Knox Bronson knows iPhoneography, having staged the first-ever gallery show of iPhone photos at the Giorgi Gallery in Berkeley in 2009. Now he’s the proprietor of “P1xels at an Exhibition,” a hub that takes iPhoneography as seriously as fine art. Artists who hope to make a living from their craft display their work here and Bronson helps them navigate this fledgling art world. We asked Bronson to discuss what makes for a great iPhone photo, must-use apps, and where this medium is headed…
What gave you the idea to curate an iPhoneography exhibition?
It was the work of Maia Panos, who, with some very limited apps, was creating some beautiful work in late 2009, very different from what I was doing with the same tool set. Prior to seeing her work, I wasn’t sure if my intuition that we were working in a new medium, a truly new art form, was correct. Her amazing work confirmed it and everything since has reinforced that proposition.
As luck would have it, December of 2009 was a most serendipitous moment in the evolution of the medium: the tsunami was just beginning to swell; the art form had just emerged, a number of artists had broken out, each with his or her own unique vision, and iPhoneography was exuberantly bubbling up into the Zeitgeist. Very lucky for us.
What was the reaction from people who heard what you were doing?
From the beginning, reactions have been varied, especially in a given milieu: corporate, social, or institutional. I could share numerous examples of the gamut from disdain, dismissal, and ridicule to excitement and enthusiasm. One editor of a well-known photography magazine wrote off the whole movement, referring to our artists as “push-button Monets.”
I’ve had people laugh in my face when I told them what I am doing these days. The funny thing is how quickly they change their tune once they actually see the work people are creating.
People love the untrammeled beauty of the work, free of post-modern art theory and photographic dogma (and PhotoShop). I can also state without qualification that the purity of the medium, i.e., no off-device editing, is important in the public’s appreciation of the art form.
But it is still an underground art form, as far as the art establishment is concerned.
Who are your fave iPhoneographers?
This is such a difficult question. There is just so much talent out there. From the very beginning, I loved the work of Maia Panos, Andrea Mdos, Jose Chavarry: they are the Beatles, Stones, and Dylan of iPhoneography in my opinion. The whole roster of visionaries on p1xels.com. Ramona Gillentine. The nudes of Max T. Frame and Butow Maler, of course!
What are the best apps for iPhoneography?
When Michele Reiner and Jamie Lee Curtis asked me for a list of apps a couple months ago, I tapped a couple of my artists for input and this is the list we came up with: PhotoFX, Touch/Retouch, Photoshop (paid) Noise reduction, Perfectly Clear, Noir, Camera+, Filter Storm, BlendPhoto (or DXP which I used a lot), PhotoDesk, Dynamic Light, BlurFX, Juxtaposer, ToonPaint, Iris, Snapseed, PicGrunger, PictureFX, Decim8. You could spend years working with these and never run out of new aesthetic possibilities.
I still like LoFi and Tilt-shift Generator, which are really old school and still have their place at times. There are so many apps and if you ask any artist, at least any artist I care about, he or she is going to give you a different list as his or her basic tool kit. Most artists on Pixels use five to 10 apps on any given picture.
What makes a great iPhone picture?
The same things that make a great painting or photograph: subject, composition, color, texture, form, light, shadow, execution and technique.
All great iPhoneographic images are about something and then also about something else.
If you have an image which is just about something (as I find most “street” iPhoneography to be), it’s boring. And if it’s just about the something else, it’s irritating.
So you have to have the something and the something else in the same image. The iPhone is an absolutely marvelous instrument for creating images with both elements. We start with a photographic something and then, through app-ing, we add the something else.
I used to say “App that bitch ’til it sings” and I still do, but I also caution against over-appage with “App as needed.” In other words, app as the picture tells you what is needed to bring forth your vision and truth. I write a lot of artists and ask them to back off a particular app, they’ve just gone too far with it, out of insecurity, or not trusting the image enough. An adjunct to this is “one cannot app a bad picture into being a good one.” But it is a phase I have seen almost everybody out there, including myself, go through.
The best iPhoneographic artists pay attention to details. They notice every pixel. There are no distracting elements, nothing to pull the eye away from what the artist deems important; the app-ing is perfectly appropriate for the image, whether it’s a desaturated B&W or a vibrant explosion of color or a muted vintage countryscape. Most of my favorite artists take real time working on their images, once they have a picture worth working on.
As Henri Matisse remarked, “Much of the beauty that arises in art comes from the struggle an artist wages with his limited medium.” The iPhone is a very limited medium, with the optical sensor “lens,” the tiny screen on which to work, the often buggy apps, which is certainly part of its great allure for me and our community. And that is where the beauty originates.
You can see Bronson’s own iPhone photos at http://www.p1xels.com/artists/knox-bronson/ or tap on the button below to view all P1xels artists on Flipboard.