I recently read an article that was published in 2011 on Poynter.org1 in which photographer, Damon Winter, explained the process and philosophy behind his award-winning photographs of a platoon of soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. Winter’s photo essay, ‘A Grunt’s Life’, was shot on site entirely on an iPhone using the app, Hipstamatic. For this series of photos, Winter received third place in Pictures of the Year International’s Feature Picture Story competition. Needless to say, this caused great controversy, with photographer, Chip Litherland, stating: “What we knew as photojournalism at its purest form is over and POYI just killed it”2. I will not go into the merits of whether this statement by Litherland truly reflects the state of affairs in modern-day photojournalism or not. Yet, another statement by the same Litherland on Winter’s photo essay is indeed very piquant: “…what is relevant is the fact [that the images were] processed through an app that changes what was there when [Winter] shot them.”3
I find Damon Winter’s argument, justifying his use of Hipstamatic for photojournalistic purposes, fundamentally flawed. In his justification, Winter states: “I don’t see how it is so terribly different from choosing a camera or film or process that has a unique but consistent and predictable outcome, like shooting with a Holga, or cross processing or using a color balance not intended for the lighting conditions”1.
I beg to differ.
Yes, there is a difference in the two approaches, a fundamental difference, in that the act of choosing, for example, a camera, or a film, is in itself a transparent, prior decision, taken before the commencement of a process, while Hipstamatic’s choices are opaque, subsequent ‘decisions’, that come at (and demarcate) the end of a process. Winter goes further and says: “It is not the case that an image is taken and then a filter is chosen and applied later”1 – an act which could possibly count as a transparent, prior decision, taken before the commencement of a process, the process in this case being namely the post-processing required for the production of the final image – no, the deceit at play here is even more ingrained and pernicious; he says: “a photo is taken and then you must wait between five and 10 seconds or so as the image is processed before you can take the next one.”1
Apple’s fancy yet unobtrusively safe legalistic wording in their declaration for their ‘Shot on an iPhone’ campaign, which reads: “each photo and video…is the original […] without filters, adjustments or retouching”4, now resonates with new and added meaning – sure, nothing is intentionally changed or modified or retouched… it is simply lost in translation, as we say.
1 MYERS, Steve. 2011. ‘Damon Winter explains process, philosophy behind award-winning Hipstamatic photos’. Poynter.org [online].Available at: https://www.poynter.org/reporting-editing/2011/damon-winter-explains-process-philosophy-behind-award-winning-hipstamatic-photos/ [accessed 14 February 2019].
2 WINTER, Damon. 2011. ‘Through My Eye, Not Hipstamatic’s’. The New York Times [online]. Available at: https://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/11/through-my-eye-not-hipstamatics/ [accessed 14 February 2019].
3 CHAYKA, Kyle. 2011. ‘iPhone Photojournalism Causes Aesthetic Controversy’. Hyperallergic [online]. Available at: https://hyperallergic.com/18805/iphone-photojournalism/ [accessed 14 February 2019].
4 AFAQS!. 2016. ‘Apple Stuns Once Again; Displays Ads Clicked On iPhone 6s, 6s Plus’. afaqs! [online]. Available at: https://www.afaqs.com/news/story/47055_Apple-Stuns-Once-Again-Displays-Ads-Clicked-On-iPhone-6s-6s-Plus [accessed 14 February 2019].