It's the iPhone. Specifically, “Can I use my iPhone to shoot assignments?”
As photographers ask themselves the question “How am I going to make this look different this time?” they are conflicted about the iPhone's place in the field. Many consider it a toy — just as they did the 35mm camera until its value as a candid camera became evident — but is the resulting work photojournalism? Phone photography? Phonojournalism?
Among the iPhone's biggest proponents is David Hume Kennerly, whose work is shown here. A veteran photojournalist — who won the Pulitzer Prize at the age of 25 for a 1971 portfolio that included pictures of the Vietnam War — he has covered eight wars, was President Gerald Ford's personal photographer and is a television director and producer. He's currently in Afghanistan running photojournalism workshops and is headed to Chicago soon to work on a Discovery channel documentary about White House chiefs of staff called “The Gatekeepers.”
He remembers the moment that “really sent me down the iPhone photo path,” taking a photograph of a Dallas church on Nov. 18, 2010: “When I got the Hipstamatic application, it really changed my perspective about this whole thing. It's kind of no-fault photography, in a way.”
Kennerly has embraced the iPhone aesthetic so completely that it's as much an extension of his vision as any camera ever has been. “The perspective seems to work for me. It's just compatible with the way I see things,” he says. The lack of controls and settings on the camera, instead of being limiting, is freeing for him, he adds, and it lets him concentrate on the subject at hand.
The best of his iPhone photographs are stunning for their visual impact — deftly layered and artfully composed. Faces, clouds, close-ups, shadows and brilliant colors (it helps to live in Santa Monica, Calif.) and bold compositions make the photographs “pop.” His iPhone photographs are the journal of a well-traveled life, a visceral, visual diary.
Like every other piece of equipment he owns, Kennerly figured out how the iPhone works best and uses it to his maximum advantage. But it's not the camera, or the apps (although he favors Hipstamatic's Ben Watts lens and Big Up film) that give his photos their punch. His photographs show the difference that having a photographer's eye makes, a maturity of vision that transcends any camera choice.
He uses professional cameras for his work, of course, but he's itching for an assignment where he can use his phone alone. “I'll be happy to do that,” he says.
In the meantime, Kennerly's Facebook pages are dappled with hundreds of iPhone photos taken since 2010, and fans and friends marvel at his regular photo updates from all over the world. They also ask him for advice, most often why their phone photos don't look like his. “Because I'm a pro!” he shoots back. But then, he explains, “Quite frankly, you can. All you need is 40 years experience.”
Michael Zajakowski is a Tribune photo editor.