Mobile phones give artists new tools to create

Story highlights

  • Mobile phones are a newer tool for fine artists, some of whom use them exclusively
  • Photographer Karen Divine shoots all her award-winning work on her iPhone
  • Mixed media artist David Rams says phones give him the freedom to create on the fly
  • Last month the L.A. Mobile Arts Festival showcased the work of more than 200 artists

When working on her nude series, artist Karen Divine sometimes joins other photographers at group photo shoots with a model in a studio. She's usually the only woman, and she's usually the only one without a high-powered digital camera.

She always gets funny looks when she joins a group shoot with just her phone. Last week one photographer said to her, "Oh, gee, that works for you?"

In fact, it works quite well for her. She shoots, composites and manipulates all her pieces on her iPhone.

Divine's nude series explores whether a female photographer approaches photographing women differently than the male photographers who dominate the field. The series has not only been recognized as great iPhone work, but it also stacks up well against traditional photography. Her work won two awards in the international Eyephoneography photography competition and won first place in the Fine Art Nude category in the Lucie Awards, an international photography competition.

Since she discovered the potential of the iPhone as a photography and art tool a year and a half ago, Divine has downloaded 50 photography apps and stowed away her bulky cameras that had been invaluable tools in her art career for the past four decades.

"I haven't really shot with my camera since," she said.

Smartphone artwork is increasingly becoming recognized as a viable new media form, providing an opportunity for veterans to expand their style and reach. Mixed media artist David Swann has worked in welding, film and digital photography, printmaking, painting and Photoshop; for him, the iPhone is just another canvas.

    "It's not out of disrespect for traditional processes," Swann said. "It's just another way of taking a creative idea and putting it out there for people to share."

    His mixed media works might include a photo manipulated on the iPhone, then printed on a canvas and overlaid with acrylic paint.

    David Rams, a former photographer for Playboy Magazine who is also now experimenting in mixed media, said he pulls photos taken on his Nikon into his phone and applies filters. Sometimes clients like them more than the full resolution photos. He finds beauty in imperfections: in scars on people and in scratches and overexposure effects of some Instagram filters. For him, app experimentation is like sketching.

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    "There's no stress," he said. "I don't have a client breathing over my neck."

    It also allows him to document his personal life without feeling like he's in work mode, unlike when he has a camera hanging around his neck.

    "There are some moments you don't want to be carrying a camera so you can be involved in it, but a cell phone is a lot more spontaneous," Rams said.

    All three artists said settling for the lower resolution of the photos was worth the improvisation the iPhone allows. They can grab a shot of a neat cloud formation when running errands, or composite a new piece while waiting in a doctor's office.

    It's not only experienced artists playing on their phones. Smartphones and apps provided a platform and tools for creative types who hadn't pursued art because of lack of training or supply funding. Daria Polichetti and her partner, Nate Park, launched the website iphoneart.com in 2010 for mobile artists to upload their portfolios and share techniques with each other. They hosted the L.A. Mobile Arts Festival in August, which they said was the largest gathering of mobile art to date with more than 200 artists' work showcased.

    "There were well-known artists alongside soccer moms," Polichetti said. "People from all over the world, from Lebanon, Turkey, Africa, were able to come together in a way that wasn't possible before in the world of art."

    Mobile devices have allowed more people to become part of the art world, and both Polichetti and Divine, whose work was featured in the festival and is posted on the site, are welcoming the newcomers.

    On Wednesday Polichetti launched an iprint online store where artists sell prints of their work.

    "We feed each others' creativity," said Divine, who is teaching her techniques at workshops. "I can teach techniques, but people have to have a vision and work from a place where they can express themselves."

    Polichetti said she often hears that mobile artists aren't truly artists because they hit a button to apply a few filters, and it's the app developers who are doing the real work.

    "These artists are innovating art at the front of the field and doing things these app creators didn't even know was possible. They're inventing new processes," she said. "It's a real collaboration."

    Do you think mobile phone art is a legitimate art form? Share your take in the comments section below.