“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? 

Probably not. 

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.
 


          Hair Today

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…

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"Becoming a MoPho": 2011 - The Year in Mobile Photography!

2011 is about to come to a close, and there’s no question this was THE year for mobile photography! So much happened, that to write about it ALL would take multiple blog posts and probably extend this column well into 2012. So instead, I’m just going to touch upon the highlights, and give some of my own thoughts and opinions on what occurred in one big post:



 

INSTAGRAM EXPLODES!

 

While the popular photo sharing app actually debuted in October of 2010, Instagram really blew up to epic proportions in 2011 — and was featured in countless media outlets around the world, including The New York Times. The app proved to be so popular, that it dramatically changed how many already well-known mobile photographers chose to share their photos to the world…both for the good AND the bad.

 

The best thing about Instagram is just how EASY it is to use. It makes sharing photos FUN again, and has also opened up a whole new world to people who have never shot photos on an iPhone before. The worst thing about Instagram is, well…just how EASY it is to use — which means everyone in the world seems to be joining it. The rapid growth this year not only caused some growing pains in terms of expansion (the app would often have “down times” — which thankfully has become less of an issue of late), but it also brought complaints of an onslaught of “average” to “awful” pics. Images of food, pets, and awkward teenagers inappropriately trying to look sexy seemed to dominate the app’s “Popular” page. Most users seemed more concerned about getting more likes and followers than actually uploading anything of quality.

 

To be fair, the makers of IG never once made claims of Instagram being for SERIOUS photographers only, but the app’s early adopters still hoped that it would replace Flickr and other sites as the premiere destination for the ever-growing field of iPhoneography. And yet, as moments like “Biebergate” began to be more common (teen idol Justin Bieber tweeted a pic from his Instagram account which literally brought a flood of new users to the app and overloaded their servers), the frustrations with IG among more “serious” photographers grew. 

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"Becoming a MoPho": An Interview With Aik Beng Chia

If you’ve been following mobile photography at all, then no doubt you’ve come across some of the arresting images taken by Singapore’s most noted iPhone slinger, Aik Beng Chia — otherwise known as “ABC” to those that know him well.

 

ABC has been featured in several exhibitions around the world (including a solo show at the Red Dot Museum in Singapore last year), and has recently become the latest member to join the Mobile Photo Group — an international collective of photographers dedicated to presenting mobile photography as an important and evolving new art form.

 

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MoPho: ABC! Word has it you’re a self-taught photographer. How did you get into mobile photography in the first place?

Aik Beng Chia: It all started when I got my 2G iPhone. I was curious whether there was an iPhone photography website online. So I Googled it and stumbled upon Greg Schmigel’s website. When I saw what he did, I was like “Wow!” That’s when I discovered what Greg did was street photography using just an iPhone. So I went on a shooting spree. I just kept snapping and apping anything and everything without any formal training in photography. I just shot what I saw. I was not serious about it until last year, around July, I decided to be thick skinned and submit what I shot to Greg Schmigel, Knox Bronson (from P1XELS), and EYE’EM. It came as a surprise that soon both Greg and Knox wanted to feature me. After that followed my works being selected for the EYE’EM Berlin Exhibit. The rest is history. Looking back now it all seems like yesterday, and what I am today I must thank my fellow mobile photographers-cum-friends to whom I very much respect and get inspiration from them even ‘til today.



 

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