"Becoming a MoPho": An Interview with Daniel Berman of the Mobile Photo Awards Part Two
By Anton Kawasaki
For Part One of this interview, read it here. Now on to Part Two:
ANTON: With the Mobile Photo Awards, you were very adamant from the beginning that you only got judges that had already found some success as mobile photographers. You didn’t want any “traditional” photography judges involved. Some people felt this was “ghettoizing” the awards, and that by not reaching out to more traditional photography circles you were limiting mobile photography’s scope and “legitimacy” in the larger photo world. (Obviously these people didn’t realize *I* was one of the judges. I mean, c’mon… how can you get better than ME?!?!) ;-) But seriously… how do you respond to these criticisms?
DANIEL: Interesting question. The first iteration of the Mobile Photo Awards indeed featured a jury solely comprised of celebrated mobile photographers and artists. I had many reasons for choosing to design the MPA in this manner. If the goal was to run a tight competition with integrity then we succeeded. If the goal was to bring the work into the fine art world and present well received exhibits with lots of press coverage then we also succeeded. I’m not sure how having a professor of photography on the jury would provide legitimacy. Would the hypothetical professor or member of a “traditional” photography circle choose different work than our jury? I doubt it. Perhaps we will include some judges outside the community this year - perhaps we won’t. To be honest, I don’t think it matters, I think it makes more sense to present a unified, organic vision to the “outside” world and have the art world accept our work on our terms. In fact, I think the very notion that we should differentiate between “traditional” circles and what we do in the mobile space de-legitimizes our art, as if we are not worthy of judging ourselves and need more experienced eyes to do it for us. Even so, I’m certainly not categorically against it if the fit was right and it made sense.
Panorama of some of the photos at the ArtHaus Gallery in SF
As for “ghettoizing” our art…that would be true if the MPA was a website with no presence in the “real world.” But it’s not. It’s a traveling exhibition, a competition, an open gallery call and a repository of stories and images. To my mind, bringing the work into well-respected galleries is the opposite of ghettoizing. We have features coming this spring in some very important art magazines and a much sought after showcase at the exclusive San Francisco Fine Art Fair. How anyone sees that as inward looking because we didn’t have a photography professor on our jury is, frankly, ridiculous.
ANTON: Agreed! So what would you say was the biggest challenge of the MPA’s so far? And what would you do differently next time? I guess that’s another question to ask….IS THERE going to be a next time?
DANIEL: Absolutely a next time!!! Submissions will begin in September. We have had a boatload of folks come to us offering to partner up and provide prizes. I’m psyched for some of the awesome things we will be doing this year.
“Awesome Sauce” by Sara Tune, winner in the Juxtaposer app category
I learned a great deal about the process and will be making incremental changes to improve the MPA. We will have some new categories, new jury members, a more interactive website and some awesome new features for entrants. It’s going to be really fun and I know people will love the changes we are going to bring.
ANTON: Being part of the judging process was certainly intense at times. First there was the initial round of judging for our own categories, which just involved Sion and I picking our top choices (I think our category, Street Photography, was the second or third most popular after Black and White? So there was a LOT to look at…). I was happy to have another set of eyes, but every other judge just had themselves. And then there was the later rounds where all the judges were asked to step into 2-3 other categories of their choosing to help further reduce the picks down to final winners. So many different judges, all with very strong opinions…it was bound to get heated at times. Though I was pleased to see us all being respectful and making sure that the whole process was fair and that the true cream of the crop rose to the top. Any thoughts about the whole judging process, and is there anything you might change for next time?
“Double Dutch Nuns” by Jose Chavarry, winner in the Street Photography category
DANIEL: To be honest, I felt the system we had for judging was the fairest and best system we could use. It ensured that the images were considered carefully by multiple sets of eyes, and it engendered terrific discussions among the jury members. I feel that the entrants deserved no less than such an intense process. It also meant that nobody could play favorites (not that anyone did, but if they tried they would be derailed pretty quickly.) So, other than bringing in some new faces for MPA II I think our judging system is pretty well set.
ANTON: One of the other judges was Robert-Paul Jansen, whom I mentioned in Part One — the two of you collaborated on a book, right? What was that like, and are there any other type of collaborations you hope to work on in the future?
DANIEL: I adore the work of Robert-Paul — I try and promote his stuff whenever, wherever possible. It helps that he’s a super thoughtful and kind person. We did the book because A) not many others were doing landscape mobile work 2 or 3 years ago so we naturally had an affinity for one another and B) we both photographed a tree in our respective neighborhoods and it made sense to collaborate on a project in order to publicly express our admiration for those trees. I love trees. So noble and strong yet gentle and helpful at the same time. Trees rock.
ANTON: Not only were there so many judges, but also a lot of winners — with the grand prize going to Stefano Pesarelli's “Indifference.” It was fun to finally put names to images, and realize many of the chosen winners were photographers that we had admired for some time already, while others were brand new and exciting discoveries. Have you been in regular contact with some of the winners — and how do they feel about being a part of all of this?
“Indifference” by Stefano Pesarelli, grand prize winner of the MPAs
DANIEL: The overwhelming response from the winners has been “…WOW! No Way! Awesome!” Part of the post-process for me has been collecting essays by the winners on the back stories behind each image. Not so much “what app did you use” but more “Why? What does the picture mean to you? Could the image have been made on a DSLR? etc…” We publish these regularly on the MPA blog — I have been in touch many times with every winner and have had the pleasure of meeting a few along the way. It’s been a joy to support their work and facilitate the exhibits with their co-operation. We sold our first piece this week and I can hardly wait to see how excited the artist is going to be. What a thrill!
ANTON: That’s awesome!! Speaking of the MPA’s blog, it’s been fantastic to see the essays on the photos, and it’s been such a wonderful supplement to the awards. Was having a blog afterwards always the plan all along?
MPA judge Max Berkowitz poses with his “I Am Sam” image
DANIEL: I always planned on bringing a blog into the process. It’s really important that people see the MPA as something more than a contest or a gallery call. We fill a void in the mobile photography world by offering an outlet for cohesive, thematic photo essays. We are the only ones to offer long form articles about images. We don’t do tutorials, interviews or app reviews. Nothing wrong with those things — I read them all the time and value what they offer, and a site like LifeinLofi is a treasure — it’s just that we are after something different and want to provide people with something they can’t get elsewhere. Otherwise why bother?
ANTON: Good point. And now the best part about all of this, the actual exhibitions, are finally here! What can you tell us about each of the shows, and what are you looking forward to the most with them?
“Carmella” by Helen Breznik, a notable runner-up addition to the MPA show.
DANIEL: I look forward to the thrill an artist gets when they see their image framed at 20”x20” — I look forward to watching as visitors engage with the work, stare and point and talk about what they see. I look forward to art collectors adding mobile images to their collections — and I think that’s the greatest justification for people when they consider whether or not to pay for entry to a gallery show. The benefits are pretty awesome if the work is shown in the right place.
A crowded house at ArtHaus SF
ANTON: So besides a possible Mobile Photo Awards 2 next year, what else is in the cards for ReservoirDan? Any other projects you have planned that you can tell us about?
The Mobile Photo Awards are currently being held at:
ArtHaus, San Francisco April 5-June 30, 2012
Orange County Center for Contemporary Art (OCCCA) April 7-28, 2012
The San Francisco Fine Art Fair May 17-20, 2012