Welcome to another new series of interviews and insights that we are running on theappwhisperer.com. This new section, entitled, “Extension of the I,” goes deeper into the photographic aspects of mobile photography. It delves into the lives, thoughts and influences that our artists experience from their photography. No other mobile photography website reaches the depths and emotions of the mobile photographers as we do in this new series of interviews. If you’ve missed our previous interviews of this series, you can read them here.
We think you’re going to enjoy this, a lot. Today we are featuring Jay Desind, we recently interviewed Jay for our A Day In The Life Series of Interviews, if you missed that you can read it here. Jay is a writer and photographer currently in his second year of traveling to many parts of the world. Mobile photography has created an entirely new synthesis of expression for him… he now does all his photography and writing on the iPhone. This past year saw the publication of his first book, the Hotel Vidal, currently available of Amazon. This book showcases how technology is forever changing and expanding the different ways we see the world. View the book here.
Read more about Jay in the following interview. You also find all the links to the apps mentioned at the end of this article.
(If you would like to be interviewed for our new “A Day in the Life of…” section, just send an email to Joanne@theappwhisperer.com, and we’ll get it set up.”
© Jay Desind – “Jay Desind”
First Things First
© Jay Desind – “Bassano del Grappa” – Apps Used: Snapseed and Photocopier
Joanne – How did you get started in photography?
Jay – I think it was the gear head in me that found photography appealing. I admit it, I liked all the toys and I thought Popular Photography magazine was more sexy than Playboy. I liked the promise of all this equipment… how it could make even us unskilled dabblers masters of the art. Of course I went through this rude awakening when I realized my photos were just mush no matter the brand of camera I used. I think, ultimately, I am a frustrated painter… I could see things I wanted to paint but my execution and patience lacked the refinement needed to create something truly compelling. Photography was sort of a middle ground for me… I could spot a situation I wanted to capture and through a different kind of patience I could get that moment.
© Jay Desind – “Brescia Train Station” – Apps Used: Camera+
Joanne – Who and what are your influences?
Jay – It all began when I was a kid looking at my mom’s magazines like Redbook and McCalls. I was always drawn to the ads and how they conveyed these illusions of the world through photography (I mean, who doesn’t want to live in a Guess Jeans Ad!).
I would also have to say that my mom also helped develop my visual lust. Her houses were always statements of different cultures– the African bathroom, the Chinese formal sitting room– her shop that had pottery and knick knacks from all around the world. She also had this amazing ability to tell stories about all the things she sold. Later in life I realized she bent the facts a bit to add a bit more allure to things, but it didn’t matter. She gave all these things little lives and was sincere in her love for them. Even the way she dressed was a statement. You would never see my mom but always put together, from the shoes to the pocket book. It’s sick now… I chase little old ladies all the time hoping to catch a photo of them that reminds me of my own mom!
© Jay Desind – “Budapest” – Apps Used: Camera+ and Snapseed
Joanne – What draws you to the subjects you seek?
Jay – My focus with photography has changed quite a bit in the last couple years. I think this is only natural for all of us. When I traveled through Asia I could really use the added benefits of shooting with a DSLR. Taking photos of kids or of people near their homes or working out in plain view was not the taboo we feel here in the western world. I am very drawn to human form and how it’s placed in context to the environment. I mean, right now as I am writing this, I am sitting at my little coffee place in Italy and two men with their backs to me are reading newspapers at the counter. The way they are placed in context to one another, the slope of their backs, the concentration they exude in this morning ritual of coffee, brioche, newspaper…. gathering themselves for the day, and the empty chair in the foreground that says, what? waiting for the next rush, or has it sent its inhabitant already into the new day– as you can see my mind works in this sort of constant state of poetry. I think this has been the greatest gift mobile photography has given me. I can now catch that moment and work on it as I sit there sipping my own coffee (sans the brioche… gotta stay away from those things!)
© Jay Desind – “Center of the Universe” – Apps Used: Snapseed
Joanne – What is it about these subjects that you want to capture/communicate and ultimately convey in your images?
Jay -This is the question that is supposed to be soul searching and to give us the chance to give our audience the ‘reason’ why we shoot pictures or work on those pictures in apps.
When I first wrote the reply to this it was more about how I was battling the personal demons in my life and coming back to a satisfying center. All true, and quite true probably for all of us that have this need to express ourselves through some artistic outlet. Leave it to my (stern on the outside) Norwegian friend to completely tip the scale into another direction. When I asked her why she didn’t feel the deep thrill I felt looking at a Steve McCurry portrait, I asked her what was wrong with them. In her blunt, decisive way she replied, “I want to be surprised.”
Besides ruining 99% of Steve McCurry’s photographic output for me, she also in that one sentence basically made me rethink all my sniveling self-absorption in my tragic but by no means unique last few years.
I think forever after when I frame a pic I will hear Eli like some sage impish little sprite perched on my shoulder whispering in my ear– “Yes that is interesting, but is it surprising?”
So in going back to answering this question, I want to get lucky enough through hard work and careful nuance to create a few images over a space of time that push those Norwegian’s buttons and make her squeal with girlish delight.
As a side note, Steve McCurry certainly has some excellent and surprising photos, but so does Eli Reinholdtsen… Check her stuff out!
© Jay Desind – “Florence Reflection” – Apps Used: Camera+ and Snapseed
Joanne – How did you settle on this subject?
Jay – The subject being, everything that catches my attention and demands further illumination. I think one of my problems– oh, let’s make it more palatable!– my challenges, is to stop the inner me from flitting from one thing to another, photographically speaking. Truly visual people can be overcome with the sensation of seeing. I think, ultimately, what separates amateurs from masters is the ability, either innately or through discipline, to zero in on a uncomplicated and pristine vision. I don’t mean that this vision is simplistic, but that it clearly expresses a point of view that is identifiable to that person. I think it doesn’t happen often. I’m content right now being a dabbler in everything subject wise. If I am always just chasing the coat tails of the masters, then so be it. One day I’m Cartier-Bresson, another day I’m Erwitt Elliott, and maybe every Sunday I’m Manet or Rembrandt– not a bad way to walk the streets.
© Jay Desind – ” Flower” – Apps Used: Snapseed
Joanne – Is there another area/subject that you would like to explore, if so, what and why?
Jay – I would really like to fall into a Calvin Klein ad, lol. I just want to get better at what I’m doing now, keep on writing and taking photos, and letting things develop as they see fit.
© Jay Desind – “Juxtapose Without the App” – Apps Used: Camera+ and Snapseed
Joanne – Which photographers (not necessarily mobile photographers) do you most admire and why?
Jay – Steve McCurry and David DuChemin woke my wanderlust to explore other cultures and Cartier-Bresson taught me that a photo opportunity existed everywhere. I really like the humor and humanity of Erwitt Elliott. Just the other day I came across a Hungarian photographers book that, well, surprised me!
© Jay Desind – “Milano Gates” – Apps Used: Camera+ and Snapseed
Joanne – Henri Cartier-Bresson is in many ways, the Godfather of street photography, even in the 1930’s he enjoyed using a small camera for discretion in order to capture people and tell a story – do you feel this way regarding mobile photography?
Jay – Of course! I have this fantasy that I time travel back to Cartier-Bresson’s time. He’s across the street trying to shoot an unobtrusive photo of someone and I walk by, do my iPhone thing, and then later meet him at a coffee shop and show him the ten photos I’ve taken of the same subject at the same time. ‘But I didn’t even see you, ‘ he’ll say. I’ll just wink and tell him to go to the next table, where a printer is spitting out an image of him I’ve just taken and he never even noticed. He’ll turn around and I’ll be gone.
(Interesting side note: Cartier-Bresson is known to have just taken two self portraits of himself; one of just his toes and one near the end of his life of just his shadow. He drew many self portraits. I wonder if he would have experimented with the iPhone)
(Additional side note: I’ve taken over 4,000 self portraits– and counting– but only of my more photogenic good side).
© Jay Desind – “Love’s” – Apps Used: Snapseed
Joanne – Tell us about your photographic technique – do you rely on intuition or do you believe in a more formal/trained approach?
Jay – Intuition. Whenever I’ve planned anything it never works out. I feel that I’m very good at observing things around me and somehow working out the geometry of the moment without really thinking about it too much. Having the ability to review something quickly on the iPhone does, if the moment allows, let me get another chance to frame something more strong if I need to.
© Jay Desind – “Milano Evening” – Apps Used: Camera+ and Snapseed
Joanne – How has your photography evolved?
Jay – This is the question that hits both my personalities. On the one hand I love how technology keeps on innovating and showing us new ways to express vision. We have all these wonderful ways to freeze time. Then we can take that 1/100th of a second and actually make it into some thing more… We can layer more time onto that image through the advent of software. That’s why, I believe, our photos have become more painterly in our output. Painters froze time, but they built that time though careful choices as they brought that image to completion.
Which wakes up at other self in me .. Is photography art or reportage? Should we accept the imperfections of the moment? Cartier-Bresson would dismiss all this ‘APPing’ as something not true to photography… He absolutely forbid that any of his photos be cropped even if at the edges their were some imperfections.
My photography is the yin and yang of itself. I swing from wanting to having exact reproductions of my photos to APPing some of them to utter nonsense…and have fun doing it.
Back to my coat tail analogy on the answer above, it’s all well and fine to keep snatching at others brilliance, but quite risky to snatch their walking stick away and stride right on by them. My photography may lead to blocked roads or to new towns– only time (and the epitaph on my gravestone) will tell.
All For One
© Jay Desind – “Milano Streets” – Apps Used: Snapseed and Touch Blur
Joanne – Many of the great photographers, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Robert Frank , Henri Cartier-Bresson described only shooting images for themselves – do you see this attitude with mobile photographers?
Jay – I can only answer this from the little window into this that I have seen and by no means can I know the true intentions of ‘all’ (millions) of mobile photographers. But this is what I see… There are a lot more people snapping photos or making Vimeo how-to photography presentations than there are actual photographers. I’ll be honest and say I am at war with myself sometimes… In some ways I want to become known for what I do (what is it that I do, exactly?) but on the other hand I just want to board a train, get off at a town that looks interesting and lose myself in humanity. And not care for an instant if anyone even sees what my output is.
Having the recognition of others and a positive cash flow in our bank accounts surely makes us all blush and smile– sitting at a sidewalk storefront sorta place sipping a liquid (you don’t ask) from a dirty glass (very quickly and surreptitiously you wipe it clean with disinfectant, I’m not stupid, ok) that a a toothless smiling stranger just bought for you because you look awkward and out of place (all an act so they loosen up around me and I can snap a good pic). Well, this is the instance where that smile of acceptance is replaced by tiny bursts of transcendent joy. I may never be a Vimeo rock star showing people why I chose Kitcam over Hipstamatic… But I will be a (relatively healthy, because I wiped the glass clean) very satisfied man walking the streets of undiscovered places. (I just have to stop giving away the money I make when I sell one of my books, but if I don’t support other artists, who will? Adobe Corporation?)
© Jay Desind – “Over My Shoulder” – Apps Used: Camera+ and Snapseed
Joanne – Do you take risks with photographs, push boundaries? If yes, please give examples, if no, why not, would you like to?
Jay – Yes, every photo, and every photo I attach one of my poems to… My throat laid bare…
© Jay Desind – “Berlin Streets” – Apps Used: Camera+
Joanne – What is your favorite picture, of your own and why?
Jay – My favorite photo in regards to the importance of iPhoneography is the one I am sharing right here with this question. It has less to do with the quality or the app I used to create it, but what it showed me I could do with mobile photography. It showed me I could be part of a moment and also removed from it. I could review it as I walked away, I could ‘app’ it on the tram back to the flat. It wasn’t the first photo I’d taken on the iPhone, but it led to the creation of everything else… my subject matter and my writing.
© Jay Desind – “Padova Streets” – Apps Used: Snapseed and Old Photo Pro
Joanne – Do you get emotionally involved with your photography?
Jay – Lol, you just have to read one of my poems on to understand the answer to this question.
© Jay Desind – “Prato Della Valle” – Apps Used: Snapseed
Joanne – Does your life become entwined with your subjects?
Jay – Yes and no. How’s that for a politically correct answer! This has evolved over time and it’s all about the equipment I use. When I was in Asia shooting with my DSLR it was very apparent to all what I was doing… shooting pictures. I would play in the streets with the kids, let them hold my camera, let them ham it up for me to take a pic… and then when I became less an object of curiosity for them I would get those pics I really wanted.
With mobile photography I really like the anonymity it allows. My intent is to take photos that are part of the moment so being unobtrusive is preferable.
Jeffrey Chapman, a photographer/teacher that I respect once said to me, “you don’t photograph a person, you photograph the connection” He meant it in the way that unless your subject knows you are taking the photo, that photo will be less genuine. I agree with him that a certain alchemy exists in that moment, but I also believe that a connection can be more ephemeral and equally transformative. In other words, a ‘connection’ can be more one-sided but not any less sincere and instructional.
Post Production (Processing)
© Jay Desind – “Red Door” – Apps Used: Camera+ and Snapseed
Joanne – Do you have a special post-processing style?
Jay – I really try to keep it very simple. Snapseed most of the time and that’s it. Sometimes I use Blender to mix two versions of a Snapseed output. I play with other apps but I’ve come to the realization that I more like the moment as I captured it than making it into another reality. I will always dabble with new techniques and try new apps.
Tips for Processing
© Jay Desind – “Singapore” – Apps Used: Camera+, Photocopier and Snapseed
Joanne – Do you have any tips for post-processing?
Jay – Decide what you are… photographer or artist or both, and build up an app library that best reflects this work flow. I have on my iPhone folders that divide up this mess of apps. Of course the better the base image the better the end result.
© Jay Desind – “The Shadow” – Apps Used: Camera+ and Snapseed
Joanne – Do you have a digital workflow system to sort your images, if so what is it?
Jay – I wish I had a system. It changes with each new app that promises organization! I try, I try, I try. Basically, I load everything into Lightroom, have two backups, and hope one day that a update will magically analyze the content of every one of my photos and put it into some kind of order. Until then I am constantly surprised by my own photos!
© Jay Desind – “Tutto Gelato, Father and Son” – Apps Used: Snapseed, Photocopier and Image Blender
Joanne – How do you think photography has changed over the years?
Jay – Right now I am reading a big fat book on the origin of photography. It’s interesting to note that photography came about from a more scientific background and the images it created were met with more suspicion than paintings of the same thing.
I think, in a way, the art of photography will always be a niche… fewer appreciators of how artful and innovative it is. My belief of this is that nearly everyone can take a photo and thus the supposition that everyone is capable of having something hang on a gallery wall. This is a good thing, ultimately. It will push innovators to do ever more unique and unknown things with images.
35 mm Film Days
© Jay Desind – “Venezia Lamp” – Apps Used – Camera+ and Snapseed
Joanne – As a mobile photographer you’re at the cutting edge of technology, do you ever hanker for the 35mm film days?
Jay – I don’t, my brother had a darkroom so I have memory of what was involved with all that. I’m convinced that if technology was around for Ansel Adams to dodge and burn his photos as he took them out on the field he would have done so. I respect and appreciate tradition, but I also like innovation. We are a world of billions of people– room enough for everything.
Links to All Apps Used and Mentioned In This Interview
© Jay Desind – “Window Man” – Apps Used: Snapseed, DSLR Shot