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Is the iPhone the Future of Photography? A TFS Exclusive with Carter Smith

New York-based photographer and director Carter Smith has not only worked with some of the world's most prominent artists including Snoop Dog, Mary J. Blige, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Milla Jovovich, Jane’s Addiction, Bush, Stone Temple Pilots, Wycleff Jean, NERD, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan, but he has directed two feature length films and his photographs have appeared in The New York Times' Style Magazine, Spin, BlackBook, and Architect Magazine among others. To top off his long list of accomplishments, his work has been exhibited in galleries internationally, he has shot advertising campaigns for the likes of Puma and Armani Exchange, and he has published two books, the most recent of which, PHONEBOOK, consists entirely of photographs taken with his camera phone.

photo spread from the book PHONEBOOK

We spoke to Smith about his clients' reaction when they realize he will be shooting with a cell phone, what makes his Phonebook photos book-worthy, and more…

The Fashion Spot: All the photos in Phonebook were taken with a cell phone. Was it always the same phone?

Carter Smith: All the shots in the book are off one phone, the old Palm Treo. That was the first real "smart phone" at that point and it had a great camera for the time.

tFS: Given your extensive background photographing world-famous artists and working on prominent advertising campaigns, you must be used to taking multiple shots to get that "one perfect shot." When it comes to the shots in your new book, was that ever the case or were they all one-shot shots?

CS: All the pictures you see in the book were one-shot pictures, no trying it again. The point of a camera phone and the book is that these are moments in time, which in my opinion can't be "reproduced" again. These are all fleeting moments that happen in front of me while living life. Even when I shoot professionally I have a very low ratio of good shots to bad, meaning, I usually get the shot in just a few frames. I try to be a "one shot Charlie" as I like to say while shooting. If you take your time, then there's no reason to have lots of out-takes.

tFS: You've said, "It wasn't until I started reading back the text messages and looking at the pictures that I realized there might be a book here," was there a difference in the kinds of photos you took after realizing you might turn them into a book versus the ones you shot before?

CS: No, because at that point I had already switched to an iPhone. All the shots from the Treo and the text messages from it were all from a specific time period in my life while using that phone.  Those pictures had a feel of their own, coupled with the texts, it turned into a snapshot, if you will, of that time period. If I had started shooting more with a new phone it would have looked disjointed I think.

tFS: Was there any one image in particular you thought set you Phonebook photos apart from other people's?

CS: I think it's more my way of life, living very adventurously with no rules that may set my pictures apart from other people's. I luckily have an interesting life which leads to exciting moments in which to capture what's in front of me. Because of this, I feel I tend to see or find things worth shooting that the average Joe may not be privy to. Not that I'm better than other people or have a "better" life, it's just not your ordinary 9-5 lifestyle.

Here's a look at some of Smith's favorite images from his new book, along with some of his comments.

tFS: Could you ever imagine an ad shot entirely with an iPhone?

CS: I've actually done many professional shoots this last year commercially, for magazines, brands, etc. with my iPhone. I think I'm being branded as the "phone photographer" — at this point I think people hire me for that reason. I recently did a fashion cover shoot and 10 page spread for a French magazine called Technikart with Paz de la Huerta where we rented out Le Bain in the Standard Hotel, had a big crew of hair/makeup, assistants, stylists, etc. where I show up with two iPhones and start shooting! At first people are a bit startled, but once they start seeing the images coming into the computer they quickly realize it's doable, and in my opinion, more interesting than a standard Canon shoot or something of the equivalent. 

tFS: That’s awesome! Can you explain what exactly you find so appealing about shooting with your iPhone versus a traditional camera? Is it limiting in some ways or are you opting to use it precisely because it is more limiting in some sense than elaborate cameras?

CS: I do all of the shooting with Hipstamatic, the photo app for the iPhone. Now I know people will say, everybody uses that, but you could say the same about Terry Richardson's use of his point and shoot. Everybody has it, but you still need the skill of the craft and the inclination to shoot interesting images to make it look like your own style. I feel the "photo magic" I get while using the phone is extremely unique and that would be very hard to duplicate using post production techniques with a "normal" camera. I think the image size quality is strong enough for the magazine sized pages and online editorials. I feel I can get more unique shots with my style on the phone and come in super low tech in the shoots but get the hi-tech look that one wouldn't know the difference in what camera I use.