The approach taken in this paper is to understand photography not as representation, technology, or object, but as the agency that takes place when a set of technologies, meanings, uses and practices align.
In a 2009 issue of the mainstream photography enthusiast magazine American Photo, an article entitled “Instant gratification” (Andrews and Chen) reported on interviews with four professional photographers. The article centered on a single photographic device, and it was not a camera: the iPhone. More recently, Annie Liebovitz, in a November 15, 2011 interview on MSNBC, called the iPhone ‘the snapshot camera of today’.
While these anecdotes do not by themselves indicate a trend, they are just two examples of the growing interest of mainstream photographers in new devices for image capture, and in particular the iPhone, which represent technology convergence and ubiquity. In this article, we propose that the iPhone is actually more than a single device within which multiple technologies (including phones, cameras, geo-location, and Internet browsing, among others) have converged, but is also a node of different networks that is shaping new understandings of what photography is and how it is used.
The iPhone represents one of the latest developments in a long history of image creation devices, but is the first device that combines three important elements which we will discuss: the making, processing, and distribution of images. It is not the first attempt to converge elements of the image creation process, such as the once-popular but now discontinued Polaroid cameras (see Buse “Polaroid into Digital” and “Surely Fades Away”) that combined the making and processing elements (but generally without the possibility of adjusting the processing) and later digital cameras that could be connected directly to home printers without the intervention of a computer, but it is the first to combine all three elements in a way that is having widespread success. Although photography has a long and well-documented history, more than 180 years after the first photographic image was made, “we still do not know what photography is” (Kember 175).
One might ask how this can be true, when nearly everyone in the developed world and many in the developing world have created photographs; furthermore, most lay photographers would likely argue that they know exactly what photography is: a technological means for recording the world as seen. However, Kember’s provocative point is true in many ways because photography “is a complex technological network in the making rather than a single fixed technology” (Larsen 142).