A Smartphone and My Happy Place

I discovered a key to my creative happy place- a place I haven’t seen in some time- or at least not in this capacity. This happy place can live in my pocket and can translate my vision- with the touch of a single button. The key to my happy place? A smartphone.

I purchased this savvy device at the beginning of my recent photo assignment in Europe and downloaded an app that replicates the Holga film camera. I had a vision for part of my assignment and the Holga had to be a part of the total body of work.

 (Crystal Street)

Dinner should always have such ambiance. Riva Del Garda, Italy

Several years ago, while taking a logic class at UNC, I began to see things in squares. I know this sounds insane, but while learning to understand logic- my creative mind was trying to learn to see in medium format. Let me give that statement some context.

I see in rectangles. I see in black and white. I see light and I see shadows.

My world has been immersed in 35 mm photography for so long, that I see everything as a potential composition- even if my camera is no where to be found. That’s my world. That’s how my mind works.

And has been working for over 20 years.

Strolling through Riva Del Guarda.

When I shifted into digital almost a decade ago, I lost a part of the joy of my passion. Things became technical. They became complicated and they began to be measured in pixels. And unfortunately, the cameras I enjoyed, the instruments that truly sang to me, were film cameras.

Last year I took a step towards satisfying my passionate needs with an amazing professional digital camera, which has one major drawback. She is a massive beast of a tool. She’s amazing and when I lift her to my eye and interpret the world through her lens, I find joy, peace and flow.

But her size and weight prohibits me from truly engaging in the creative outlet that makes my heart sing- street photography. Simply documenting the tiny slices of humanity that I encounter when I wander through the world. My professional companion is amazing for commercial work and outstanding for intense photojournalism or documentary projects, but when the time comes for me to embrace my inner Henri-Cartier Bresson, the sheer magnitude of her power inhibits my art.

An afternoon in the park in Annecy, France.

After the summer when I began to see squares, I purchased a Holga, the lovely 20 dollar toy camera that shoots medium format film. I lugged her to Palestine, Jordan and Indonesia. And fell in love with the odd, dreamy, mystery square that I created with her.

A Holga is truly a piece of masterful shit- really. She leaks light, has only one exposure setting, focusing is more of an abstract concept rather than a precise technical skill and you get 12 shots a roll and that’s it. I actually close her shut with electrical tape, so changing a roll takes at least 5 minutes. And you never know what you’re getting- which is part of her charm.

But now, technology and my passionate needs have collided in the most unlikely of places. An unlocked, Italian Droid smartphone with a Holga app. Go fucking figure.

For the past five weeks, while shooting a documentary assignment in Italy and France, I have kept that damn phone in my hand the entire time- even while shooting with my lovely professional beast. I must look like I’ve lost my mind- standing next to the Notre Dame in Paris, a $5000 camera draped over one shoulder while obsessively shooting with a $200 smartphone. I feel like I’m cheating on my lovely pro companion, but I just can not help myself.

I am the proverbial kid in the candy store.

Standing outside the Pantheon in Rome.

Yes, its a smartphone, and yes, its a computer app. But this new tool pushes me to translate the world the way I truly see it- and try to capture the vision in tiny slices of time.

The smartphone allows me to strip away the complications and get back to the basics of composition. I can simply look for light and wait for my subject to step into that light. I see a visual metaphor unfolding before me and simply wait until the right moment to capture it.

I can simply sit and watch. I understand how this computer application in my phone reads light and I compose my images around these methods of interpretation.

I can return to simply reading pockets of light, long shadows and contrasting objects of black and white.

I can return to the core of my art. Composition. Joy. Flow.


  1. My-Tien says

    I use it even before buying the Panasonic lx5 but I simply love my Nokia phone. It’s only been 8 months since I started really getting into photography. And I agree with what you say a phone really takes you back to basics and all you have to worry about is composition, which is what I’m learning now. But good thing that my phone’s photos still come out half decent (with 3.2 megapixal)