About This Online Album
The photographs in this collection mostly date from 2006 - 2007 and reveal a slice of bohemian life in and around Kings Cross in Sydney, Australia. The subjects range from the city environment to the diverse and exciting people who live and work in this colorful locality. They are shot by artist photographer, Tony Johansen, mostly using available lighting on a Sony Ericsson Cybershot K800i camera phone. This camera phone is capable of a wide dynamic range, making night time available light photography feasible with low noise. This particular camera phone also has built in editing functions that enables subtle manipulation of the image from an artistic point of view at the time of taking the photograph while the artists vision is fresh. The photographs are presented here with comments from the photographer.
Tony Johansen treats the camera phone as both a sketch book for simple recording of images for use later in a variety of purposes, and as an artistic device with the ability to make artistic images worthy of consideration in their own right. He has a distinct preference for available light photography at night, both indoors and outside in the street. At times this gives a strong naturalism to the images, and at other times, especially indoors, the lighting is theatrical and dramatic. While the actual photographic locations are Australian, Johansen's photographs transcend the local. His vision responds to that which is universal, the play of light on clouds, the joy of people dancing, the beauty of night light in a city street.
Camera Phone Photography As An Art Form
The photographs have a candid quality and have a spontaneous sparkle that comes from using a camera phone. It may well be a phone with a particularly high quality camera, but it is nevertheless a camera phone. The camera phone is a relatively recent phenomenon, but it has had far ranging social effects that are comparable to the revolutions brought about by the major historical photographic innovations such as the introduction of the first consumer oriented hand held cameras by Kodak, and the introduction of practical color films from the 1930's.
The ubiquity of the camera that the camera phone has spawned, its small size, and tendency to be on the person at all times has completely changed the relationship between subject and photographer. Where one time taking a photograph was a rare event and often welcomed, nowadays it seems photography has exploded in terms of the number of photographs taken and social etiquette around photography is rapidly evolving, with subjects more likely to express a need for privacy, or even exhibiting open hostility. This is reflected in the number of local laws regarding photography over recent times and the number of businesses and public spaces with photography restrictions. In this climate the photographer needs social skills as much as compositional skills to get the desired image.
It is a surprise to many people that the camera phone should be regarded as a serious artistic tool. The camera phone has been with us for just a few short years and until very recently the quality of the cameras was poor and the available memory on the phones inadequate for more than a few quick shots. Even so, the "on the person" nature of the device made its use by artists inevitable, and the ability of digital cameras to allow the deletion of unwanted shots made experimentation easy.
There is also something enticing about any instant photography medium. An earlier generation embraced the polaroid camera. David Hockney and the Pop Art movement are notable examples. They loved the immediacy of the instant image and were prepared to accept the limitations of the medium in order to explore its advantages. In the same spirit the current generation has found the camera phone irresistible as a medium for artistic use, although few have embraced it as whole-heartedly as Tony Johansen.
The Photographic Background Of Tony Johansen
Tony Johansen first learned darkroom basics from Gary Herbert at Cairns TAFE in the late 1980's. His advanced education started when be befriended Dr Clarence Rainwater, the former dean of Astronomy and physics at San Francisco State University. Dr Rainwater was a notable exponent of the Sabattier effect (otherwise known as solarization). He co-wrote the classic 1964 book on the subject with Sandy Walker. By experimentation with chemistry, Rainwater and Walker were able to dramatically extend the visual effects of the techniques. It is against this background that Johansen learned photochemistry and eventually had a chemical cupboard that made his studio look more like a laboratory than a conventional artist's work space.
Just as digital photography has almost entirely displaced film for most people, Tony Johansen rarely uses the darkroom nowadays, preferring the many advantages of digital to the older ways. His expertise in the darkroom and with the camera is still evident, however, in the way he approaches photography as an artist. Although these images are taken on a tiny camera phone, they have the beautiful artistry normally associated with traditional film and larger, more sophisticated cameras.
His photographic heroes tend to be the pictorialists and those who treat the photograph as a purely creative means of expression. These photographs taken with the camera phone, however, mostly have little manipulation of the image beyond basic brightness and contrast and as such are probably more in the spirit of the work of Berenice Abbott, another photographer he greatly admires.