Many images are baffling, making the viewer ask, “How’d they do that?” Berman guesses most images were processed by more than a dozen apps.

Yet the images that really pop are the ones that look the most like traditional photos. Two nuns in “Sound of Music” habits are caught in midair, playing double dutch in a black-and-white snap by Jose Chavarry. It has the whimsy of Henri Cartier-Bresson, the iconic Magnum Photos journalist.

Similarly, many images in the show are street-savvy snaps, putting mobile phone photography on the map.


If You Go

Mobile Photography Awards Exhibition

Where: ArtHaus, 411 Brannan St., S.F.

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays; closes June 30

Admission: Free

Contact: (415) 977-0223,,

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Lauren Gallagher

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