In his intriguing dissertation ‘Camera Phones Prevail: Citizen Shutterbugs and the London Bombings‘, the good professor explores a theme I touched on in my own recent epistle, ‘Birth of the Personal Journalist‘, albeit on a more global and tragic scale. But whether it’s a building implosion or a subway bombing, the hurtling pace and galactic scope of shared imagery is finally reaching the levels predicted in all those great Science Fiction novels I read as a boy. Of all the wondrous gadgets to come into critical mass as of late, I have to agree with Mr. Dunleavy, the camera phone alone has the potential to change the world. Or at least how we swap gossip about it.
Fact is, I been luggin’ a lens for fifteen years, jumping in ice cream trucks with poles on the top and racing them up and down the countryside, looking for that perfect spot to shoot primitive signals to a rickety towers, all so I can feed some shoplifter mug shot back to a station full of slouchy co-workers. Now with the flip of one pudgy wrist, a housewife in the Frozen Foods aisle can capture a shot of the guy with the chops in his socks and instantly zap it to a global information network before she ever hit’s the check-out lane, giving her time to count her coupons and easily out-broadcast my sorry ass in the process. I may be just a greasy photog, but even I know, THAT’S news.
Though I don’t yet own one, I do believe the advent of digital camera phones will be viewed by historians as a touchstone event in the Information Age - a landmark development that first harnessed hi-fi imagery with wi-fi dissemination; sleek, marvelous machines that fit in your palm and plug into the world. These ever-evolving tools may well prove to be the great equalizer in the new media frontier; hand-held, high-tech devices capable of generating new streams of information where not so long ago there was noisy static, and once, only silence. Consider Dunleavy’s evidence:
In modern times, society has come to depend primarily on trained professionals to report what constitutes the news. News, in this configuration, however, has values which reporters, editors and photojournalists learn to prioritize, classify and categorize. Information is placed in a hierarchical order based on values such as relevancy, consequence, proximity, prominence, novelty and other values.
Washington Post staff writer Yuki Noguchi, in a story entitled, "Eyewitness Journalism: Camera Phones Lend Immediacy to Images of Disaster," reports that "camera phones, once a novelty, now outsell digital cameras by about 4 to 1, according to analyst data. As more sophisticated phones and higher-speed networks have become available, wireless companies have recently started offering video camcorders on their phones that can nearly instantly transmit moving pictures over e-mail or onto the Internet."
Of course I would be remiss in my own duties as Doctor of Cinematology if I didn’t bemoan the loss of lensmanship inherent in this merging of citizen journalism and mainstream media. It appears the lowly tripod isn’t invited to the Media Revolution. My advice: Buckle up! If you thought ‘Blair Witch Project’ was a bumpy ride, strap on your crash helmet - here comes the evening news! You grab the protective eyewear, I’ll grab the popcorn!
So can you see how we who make our living seeking artistry in the everyday image can’t help but grimace at the sea of bobbing lenses and glistening cell phones staring back at us. Production values we consider cornerstones of our craft are being distilled into top five suggestions for better video, sacred truths of the viewfinder once known only by the pros now pop up as refrigerator magnets bearing over-sized exclamation points. That sound you hear is the cracking of plastic, haphazard surface fractures of our beloved craft being stretched and cheapened into something new and far less valuable.
At least that’s the view from Tripod Row.