Disney‘s recent push to be more “social” has lead them to the popular microblogging site, Tumblr. Disney found Tumblr to be the perfect venue for The Looking Glass, their newest social media project featuring photos of Disney Parks taken by a variety of photographers. For the series, Disney hired seven talented shooters with varying styles and specialties to capture what they found special or unique at the parks. One of these photographers happens to be Wonderful Machiner, Ben Van Hook. Ben had just finished filming a music video for Disney when they called him up again to see if he’d be interested in The Looking Glass project. The assignment would have him visiting the parks and photographing them in pretty much any way he pleased. His photos would then be posted daily on their Tumblr. How could Ben say no?
Ben describes his photographic style as reality with a “whimsical twist,” so he knew this project was right up his alley. “It’s rare you get an assignment from a company like Disney and they just tell you to go shoot whatever you want, ” he says. Of course, he accepted the job. Charged with photographing what he would want to “see and share,” Ben headed to Disney World to capture some of its magic. With this unprecedented freedom, Ben decided to shoot the entire project with his iPhone, wanting to give his photos more of a snapshot feel and to differentiate himself from the other photographers. He then decided that his “Looking Glass” project would be a visual study on the world of the Disney princess. He explains,
Whenever I’m at Disney, I always see scores of young girls dressed up like princesses, so the idea of exploring the moments between girls and the princesses appealed to me. I love the ways the girls are so enamored with the princesses. To show that excitement and innocence in their eyes was on my mind. I also wanted the chance to shoot some portraiture of the Disney princesses, up close and in a different way than we usually see them.
Ben shot both found situations with “real” kids along with a few models dressed up as their favorite princesses. He used no lighting and minimal gear over the shoot days, just his iPhone. He then used apps like Instagram, Hipstamatic, Snapspeed and Dynamic Light to edit the photos on his iPad. He enjoyed the freedom the device gave him to capture serendipitous moments, adding,
When I step back and look at my overall take from this job, I think it really represents who I am as a photographer, even though it was created on an iPhone. It proves that you can make emotional images with it.
Disney Parks also made this video of Ben discussing The Looking Glass project:
Disney “fell in love” with Ben’s photographs—including the look and style of his iPhone shots. Many of his photos are already up on The Looking Glass site, with more to be released each week.
Over the past months, I’ve noticed a lot of chatter on smart phone photography; most of it negative. Minus an optimistic Chase Jarvis post, I’ve followed numerous tweets, blogs, and conversations expressing concern over the flood of iPhone photography. It seems much of the photo community has deemed the photography world “doomed,” due in large part to cell phone cameras. Most recently, concerns rose higher when CNN announced the lay off of roughly 50 photographers and editors because of the accessibility of cameras and “citizen journalism.”
However, not everyone is lamenting the introduction of camera phones. Photographer Forest Woodward has decided to explore the advantages of smart phone cameras in photography. On top of using his Canon 5D Mark II to create “playful and adventurous” lifestyle images, Forest has also started shooting with his iPhone. He explains,
I’m addicted to taking pictures. I saw the iPhone as just another picture box, and a logical fix for my addiction. I started shooting with the iPhone in 2010, and have yet to sign up for any sort of rehab. I see it not as a SLR substitute, but rather as another tool to use for capturing spontaneous moments. Moreover, I have come to find that there are cases when the iPhone may be more appropriate than the SLR because of its portability and accessibility (hipstamatic war photographer Damon Winter comes to mind).
An obvious reason to use an iPhone camera is the simple convenience of it. People almost always have their phone on them these days, and as some photographers contend, the best camera in the world is simply the one you have with you. However, Forest also offers a less obvious advantage: Inconspicuousness. He continues with the idea that, “their small size and lack of public recognition of photo abilities don’t command as much attention as larger cameras, and thus can be used in a less intrusive manner that’s conducive to street photography.”
Forest has put his iPhone to the test on several projects, both video and still,
My first realization of the power of the iPhone in photojournalism came upon seeing that I could use it to document a round table of wild old poker players in a saloon in Montana that didn’t allow me to take pictures with my SLR. From there, I began using the iPhone to document street scenes and other situations where the SLR drew unwanted attention.
More recently, I used the iPhone to film a summer road trip with a couple of friends from Colorado to Montana. I wanted to take advantage of the phone’s unobtrusive nature to try and capture some of the uniquely spontaneous lifestyle moments inherent in road tripping. The result was a full length music video spliced together from footage shot over the course of our 24 hour drive. If you’re wondering how it took us 24 hrs to get from Colorado to Montana, well, that has a bit to do with my map skills, and a lot to do with a truck that runs hits its max speed going downhill in neutral.
Watch Forest’s iPhone music video, “Left of East” here:
Forest wants to continue experimenting with his iPhone on top of his typical SLR work. When asked where he wanted to take his photography in the future, he replied, “I’m less interested in where I can take my photography, than I am in where it can take me!” He did add where he’s currently going with his iPhone though,
As the technical quality and capabilities of the iPhone continue to improve, I think that there are exciting opportunities to continue using it as a storytelling tool. A tongue-in-cheek (and perhaps entirely hypocritical) project I’m currently working on, is using the iPhone to document how the pervasive use of smart phones is resulting in strange cases of human disconnect—what I’ve come to call the “cell phone zombie” syndrome.
Of course, Forest acknowledges that the technical quality and finished product of an iPhone image cannot match that of a DSLR. At least not yet.