Someone on a social media site not too long ago asked: is mobile photography creative?
To be clear by “mobile photography,” she meant smart phone photography. The thread received a lot of traction, with 30 plus comments quickly offered. I was late to the query, so I reviewed what others said before adding my thoughts. I guess there’s this advantage for latecomers. Not many responders were actually taking photos with their smart phones, regardless of the expert commentary they provided about “mobile photography.” As is often the case in such company, the responses skew toward the negative. It’s a reason I infrequently participate in these kinds of conversations; they tend not be conversations but more like railing, which seldom moves understanding forward as hard and fast as the many strong emotions that pop up. The entire comment thread can easily get out of hand, not to mention off topic. This time, I did participate, though, because I found and still find the initiating question interesting . . .
Does your camera make you more creative? Does you smart phone make you more creative? Does your word processor make you more creative? No, I don’t think so because I don’t think this way.
How can a device be creative? Isn’t creativity a human endeavor, a decidedly human trait, so far as we know and understand our world? What role does a device, an appliance, a tool play in my expression of creative impulses? I don’t believe any of my cameras have made me any more or less creative than I already was. They do not instigate my desire to express myself in imaginative ways. They don’t initiate my desire to observe or to record my experience and perception of this life I’m living.
Whether pen, word processor, camera, paintbrush, what our tools of expression do is enable us to act upon the imaginative impulse. They can pose to us barriers of expression via cost, technical know-how, accessibility, aptitude, or something else along these lines. In these ways, tools can inhibit our expressions or enable. But they neither articulate or silence the expressions themselves as an intrinsic part of what they are, which to me, are variations of a mechanical device. The finger, painting upon a stone, is also a tool, but one that is more intimately a part of the human form. However, the finger, too, can be separate from that same being’s internalized vision–the hand can or can not make what the heart feels or the mind thinks.
My smart phone helps me realize some of my visions for visual expression, both those I’ve always had but didn’t express and those I didn’t quite know I had until I began to play with what was available to me. As I find new ways to use apps or cameras, I find new possibilities that may exceed what any tool was originally designed for or made to do. This is an impact of creative thinking: to envision and find ways to enact those visions. A block of wood used for something other than building or burning, a camera on a cell phone used to scan and sample the artifacts and experiences of the material world: we can have a transgressive relationship with our creative tools–they can affect how we work as we define how they work with us.
I’m not any more or less creative because a smart phone camera is now an important means of my visual expression. What I am is more inclined to pursue the impulses I have to express myself and to do so more frequently, to explore avenues that weren’t apparent to me when I was creating/photographing in isolation, away from the influences of seeing the work, inspiration, motivations, and habits of others. My networked smart phone and PC help me do this.
This is a hand-held, fit-in-your-pocket tool of verbal and visual communication. It can be a conduit of creative expression by helping to cultivate fluency, frequency, skill, exposure, and habits that build stimulate or reward my desire to create, to make apparent what I imagine. But all that is really dependent upon my decisions, judgements and actions–whether I use it or not, like it or not, hold assumptions about it or not. So, no, my smart phone doesn’t make me more or less creative. It’s a machine. It can be a conduit to enable expression, but it does not express or create without me–not yet at least.