Seasoned Aspen photographer finds new tool for his arsenal
August 11, 2011
ASPEN – Veteran photographer Dan Bayer of Aspen has always had a keen eye for compelling photos. What he didn’t know until recently was his skills carry over to his cell phone camera.
Bayer was working on a photographer’s dream project last year when he discovered the wonders of the iPhone camera.
He was traveling coast to coast photographing the American landscape using the last rolls of Kodachrome film ever made. (He considers Kodachrome the best of all film. It was made for 74 years until production of new film ended in June 2009. He is creating a book featuring photos shot on the last, historic film.)
While working on the Kodachrome project, Bayer started taking shots with his iPhone to post on his blog and Facebook page to keep friends up to date on his adventures. He used the Hipstamatic application, which gives digital photography a decidedly retro look. The application touts that it “brings back the look, feel, unpredictable beauty, and fun of plastic toy cameras from the past.”
For a photographer accustomed to using expensive digital cameras and shooting with film, using the iPhone presented interesting challenges.
“There are so many limits to what you can do with it,” Bayer said. “You really need to focus.”
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The simplicity of the iPhone with the Hipstamatic application means the photographer can’t control the exposure and can barely control the focus, Bayer explained. Getting a good shot depends on proper composition. And that’s where his experience carried the day.
Sometimes he would nail the image he was seeing. Sometimes it wouldn’t come out like he wanted. Taking the picture and immediately checking out the cell phone screen was almost like watching an old Polaroid picture come to life, Bayer said. Hipstamatic places a white border around the photos just like a Polaroid.
Bayer took roughly 800 Hipstamatic shots with his iPhone during the last four months of 2010. He and his wife Sarah traveled from New England, down to the South and through the Heartland. He was seeking prized images to shoot with Kodachrome film – “little stained glass windows to truths,” as he called them. He found that the scenes that made the best photographs using the Kodachrome film were often best for the iPhone, as well.
Bayer concentrated on landscapes and interesting places he came across. There is a shot of a towering grain elevator in the barren Kansas countryside. Bayer made it intriguing by capturing the image at sunset. The elevator glows white, the surrounding prairie grass looks like it’s on fire. The moon hangs overhead. A deserted highway, an empty rail line and telephone poles all stretch into the horizon and give the scene a lonely feel.
Bayer said sometimes on his journey he wouldn’t see an image he felt would work with the iPhone, so he wouldn’t use it for a week at a time. But overall, he came away extremely impressed with the new tool.
“There is something about this camera that has nothing to do with megapixels,” Bayer said. It creates rich images, sharper than he had imagined. It’s silent, quick and consistent. And it requires precision.
Using the iPhone with the Hipstamatic application, Bayer said, “is like trying to hit a baseball with a bat instead of a piece of plywood.” The photographer doesn’t have all the options available with a digital camera. Because of the limits, he said, it is “more of a rush” when he nails an image with the iPhone.
Sarah said they weren’t thinking in terms of a show with the iPhone images when they completed their travels. However, friends kept asking them for prints they had posted on Dan’s blog and Facebook page. Ross Kribbs, an Aspen photographer and gallery owner, was impressed with what he saw.
“Ross planted a seed of, ‘Hey, you’ve got a show here,'” Bayer recalled.
The longtime pals made it happen. They selected some of the best iPhone images for “i, photographer: Photographs by Daniel Bayer.” The exhibit opens Friday with a reception at 6 p.m. at Kribbs’ Nugget Gallery, 415 E. Hyman Ave., Aspen.
“In one sense, this exhibition is a sneak peek at Mr. Bayer’s forthcoming, Kodachrome-based book,” said the gallery’s promotional piece for the exhibit. “But these images stand on their own merits: they speak to the current state of photography and the future of the new American snapshot, and they are a reminder that a skilled and inspired artist can work with a variety of tools.”