“Becoming a MoPho”: An Interview with Greg Schmigel
By Anton Kawasaki
Sometimes people wonder how the whole mobile photography movement got to the point where it is today — where the iPhone is the most popular camera on Flickr, where millions of people share mobile images online, and where over 10,000 apps for photography exist in the App Store. It’s hard to pinpoint its true origins, but it’s just as hard NOT to think of the “beginning” without mentioning the name Greg Schmigel.
Was Greg the very FIRST person to start regularly taking photos with an iPhone and with a more artistic eye?
But he was definitely the first person (that I know of) who created a website devoted strictly to photography using the device — and was probably the first person to start getting some attention for it. So for that reason, he is definitely considered one of the earliest pioneers of “iPhonoegrap…”, er…, ahem — “mobile photography,” I should rather say (see below).
Around the time I was watching Sion Fullana begin to first explore shooting street photography with his own iPhone, we both soon discovered that some guy in Maryland named Greg Schmigel already had a small online presence. We all eventually connected through the online photo-sharing website Flickr, and Schmeegs [as I affectionately call him] became one of our earliest mobile photography allies.
We finally met Greg (and his beautiful wife, Suzy) during one of their many visits to New York City a few years ago, and we all became fast friends. But unlike with many other mobile photography buddies we’ve made over the years since, we’ve never done the traditional “photowalk” experience together. Instead, Greg will devote most of the time that he’s in the city to shooting just by himself (often with Suzy by his side, but sometimes not as she does her own thing). It’s not because he doesn’t want to hang out with friends, but because he’s SO focused and dedicated to his shooting that he can’t afford too many distractions (it’s certainly true — street photographers get their BEST shots when they’re alone). You can’t help but admire his dedication to his craft. In fact, he gets so passionate with his all-day photo taking, that he’ll sometimes wind up with literally thousands of new images in his camera roll by the end of a single night.
Often Greg won’t even look at (or post-process) his photos until he gets back home to Maryland. It’s a much different approach to mobile photography than Sion and I, or most other mobile shooters that I know, who can’t help but check each photo as it’s taken, and sometimes process AND post a photo we like to an online photo sharing community (like Flickr or Instagram) within minutes. Schmigel keeps it “old school” and often waits — much like we ALL had to do when using film cameras back in the day. Using a mobile device is less about the instant sharing for him, and more about the convenience and ability for getting discreet and up-close shots.
Back in July of last year, Greg e-mailed Sion, myself, and nine other mobile shooters he admired to ask us if we were all interested in participating in an experimental cooperative that would be the mobile equivalent of the well known Magnum Photos group we all admired. We all agreed to join, and soon the Mobile Photo Group was born. We spent several weeks in the beginning going over how the group would work, what our goals would be, etc. We knew the group would have to be limited to a few members at first (despite knowing that would probably receive criticism — and it did), but we were already discussing how to slowly expand over the years. Eventually we decided to keep doing what we do best — take photos — and let whatever collaborations we had in mind grow organically.
While not necessarily the leader of MPG, I figured Greg would be a good person to ask some questions about the group that I felt might still be “hanging in the air.” And of course, I wanted to delve deeper into the mind of the man himself…