The Paper of the Mind

Jeff T. Alu, “Digitalus”, image of iPhone screen processed on iPhone


It’s one thing to talk about digital photography taking over film, and another to talk about mobile phones taking over digital photography. I think this is indeed happening.  I also wonder if the digital age will take over the print.

Regarding film, it’s not weather film will disappear, it’s weather regular cameras that shoot film will disappear. I think that slowly-but-surely many photographers are beginning to believe that mobile phones can take some pretty fine pictures.

I have my mobile phone with me all the time, but it’s not my “Serious” camera. However, since I have it with me all the time, I shoot with it more often. I simply take more pictures with it.  Maybe it is my “Serious” camera. Maybe I just don’t want to admit it.

For the most part the iPhone is my camera of convenient choice now, and if that makes me a lesser photographer, that would be a point of view that is changing. Many are accepting mobile phones as legitimate cameras.  Many are using them and realizing how easy they are to use.

With all the filters available right on the phone it’s much easier to process your photos and get the look that you’re after quickly and easily. Even with the higher-end digital cameras you still need to wait until you can get your photo into Photoshop to process it. Not so with cellular cameras.  And of course these photos can be instantaneously shown to the planet.


A few of my iPhone images (left) at the Harwood Museum in Taos, NM


The gallery/museum world is more and more accepting of the digital camera, and now the mobile phone, and they are more often accepting pieces shot with these types of cameras into their exhibitions.  I’ve had a number of my iPhone shots in numerous exhibitions, and have also curated many mobile photos into very large exhibitions at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art.   A couple examples of such exhibitions can be seen below.  You will need to have the Silverlight Plugin installed to view these.

Pixels: The Art of iPhone PhotographyPixels


A pocket full of vision: Mobile Photography Awards



Regarding prints, I think the function of the print today is not as it was 50 years ago. Back then the print was a piece of art in itself.  Today one large function of the print is to accurately portray what’s on the computer screen.  It’s about getting the settings just right so that the print equals the pixels.  In that respect is it possible that the purchasing of higher-end prints is slowly becoming outdated, with fewer and fewer people collecting them?   And, what factors will make a valuable print in the future?

I think photography is becoming more about image and less about print.  The ways in which these massive amounts of images are distributed has almost nothing to do with paper.  After all, paper can degrade, whereas pixels do not. Once an image is uploaded, it is thought that it will stay online forever. Truly recording something demands that it be available forever.  Can we really trust a print?

In the same way that we look at old prints of subjects from the past, in the future we might look at prints themselves as subjects of the past.  We are already seeing images presented on iPads being displayed next to paper prints in galleries.  Will we see fewer and fewer paper prints over time?

I’m wondering what might come next?  Images displayed in 3D like a hologram without any physical limitations present to degrade the clarity?  Images beamed directly to the brain, merging with the viewers thoughts to create unique interpretations.  Images replaced by emotions, rendering the images themselves obsolete.

But for now, we’re stuck with physical, portable image recording devices which we call upon at almost any time, and very quickly, to record what is in front of us. In fact, there is so much of this going on that what we may end up with is not the recording of separate smaller moments, but the unintentional simultaneous recording of a single moment from many different locations.  Maybe we will begin thinking in terms of massive databases shot by many different people simultaneously to create massive simul-records, recording the state of the entire planet at any given moment. Art, science, social-science, and history merge.

Prints are records.  These databases of simul-records could be, in a sense, the new form of future printing.  You wouldn’t print these on paper, but they would serve the same purpose as a traditional print.  How would you display them?  Somehow a computer would have to merge and organize the many simultaneous photos in a way that made sense.  But there would be motion and interactivity involved as well.  The print, in whatever form, would have to be digital.

I suppose we could still have traditional prints along for the ride.  But they would most likely be thought of differently than they are today.  They would be an artifact, perhaps an afterthought, of the new paradigm.  They would become less of an art form unto themselves and more of the subset of a simul-record.  Maybe we could still collect them, but what’s printed on the paper itself might be more important than whether or not it’s part of a numbered series or printed in a darkroom by a skilled individual.

Personally, the last thing I feel like doing when I take a photo is printing it out. I just want to look at it on my computer screen.  Printing it makes it seem faded and less vital, with all of the vibrancy fading away.  And once you print it the print begins to die.


To see some great mobile phone work, visit the sites below:


Jeff out.



One thought on “The Paper of the Mind

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  1. Since I STILL make my own photographic prints in Black and White and the ILFORD manufactures in England continue making a excellent product I shall do so. I like the feel of thick paper it.s texture and the view of what I did photograph comes to life just as I saw it!, not how a machine that alters EVERYTHING I SAW. Where a person can put in clouds, take out buildings, put in WHAT EVER..THIS is not the image I saw and want to view over and over. I took the photograph because of the light and shadows, because of the expression I captured, I took the picture because it was a very interesting composition. THIs Is wHy after 87 years, I still walk around with my F1 camera loaded with black & white film……….This is why I love photography………Sandor Demlinger

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