Why A War Photographer Shot An Award-Winning Photo With An iPhone App

It’s incredible how, years after computers have landed every desk and so much of the media we consume has been converted to digital bits, people remain so deeply uneasy about the inauthenticity of things produced with digital tools. Like NYT photographer Damon Winter’s award-winning photograph, shot with iPhone app Hipstamatic. That’s the point I was trying to raise last week.

Damon Winter’s penned a thoughtful response to the issue and the criticism that using a special effects app transformed the picture from a legitimate work of photojournalism to mere photography. You should read it.

And while it raises a lot of dead-on points in the photo’s defence – how is using Hipstamatic different from using a lens with an extremely shallow depth-of-field and applying heavy vignetting or using an actual Holga camera or special film stock to produce a desired effect, often for aesthetics at the expense of pure documentation? – there is a really interesting point he makes about Hipstamatic in particular versus other special effects photo apps:

Let’s look at how the images have been processed by the application. This is not a case of taking an image and applying a chosen filter later. A photo is taken and then you must wait up to 10 seconds, while the image is processed, before you can take the next one. In processing, every image receives what seems to be a pretty similar treatment: a colour balance shift, the burning of predetermined areas of the frame and increased contrast.

It’s an argument about the process itself: Taking a photo with Hipstamatic is more akin to using an old toy camera than simply slapping a filter on a photo you’ve already taken, because the effect is just as an incidental, even if the effect is deliberate. It’s not post-processing, it is a part of the process.

New question, since I don’t think using a phone to shoot is controversial (and if it is, won’t be within a generation or two of cameras in phones), nor is it a question that the key to any photo is the photographer’s eye: Is Hipstamatic more authentic then than other special effects photo apps? (A new rankle: The latest update to the app lets you shoot up to 10 photos in rapid succession.) Are some digital processes more authentic than others? [Lens, Image: Damon Winter/NYT]

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