#MobilePhotoNow" highlights emerging medium with a large collection of images

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The upcoming “#MobilePhotoNow” at the Columbus Museum of Art will be the largest exhibition of mobile photography (held in a museum) in the world, with the goal of highlighting the emerging medium. The museum partnered with the #jj community, one of the largest photo communities on Instagram, to curate submissions — nearly 45,000 images from 5,000 photographers representing 89 different countries.

“There’s a huge creative community that has sprung up around mobile photography,” said Jennifer Poleon, the museum’s digital communications manager and organizer for “#MobilePhotoNow.” “I think it’s the combination of the ease of use and the flexibility, along with the experimentation that you have with the phone. That coupled with the ability to share it with social media and apps like Instagram — that’s what brings everything together.”

#MobilePhotoNow” will feature more than 240 photographers and more than 300 images, 100 of which have been printed and will be hung for display. The remainder will be shown through a rotating projection.

The images in “#MobilePhotoNow” were culled from a series of photo hunts the museum organized in October 2014 that were divided into four categories: street, community, portrait and black and white. This process serves as a direct follow-up to 2012’s “The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951” exhibition at the museum.

“It’s interesting that we’ve taken this back to the Photo League and ‘Radical Camera,’” Poleon said. “Our whole idea of the hunts for these photo challenges is from something they did in the ’30s and ’40s. They would pick a word or a phrase and send people out in the afternoon to take photos and bring them back. Then they would do a pop-up exhibit as a celebration of that. And that was at a time when photography was becoming more democratized, and technology was really taking off. I think we’re experiencing [a similar movement] now.”

In emphasizing the breadth of mobile photography, the exhibit is also an example of how anyone — not just professional photographers — can produce captivating images with a smart phone and a couple of editing apps. Images from a teacher or chef will hang next to ones from photojournalists. And even the professionals are excited about mobile photography because it offers a creative outlet they don’t have.

“Annie Leibovitz has even talked about how she uses her iPhone as a way of recording a quick moment. You see how even the biggest photographers are using it in their work,” Poleon said.

Of the 240 photographers chosen to participate in the exhibition, 30-plus are from Ohio and a handful are from the Columbus area. Local Adam Elkins, whose Instagram handle is @bigmanjapan, is a good example of how popular the mobile photographer movement has become, garnering nearly 40,000 followers.

“We wanted to pick people who use [the medium] in different ways and for different reasons, [to show] how people are doing something completely unlike what anyone else is doing,” Poleon said. “We also asked them to tell us their story; how they got involved in mobile photography and how they use it now. That’s how we got a lot of interesting backstories, and a really good snapshot of mobile photography — from the images and their stories.”

Some of these stories will be displayed next to the images, which are organized and hung together under the four photo-hunt categories. And more than 100 of the photographers — from places as far as Spain, Iran, Sweden and Israel — will be attending the opening reception on Friday, Feb. 6. And this was where Poleon saw similarities to the New York’s Photo League, only on a much larger scale.

“They were building a creative community, only in New York City at the time. This is actually a global creative community and we’ve been a part of that from the beginning,” Poleon said. “We wanted to as a new creative art form and the community that has sprung up around it. If you’ve been to our museum, you know we’re very much about creating a creative community.”

Columbus Museum of Art

Feb. 6-March 22

480 E. Broad St., Downtown