Fran Simó

Passengers: From the Kodak Brownie to the iPhone

Although iPhoneography might seem to be about a group of addicted fans and technobuffs who cannot stop using their mobile phone, it is in reality the continuation of a trend that began with the advent of the Kodak Brownie in February 1900 and has been developing since then.

The Kodak Brownie is recognised as the beginning of photography for the masses and with it was born the term “snapshot”: a photograph taken quickly without thinking, without any artistic or documentary intent, usually blurry, badly framed and in which the subject is usually a scene from everyday life, such as birthdays, sunsets, pets or travel.

Woman reading, about 1890 National Media Museum – Kodak Gallery Collection

Two men on the deck of a ship, about 1890 National Media Museum – Kodak Gallery Collection

But snapshots evolved in several ways and have become the reserve of visual memory, especially in America, where many research projects, publications and exhibitions have been based on these anonymous snapshots.

In the mid-1960s, John Szarkowski, director of MoMA’s photography department, came up with the term “snapshot aesthetic” to refer to a style he had identified in the photos of Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand. With these photos, which appeared random, casual and with seemingly unimportant subject matter, he organised an exhibition entitled “New Documents” at the museum in 1967. Many consider this exhibition as the formal recognition of street photography, although Szarkowski’s aim went beyond this.

Thus, careless and seemingly careless shots were united to achieve relevance in historical documentation and culture, consolidating a more complex aesthetic than that of the traditional perfectionist image of precise focus, mathematical composition and transcendental subject matter.

In the 1990s, snapshot photography was renamed “Lomography” and converted into a trademark. While the sector was trying to create increasingly more perfect cameras, Lomographers became addicted to plastic Soviet lenses and wrote 10 golden rules that strengthened the ubiquitous, instant, truthful and repeatable spirit of photography. But their rules and market strategy also happened to rescue the pleasure of taking photographs.

Interestingly, Lomography defending analogical image capturing and processing became popularised by digital media, especially through Flickr, at the same time that digital cameras started to be mass-marketed.

But these new digital cameras did not possess the attractive looks of Lomography. They were slow or very expensive and involved a certain technical knowledge and work order and were very heavy. These features deprived them of an ubiquitous, instant and casual spirit.

Mobile phone cameras appeared between these two worlds, but the mobile photography revolution had to wait until phones had an Internet connection and software to transform a bad shot into a “Lomo” image. The key to this new category was not the aesthetics it adopted from Lomography, or digital shot taking, but the in-situ result of what was being captured in two clicks.

Although many people are bothered by the use of the term “iPhoneography”, we must admit that the mass popularisation of social network usage on mobile devices occurred because of the iPhone. It was not until Apple had completely redesigned the user experience with touchscreens, simple software, an application store and true integration with computers and its iPods that the “masses” would begin to use the Internet on a daily basis on their “telephones”. In addition, both Lomography and iPhoneography are useful as labels for defining different stages of the historical process.

Almost all of the photo applications for iPhone are able to share images. They are born social. It is part of the iPhone’s genetic code. In the early days, Polarize and Hipstamatic left socialisation to third party networks such as Flickr.

Instagram chose to create its own “exclusive Instagramers” social network, in which you could only publish from an iPhone and could only initially be seen through an iPhone. This “very restricted” idea attracted 10 million users in its first year. Why? It is all about the name. Instagram is not only the aesthetic continuation of Lomography, it has also enhanced its 10 golden rules. We always carry our mobile phones with us. We do not care about the significance of shooting with them because “they are mobiles” and their shots cost no money. There are no complex options to deal with and neither do we care about how the shots will turn out. This means that they do not interfere in our lives: simply activate the camera and shoot. What’s more, you have the shot instantly and can share it on Instagram, Tumblr, Posteourus, Twitter, Facebook, Mail, etc.

The moment, shooting without thinking, the sixth rule, is the key to the success of Lomography. Instagram destroys the only moment of thinking that could be left to the analogue process, because it eliminates the possibility of seeing the photo with different eyes by receiving it already “developed”.

There are no greater changes other than colour from the Brownie to the LC-A. The iPhone, its applications and the social networks behind them infinitely enhance the scenic aspects of snapshot. Instagram is the database of snapshots today.

Passengers is not an unthinking photography book. We would like to believe that we are continuing in the tradition of the snapshot aesthetic of Szarkowski, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Robert Frank – but live.

It is impossible to regard Passengers as unthinking: it is a book. It has had a process of editing, text preparation, translation, production and publication. We chose the subjects, themes and situations with a prior aim in mind: to seek a specific aesthetic that is nourished by our entire previous experience as photographers and fans of street photography.

The book is available in Spanish and English, hard and soft cover and in a variety of ebook formats free for download here.

Passengers is not only a book about street photography. It also has a distinctive feature: the entire process of capturing, editing, post-processing and publishing our photos is done from the street, from the same place as our subjects, who are often only a metre away. In addition to “stealing” photos from them, we also publish them on the Internet in their presence.

This is why Passengers continues here…
…live, now, what we are seeing, capturing and publishing right now, and as a participative process that we hope to be able to broaden to include more authors soon.

Photography is technology and market so that a photographer can make it emotion, document, message, struggle…