David Ingraham’s images are fine examples of what mobile street photography is capable of. Through the lens of his iPhone, Ingraham exposes extraordinary perspectives, hidden references and ambiguities crowding our ordinary environments. Both human figures and architectural elements are in his photos characters in the same evocative shadowplay.
When the eye of the photographer is free to wander, every image is the result of a discovery, often fortuitous. “I rarely set out with a pre-conceived feeling or concept,” David tells us, “I just hit the streets looking for some inspiring light, interesting people, some nice geometry or a clutter-free backdrop and just start shooting. I try to shut off my conscious mind and just kind of go on auto pilot, not even looking at what I’ve shot until I get home.”
Inspiration however is not only coming from the contact with people and situations encountered in the streets; it can also come from other sources, like the work of other photographers. “I do immerse myself in a lot of imagery during any given week,” Ingraham explains, “Whether it’s looking at photos on Flickr, Instagram, EyeEm or looking through magazines and books. I’m getting a lot of inspiration and stockpiling ideas, whether consciously or subliminally, so I frequently have certain ideas or approaches in mind when I head into the city to shoot. This at least gives me a starting point as opposed to just blindly shooting.”
Los Angeles-based David Ingraham worked as a professional musician for years. Music and photography are for him essential expressive outlets. Ingraham does not deny that there is more to taking photographs than inspiration and accumulation of ideas; like any musician knows, sometimes improvisation has an important role in a creative process. “There are times where I’m doing just that — blindly shooting anything that catches my sight and hoping the years of developing my eye will pay off in some way.”
David Ingraham’s pictures leave the viewers on their own to figure out their own stories and develop their ideas. As he puts it himself, “Once I’ve taken a shot I like, whether it’s a straight-out-of-camera shot or a seed that grows into a larger composite idea, it’s not until it’s done and ready to post that I stop and analyze it a bit, asking myself what it makes me think or feel. It’s at that point that I’ll title it or add a quote to sort of nudge the viewer towards what I’m feeling about the image, while still trying to leave it open-ended. But I don’t want to tell the viewer what to feel or think.”
David tells us how his love for photography was born long before the “digital revolution” took over. “I’ve had a camera ever since I was a kid, and bought an SLR in ’86 and shot with that for many years, though I shot just for the fun of it, sort of as a visual diary, like most people do. But eventually I started to become more and more interested in photography as an art form and became somewhat obsessed with black and white photography.” Even with all their differences, to him the transition from analog to digital felt, in a way, obvious. “Everything I learned in the darkroom I’m able to apply to my digital work, so I view it all as a natural progression,” Ingraham confirms.
As someone who was taking photos before the age of digital cameras and experimented with both worlds, Ingraham has no doubt that newer technologies represent a necessary development. “Technology marches on, and cameras just keep getting more advanced while getting smaller, which is a blessing for the street photographer and photojournalist because it allows us to become more and more invisible. That enables us to get shots we could never get with a bulky, conspicuous camera. And photojournalists like Ben Lowy and Ed Kashi, just to name a couple, are doing legitimate assignments using their iPhone, so clearly it’s more about having a good eye and using whatever camera you’ve got in your hand at the time.” So, are people sneering at mobile shooters in denial? Are camera phones just good for snapshots? “I’m sure people were saying the same thing when the first rangefinder came on the scene, and then Henri Cartier-Bresson proved all the naysayer snobs wrong.”
This brings us back us to the Ingraham’s iPhoneography. “I started shooting with my iPhone immediately upon getting it,” he says, “I do a lot of traveling and with the airlines’ strict baggage and carry-on rules these days it was becoming more and more inconvenient to bring a DSLR everywhere. Not to mention that I just liked the idea of having a camera on me at all times.” Basically, mobile photography is a way to extend the photographer’s freedom. But beyond its practical merits, Ingraham recognizes the new technology changed his whole attitude towards taking photos and working with them. “What I didn’t foresee was that it was going to take over my approach to photography entirely, causing me to shelve most of my other cameras and editing software.”
As most iPhoneographers, David Ingraham started by exploring the new medium, gradually getting acquainted with it. As he recalls, “Initially I started with the native camera, but quickly started to discover and experiment with various shooting apps, mainly Hipstamatic, which to this day is one of my favorites.”
While he was defining his own style, Ingraham also developed strong personal preferences regarding his tools. “As far as shooting-apps are concerned, my main three are Hipstamatic, ProCamera, and KitCam.” He points out how he appreciates each of these apps for very specific reasons. “Hipstamatic has a wonderful analog-feel interface which gives us old film lovers a bit of nostalgia and it’s got a simple no-nonsense, what-you-shoot-is-what-you-get approach, due mainly to the fact that you have no control over exposure or focus. And once you’ve shot with a certain lens/film combo, you’re stuck with it – if it was a black and white film, then that’s what you’re going to get! But with KitCam, no matter what lens/film combo you shoot with, you can go back into the app and change the combo anytime. It saves a version of the original shot, so you can edit and re-edit nondestructively. KitCam also gives you separate control over focus and exposure, as does ProCamera, which gives you much more control, but it’s not as good as Hipstamatic for shooting from the hip.” And what about post processing? “As far as editing apps are concerned,” he says, “Snapseed is my main go-to app. It provides me with almost everything I need, including dodging and burning via their Selective Adjustment tools. I also like Wood Camera and ScratchCam for textures, and Image Blender for composite work,” and he concludes “I could go on but I won’t!”
As for the formula for making the most of shooting with a mobile camera, David Ingraham’s suggestion is very clear, “Just dive in headfirst. Experiment with numerous apps and find a handful that work for you. Stick with them, explore them, and just get lost! Immerse yourself in the creative process and have fun with it.”
According to David, there is no secret here; observing and adapting your photography to your creative sensibility is what works best. “Find styles or approaches that speak to you and eventually you’ll start to form your own recognizable style,” he suggest, and then adds, “But once again, it should be fun. It should be a healthy, therapeutic way of engaging your creative side, and taking your mind off all the nonsense out there; or at least a way of expressing your feelings about the world around you, good and bad. Like ol’ Pablo Picasso said, ‘The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.’”