"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?

DANIEL: Sleeping. 


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

"Becoming a MoPho": An Interview with Daniel Berman of the Mobile Photo Awards

By Anton Kawasaki

Daniel Berman — better known as “Reservoir_Dan” in the mobile photography world — has been many things: fine art photographer, TV producer, digital artist and filmmaker. And with the introduction of the iPhone, he’s added “mobile photographer” to his growing list of talents. In fact, shooting with a mobile device became such a passion for Berman, that he created one of the most ambitious mobile photo contests/traveling exhibitions the world has seen so far: The Mobile Photo Awards!

Gathering many well known mobile shooters to be the judges, and enlisting several popular photo app companies to play along, Berman pulled off a truly momentous feat — especially for someone who lives up in the quiet, scenic hills surrounding Milton, Ontario. 

Known for his specialty in landscapes, abstractions and people, Reservoir Dan is also now known as a major player in pushing the growing field of mobile photography towards mainstream acceptance — beyond the Instagram “social” hoopla that has dominated the news — as a recognizable art form. 

     Big Awesome 

When Dan asked Sion Fullana and I to be judges of the “street photography” category of a photo contest he was thinking of doing, we immediately said yes. Of course, we figured it would be just another small contest…no big deal. We had no idea of the magnitude of what we were getting into, or how big the awards and ultimate exhibition would be. It was definitely an interesting and fun (and sometimes frustrating) ride for everyone involved — but the amount of talented submissions that came out of it made it all worth it.

Now, months later, and after the winners were all announced, the first exhibitions have arrived! The opening of the Art Haus Gallery show in San Francisco this past Thursday was a smashing success. And now, on the eve of the show at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, I present to you the first part of an interview with Berman — where he discusses his own work and answers the first (of several) questions about the MPAs. Dive in….


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“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”: What the New iPad Means For Mobile Photography

By Anton Kawasaki

As usual with any new product announcement from Apple Inc, a great deal of excitement and awe was generated yesterday during the unveiling of Apple’s new 3rd-generation iPad (not iPad 3, not iPad HD, just… new iPad). The shiny new feature that’s gotten most of the media’s and public’s attention, of course, is the gorgeous new Retina Display that packs four times more pixels than previous models, and makes colors more vibrant. It will make your photos, most of all, really pop and appear more gorgeous than ever. Photographers of ANY persuasion will no doubt covet the new device as the perfect portable portfolio for their images.

The other significant feature upgrade that may (or may not) pique the interest of photographers is the new iSight camera. This camera is a bit of a hybrid — it has the same 5-megapixel resolution of an iPhone 4, but the more advanced optics (f/2.4 aperture and five-element lens) of the iPhone 4S, so it captures light better and produces a sharper overall image. 

It’s technically a better camera than the one on my iPhone 4! Honestly, it seems weird to know that someone using one of the new iPads will potentially be able to take a better QUALITY photo than I can. But as we all know, taking great photos isn’t all about the sharpness of an image. It’s WHAT you’re able to shoot (and in some senses HOW you’re able to), that matters. So… can the iPad really be used effectively (or be taken seriously) as a camera?

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“Becoming a MoPho”: So What’s REALLY Important in Mobile Photography?

The “Becoming a MoPho” section of this blog is about learning to become the best mobile photographer that you can be. While shooting with a mobile device is something that’s been around for years now, it’s still a “relatively” new medium that’s continuing to grow. Even the individuals who have mastered the medium still have new things to learn every day…we ALL do. The best way to approach it (as with most things in life) is to have an open mind.

This column will continue to feature interviews with today’s top mobile photographers (and we have some amazing names coming up!), as well as feature tips, tricks, reviews and news. But I also want to talk about some issues that have been on the back of my mind for a while lately, which I think are important to address for both newbies and pros alike. 

Since iPhoneography first began, there have been people saying it will be the death of photography, as well as its future. I obviously fall into the latter camp — it’s definitely reinvigorated a new love for taking pictures for countless people, and changed how we work with images and share them. But I also see the potential for mobile photography to move in the WRONG direction if we’re not careful, so I hope to start a dialogue that will steer mobile photography back on the right track…


The original iPhone, with its meager 2 megapixel camera, was on the market for a full year before the iPhone 3G debuted (which featured pretty much the same exact camera). And yet, “iPhoneography” didn’t really blow up and become huge until AFTER the 3G’s debut, mainly due to the iOS App Store also arriving at the same time. So, in a way, we basically have APPS to thank for the success of mobile photography. With over 10,000 photo-related apps now available, there’s no question they play a key role with just about anyone shooting with an iPhone. I use several apps myself for shooting and processing (and sharing), and I’m always on the lookout for newer and better ones when they arrive.

However, I feel we’ve become TOO reliant on apps…to a fault. It’s not that people actually USE them that’s the problem, they absolutely should — it’s that they’ve become the MAIN focus in people’s discussions in iPhoneography, as if it’s the apps that are the most important thing that “makes” a picture interesting and nothing else. When someone sees a picture they like from an iPhone, the common question that I (and many other mobile photographers) get these days is usually “What app did you use?” No matter how emotional the pic may be, or what the subject matter is, or how it was composed, the questions are always about the apps first. I rarely get asked about what my intent was behind a photo, or what I was hoping to convey or achieve. 


          I used 6 different apps for both of these photos. No…I’m not telling you which ones. 

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"Becoming a MoPho": An Interview with Sion Fullana (Part Two)

You’ve read Part One of this interview with Sion Fullana, correct? Good! Now on to Part Two….




ANTON: Let’s talk about your “style.” Most photographers seem to strive towards having a certain look and uniformity to their pics, and will also focus their energies on specific fields — whether it’s street photography, studio work, or whatever. You’re one of the few photographers that I know that likes to mix it up as much as possible, and experiment with different styles. And yet…somehow, no matter what you do and how varied it might be, it’s always, unmistakably, a “Sion Fullana” photo. That Cancer sign within you just doesn’t like to be “pinned down” to any one type of thing — I know how you hate being so easily defined! Do you ever feel that too much experimentation in your photography might end up hurting your “identity” as an artist in the long run? 


SION: Wow, and here I was, thinking to myself that I was probably not experimenting or pushing enough boundaries in my own work sometimes!!! [Laughs] As we know, there are two main types of mobile photographers using an iPhone to create work: on one hand, the “street shooters,” which strive to work within a more natural look, either straight from camera or with very minimal processing. On the other hand, the “app stackers,” who learn to master and use many types of photo apps to help them create something more “artistic” in nature, tending more towards a digital painting or illustration than a photograph. Though I consider myself much into the first type, I like to take some detours here and there to the other style, and experiment a bit with stuff like textures, double exposures or selective color/blur, etc. to create a final image that is more abstract or poetic than it is a real document of life captured. 

          “Art Is In the Eye of the Beholder”


I wish I was way more creative in those experiments. Some people out there are producing fantastic stuff that it’s mind-blowing that it comes from a mobile device that fits in your hand, and all done with your finger instead of a mouse or tools and a big screen. But I enjoy trying things when they pop into my head, and even though, like you say, I try to remain faithful to my voice or the stories I want to tell, I think it’s mandatory for anyone working in a creative field to push themselves and never settle down for what you already know well. And I hope that, even when I work within certain types of stories, characters or situations, my work never turns too predictable. 



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