Phoneography Challenge, the Phone as Your Lens: Black-and-White (and “What is a Photograph?”)

17 February 2014


1. Ice and Snow Melting, iPhone 4s, January 2014; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2014

1. Ice and Snow Melting, iPhone 4s, January 2014; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2014

2. Ice and Snow Melting, iPhone 4s, January 2014; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2014

2. Ice and Snow Melting, iPhone 4s, January 2014; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2014

Let me know which you prefer and why.


“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”  — Ansel Adams

In its infancy the film camera with its printed photograph drew admiration, caution, confrontation, gasps, praise, reflections, and respect. Those responses remain steadfast, only now reactions more fully focus on images from digital devices.

With the advent of digital cameras that same ingenuity, which induces gazes and wonder to capture daily life, became deeply entrenched in worldwide popular culture. While we know the mechanics of the camera, digital technology is real and surreal. Still, we are amused, bemused and spellbound by the digital darkroom and the devices that take us there.

The photographer has stayed both artist and innovator. In the twenty-first century this constancy has gone beyond a trot to a canter.

The current state of the photographic arena is explosive, and certainly not decisive. Questions keep surfacing: Is that a camera? What effect is mobile photography having on the art of photography? What is a 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st-century photograph? When is a photograph considered art? When is an imagemaker considered an artist? a photographer?

This art form is experiencing another tipping point. The definition of a photograph is in metamorphosis. Layers are being added and, at same time, peeling away.

Of course, the Smartphone is only one of the candidates that is on this continuum. And photography is embedded in everyday life in both good and intrusive new ways. Even the world of galleries and museums are being redefined by art driven by this new and old medium.

On 26 January 2014 Philip Gefter wrote a New York Times article, “The Next Big Picture,” that plows into this subject. Revelations abound.

Until 01 May you have the opportunity to view an extraordinary exhibition at the International Center of Photography in New York City. The show raises the question: “What is a Photograph,?” This commentary on the past, present and future of the photograph is edifying and illuminating.

The exhibition and current trends in photography are the subjects of Gefter’s feature. Here are three quotes from his article:

“As digital technology has all but replaced the chemical process, photography is now an increasingly shape-shifting medium: The iPhone, the scanner and Photoshop are yielding a daunting range of imagery, and artists mining these new technologies are making documentation of the actual world seem virtually obsolete.”

“Questions swirl: Can the “captured” image (taken on the street — think of the documentary work of Henri Cartier-Bresson) maintain equal footing with the “constructed” image (made in the studio or on the computer, often with ideological intention)?”

“Mr. McCall, of Pier 24, acknowledged that a curatorial consensus on the photography’s future has not been reached. ‘There has to be some photographic process involved, some piece of technology that we acknowledge as photographic, but I don’t think it means it has to be lens-based,’ he said.” [Christopher Mc Call is the director of Pier 24, a private photography center in San Francisco with a museum-like reputation.] To read the entire article, click here.

Since reading Gefter’s enlightening reportage, I am considering another change in the challenge’s title. I will pose this idea a few times throughout this month and into next. I definitely want your opinion. I believe this change will open the path for participation by those who use a range of filmless digital devices beyond the Smartphone.

My suggestion is to shift the title to express this evergreen quality of today’s photography. The new title would be: Mobile Photography Challenge, Using Non-Traditional Cameras. Let me know what you think about this change. It also responds to some suggestions by those who answered my questions from the challenge’s anniversary post (click here to read it), and would allow them to use iPods, iPads and other tablets. A summary of the nine questions will be covered in next week’s post.

As photographers climb another mountain toward discoveries, experimentations and rewards, Ansel Adams’ vision is as apt today as it was in the twentieth century. Photography remains at the apex of the unforeseen and unrealized. Photographs have after all garnered a trove of debate and dialogue that will continue to escalate as technology expands its perimeters.

In the Lens section are two images that exemplify winter’s powerful presence this season on the East Coast, USA. The weekly, seemingly daily, deluge of ice, sleet, snow, and wind has pushed deep within our psyches. We’re beyond our quotient of nature’s wintry display.

To me it’s appropriate to show the effects in monochrome, because the landscape has become awash and tethered by tones of blacks, greys and whites. It’s a black-and-white vista that beckons one to focus even more on the weather’s legacies.

When the sun intercedes across the landscape, puddles and rivers appear. While many across the planet are suffering from drought, the East Coast has the opposite: unexpected amounts of water. This seesaw is the future.

“We” must address this crisis and quickly. “We” must prepare ourselves as one global and united community, because water is the most precious life-sustaining resource–a resource necessary for life as we know it.

Tip of the Day: Black-and-white photography is the back and front story of the photographic movement. Here are two videos that I found worth viewing. You can view them on their YouTube links:

Title:20th Century Black and White Photography: a 3.50-minute video that shows a continuous slide show of six of art history’s most renowned photographers. Click here.

Title: Shooting Digital B & W: A Lighting Tutorial: a 6:19-minute video that details uses of light to make B & W images. Although it’s meant for digital camera users, it’s lessons and suggestions are apt for all devices. The video is worth watching, because it shows and tells. The points about conversion from color to B & W are particularly helpful. Click here.

Here are other entries for this week’s challenge:

Note: As always I welcome any comment about this post or any part of my blog.

If you’d like to join the fun, please click here for details. If you have any questions about the Phoneography Challenge, please contact me.

Below is a reminder of the monthly schedule with themes for upcoming Phoneography Challenges:

1st Monday: Nature

2nd Monday: Macro

3rd Monday: Black and White

4th Monday Challenger’s Choice (Pick One: Abstraction, Animals, Architecture, Food Photography, Night Photography, Objects, Portraiture, Still Life, Street Photography, and Travel). (Animals and Objects are themes.)

5th Monday: Editing and Processing with Various Apps Using Themes from the Fourth Week (31 March 2014 will be the first challenge for this new theme).

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82 Responses to Phoneography Challenge, the Phone as Your Lens: Black-and-White (and “What is a Photograph?”)

  1. In the article by Philip Gefter that you linked to, the statement that “Photography is… no longer the result of light exposed to film” struck me as a strange reversal: I’ve always conceived of photographic film getting exposed to light, rather than the other way around. Light exposed to film is like Pirandello’s characters in search of an author. Oh well, I’ll take this as another example of the Duality Principle.

  2. RobynG says:

    An insightful post Sally! Thank you!

  3. Tina Schell says:

    I’m with those who preferred the first but liked both photos Sally. Perhaps the real question is art vs photography, which is simply a different form of art. Editing or not editing doesn’t really affect whether the photograph is art or not, it simply differentiates techniques. Did the great still-life painters think the impressionists were artists, certainly not! The good news is that discussion and controversy are a wonderful way to keep art in the forefront, and isn’t that what we’re really all about?? Keep up the good work!

    • Tina, thanks for your thoughtful response. I agree with your points. The discussion is about art and the medium of photography as a means for self-expression and the human condition. Now the photographic tool box has expanded and continues this expansion, giving us multiple choices in the creative process.

  4. The transition of solid to liquid created a stunning effect. Beautiful!

  5. Madhu says:

    Compelling images and words Sally. I too love the contrasts and composition of the first.

  6. You raise some interesting questions in this post. Of course the basic is: what is photography? In these ever changing days with new technology and new possibilities popping up all the time it’s hard to narrow done clear definitions. When does photography stop to become photography? Does the reality somehow have to be part of the process – or is this just a left-over from the analogue era of photography? And even so will your attempt to narrow down your challenge be a hard one. Because I for instance often take pictures with my regular camera and then process them with apps on my cell phone simply because I like the feel they give. Would that be mobile photography using non-traditional cameras? I actually like the word phonography, but yes the photographic is changing all the time… Great images as always Sally. My favourite is the first one. I like the darker, moodier feeling.

    • Otto, how do you upload your DSLR images to your phone? I bought a few apps for my iMac, and can do the same on the computer, but I do not know the reverse. Please visit my post for this Monday. I would like your opinion about the choices for the new title. In my mind it’s still in flux, and I need the thoughts from others. I do appreciate your comments. Thanks.

  7. joshi daniel says:

    Beautiful and great contrast 🙂

  8. Su Leslie says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post Sally. It’s interesting to reflect on the way photography is changing in response to technologies. I’m a bit late this week – and feeling very office-bound.

  9. brucethomasw says:

    Definitely times of paradigm shift, in so many ways. I like the new title, because it feels more broad based and inclusive to me.

  10. Hi Sally, I love the first photo for the composition, it just seems a very balanced and composed shot. Re the title, I do think the suggestion might be a bit long, however I’m happy to do whatever everyone wants. 😀

    • Amanda, I wish that there was a way to shorten it. Next week I’ll toss out a few choices, and see reactions. It’s got to be specific, and not loose the concepts to misinterpretation. Thanks so much.

  11. elisa ruland says:

    I like them both very much Sally, but the composition and depth of the first one is very appealing to me. Also, the Ansel Adams quote is wonderful. I like how your wheels are always turning, thinking of new ideas, getting people together.

  12. denasgoodlife says:

    I really like the first shot. There is something about puddles and the way light reflects off it that always grabs my attention. I love the Ansel Adams quote too Sally. Another great post! Have a good one.

  13. I love the depth in the first image.

  14. aloha Sally. i prefer the 1st photograph. i like both, i prefer the 1st. i often prefer a flat surface. i think it’s the clarity of the image that has influence my choice in this case. the perspective altho giving depth is still in the realm of shallow depth (imo) which is what i gravitate toward as often as not. ambiguity can be okay, however the 2nd photo is not just ambiguous. for me it’s a bit confusing. ambiguous with clarity is preferable to ambiguous with confusion in this case (imo). without the 1st photo i wouldnt be quite sure what i was looking at in the 2nd photo.

    i agree with the Adams quote. exactly. it is as applicable now as it was when he said it. i have a lot of fun “building” photographs.

    my image this week started out with my iPad 2 camera. a change up from my phone. so i’m glad to see the discussion on inclusive devices. i have long used scanners to create photo-images and if those become part of the device range—wow, i’m going to be having a lot of fun. again. i first learned about the name for it—scanner-photography, several years ago in a Smithsonian article. i was surprised and delighted to know that what i had been doing for years actually had a name.

    there is of course “light sensitive paper” —one of the no-camera ways to create images. and very little in the way of a darkroom or light studio is necessary for it to work either.

    i like the additional themes, including the new 5th week theme. wow. fun. again. as a thought for consideration in the theme department i wonder if Monochrome might be used in place of Black and White. B & W would still be included in Monochrome of course yet there would be additional latitude with desaturated color in images as well as a single color in a range from light white to dark black. B & W certainly has a place in photography and from the very beginning. Monochrome might in corporate that as well as reflect on later developments in the process of photography and include the now and future potential of it. . . .

    my thinking on another question: yes, street photography is potent and unique enough to remain on equal footing with the “constructed” image photograph and stand up in it’s own place. particularly with candid shots such as “from the hip” shots etc. that challenge the rectangular alignment to the world and our ever increasing awareness of the camera in every part of out life.

    the title issue is complex to say the least. i like where you are going with this. i might prefer:

    Mobile and Non-Traditional Photography Challenge.

    in that way scanner’s, home made light capturing devices, light sensitive paper etc., that may not be so portable or mobile, might also be included. of course if the “mobile” aspect is what you are really after, then the way you have it is probably preferable:

    Mobile Photography Challenge, Using Non-Traditional Cameras.

    either way, you may find it good to spell out or define what is actually preferred in the challenge response.

    wow again. you are placing a lot of time and effort into this. and it shows. way fun. thanks for letting me ramble out my thoughts here.

    happy phoneography monday on you. aloha. rick.

    • Rick, you’ve outlined with clarity some poignant points. Title is crucial, and I’ll get a reaction from others. I had decided to include scanners as n example that would encourage yet another approach to the challenge, which is filmless and a non-traditional approach to photography. The problem with Mobile and Non-Tradition Photography is that people could still use a DSLR. I want to go the new path, to push the edges of photography. Maybe the title could be: Mobile and Non-Traditional Photography Challenge: Using Filmless Devices.

  15. I like both but the first one has an extremely well handled contrast.

  16. Amar Naik says:

    the light and its reflection in the first shot are captured nicely. i think the new title change is good and it will cater to the wide photographic audience.

  17. Angeline M says:

    Thanks again, Sally, for such wonderful information that you always provide for us.

  18. Today I really like both of your photos together because they show the change from ice to water. Individually they are lovely but for me the impact is greater as a series. Opening your title to include all forms of non-traditional cameras sounds wonderful and I am really looking forward to continuing the discussion about the evolution of definitions regarding photography and art. I have plenty to say on this subject as it’s something I think about often. 😉

  19. FireBonnet says:

    Great discussions in the comments! I like the first image, the curves vs lines are appealing to me. I say go for it bringing in other mobile devices! Really, isn’t it the same mechanism in the tablets and iPods? Wonderful post!

    • Meghan, I really want to begin these kinds of conversations. The more individuals that participate in the challenge, the more opportunity for all of us to learn from each other. I’m pleased that you are in agreement with the title change. Thanks.

  20. Marianne Green says:

    Another fascinating look at how the mundane can be transformed into the unusual!

  21. Amy says:

    Enjoyed watching the video! I like both, Sally! I will be posting mine later in the evening.

  22. Interesting post, much to think about. I like the first photo which I find more abstract and I find very interesting the contrast between the round shapes and the straight lines.
    As someone who shot film for most part of his life (and still shooting film, sometimes) I think that editing and processing is an important part of photography. When we “click” the shutter, whatever instrument we use we are only at half the way. And the second half is very important.
    PS: maybe I can use my wife’s i.pad to take a few photos 🙂

  23. Sally — Can’t decide which one of your two “puddle jumpers” I like best; so, it’s a toss up.

  24. I have to put in my 2 cents because I like the title Phoneography it has poetic evocative sound, like something to dance to and it is a single word. I do understand the need to include other devices I have used a scaner to make art for years it would be nice to have a home for it. I see the dilemma. That’s what we get for starting something new 😉

    • I understand your point. There are others who want to join the challenge, are part of the mobile photographers movement, and want to use other non-film digital devices. My suggestion circles around the state of photography in the twenty-first century. Thanks so much.

  25. cindy knoke says:

    Stunning! The last one due to multiple textures~

  26. I will have to go with image 2 this week. The crispness of the ice off to the right side is very eye catching. The masters in our photography history sure have paved the way for us haven’t they?

  27. Steve says:

    I love black and white week.

  28. Nico calavita says:


    I really love the first one!


  29. I Like the first one because of the depth. The trees in the back make me know it is a real place, and calls me to hop into the puddles! 2 is artistic but i don’t “feel it.”
    The discussion of art and black and white got me going through my phone and seeing that some photos converted to B & W had more impact and told a story…made me look longer.
    Very Happy Monday.

  30. A though inspiring post. Firstly, when I first started doing my own developing of black and white and to a smaller extent colour photos I edited a lot both during the processing and post processing. All in the name of enhancing the image to reach what you had originally envisioned. It was very time consuming, not to mention expensive with chemicals and paper. I’m thinking of dodging and burning as a start. We now do that with the computer.
    Secondly even the early photographers would have done some form of editing if they weren’t happy with their images. Although I would imagine that it would have been limited maybe to the amount of exposure time in developing the prints.
    I find it fascinating how technology has transformed our photography to such that it is available to everyone. Not everyone can afford to buy an expensive camera, but most can get a phone. I have been reading books by Louisa May Alcott (Little Women) and Lucy Maud Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables) and photography was just a hobby, only available to those who could afford it. Not to mention having a dark room set aside for developing prints. Cameras were bulky and required a lot to transport around. So the photos taken back then are few and far between and really doesn’t show us what life was really like across all society. Now everyone can record their daily lives and with the Internet we have a platform to show it off. For better or worse we are much richer in seeing this.
    I think the name change is good. There are so many different mediums out there that do produce good quality photos.
    I love both your photos.

    • Raewyn, I had the same experience–a darkroom to develop B & W. Truly, the chemical darkroom was steeped in editing and playing with the image–just as you said. Even then purists existed. But the creative process is embedded in either darkroom–as you also said. I’m delighted that you’re in agreement with the title change. Thanks so much for your comment.

  31. Angeline M says:

    This post is fabulous, filled with thoughts to ponder, a great link, and your wonderful photos. I really like the second one, bringing in that fence more to the foreground seems to give more depth and contrast to my eyes, and more grainy edges of snow that is melting.
    I started out on my photography adventures a couple of years ago a firm believer of the purity of the photograph as captured. My thinking has changed a little bit over the years.
    I like the idea of changing your blog’s title to Mobile Phoneography and including all non-film cameras in the challenges.
    I wil post my entry this evening after we get home. The ability to post from my phone or Nook is very frustrating. Until then…

  32. DG MARYOGA says:

    Superbly processed, fantastic outcome ! Loved the 1st one ; amazing light effects and abstract shapes !!!

  33. Dawn says:

    Terrific information in the post – my preference is to the top shot because of the sharper contrast. I like the notion of expanding the pool of images to include other non-traditional devices. Look forward to the discussion.

  34. Very informative post. I’d have to say I prefer the first photo. That video was good. When it comes to editing, I’m very limited in what I do (or should I say what I can do at this point)! Thanks, Sally.

  35. Gracie says:

    Happy Monday, Sally! I like the first image. The lines are more defined.

  36. Isn’t art the aesthetic value attached to the expression of an intent/idea, whereas the photograph could be one of the mediums used to express that intent…#1 forms a pleasing pattern but #2 shows the ice. Thank you for the links. 🙂

    • You are very welcome. Historically, art has served a multitude of purposes. Your definition is an apt one, but everyone has their own point of view about the merits and reasons its part of the human condition. There are even those in evolutionary science studying why art has been part of the human story since we first walked the earth. You’ve raised another thought-provoking topic for discussion. Thanks so much.

  37. Lignum Draco says:

    Interesting reading. Photography is an old and modern medium at the same time. Evolution is natural.

  38. Sally, the first photo appears more like what it really is, while the second is more abstract. Both are beautiful in their own way and I really enjoy what you did with them. As far as the question of whether the original or an edited version is better or more legitimate, I have as I’ve said before, mixed feelings. Getting a beautiful photo prior to editing seems to me perhaps the purest form of photography. But the editing process might be thought of as art in a very different way.

    When I go to an art exhibit or outdoor show where there are photos, I see so many beautiful ones and think I could never take any that great. Realizing that many of them are edited makes me feel better but also, in a way, cheated, if that makes sense. I’m not trying to put down editing, just to articulate my feelings about the relationship of original to edited without saying the latter is “bad.”


    • You’ve raised points that are ongoing debates about the photograph. When such thoughts are posed, I always return to the “original” darkroom. There are few (even of the great masters) that were purists. They cropped, varied chemicals, and much more to get the desired result. While I do not do a vast amount of editing, I do some. I find it part of the creative process. My two images were simply converted to B & W, and gently edited. Thanks so much.

  39. patriciamoed says:

    Wonderful post! The 20th Century video was great. I especially like your first b/w shot. The light and reflection are luminescent.

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