In my recent discoveries on Tumblr I stumbled upon a great iPhoneographer from the State of Washington. I was captivated by the beautiful Black and White street iPhoneography of Star Rush. It’s hard to imagine living in Black and White but Star Rush’s unique perspective really allows for the eye to see beyond color.
(Window Sill Apron)
Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself? Where are you from?
A: I am Vietnamese American, born in what was then Saigon. My family moved to my father’s hometown of Seattle in 1972, and I grew up in this area. I’ve been an instructor and administrator in college’s and universities for the last 13 years. I’m currently the Arts & Humanities Dean at Bellevue College, just east of Seattle. I’m a fan of music, visual arts, and photography. When I can, I write poetry. My last mix media project a few years ago was a collaboration with Pilar Villenueva, a Spanish choreographer, based in Madrid and often working in Seattle.
Q: What does iPhoneography mean to you?
A: I’ve seen a couple of questions on Twitter asking if people thought iphoneography was a “legitimate” art form, if serious photographers used cell phones. As I see it, iphoneography is just the latest in historic innovations in photography. For me, iphoneography is more than a tool or an apparatus. In fact, what I find so remarkable is that now I have far less between myself and the subjects I photograph, our distance is collapsed. No knobs, switches, or machines to get between. Don’t get me wrong, I love the mechanical aspects of my film cameras, and I collect and shoot with them. But with iphoneography, I’m often standing next to or in front of my subjects, and I feel an immediacy and spontaneity in the moment when I release ”the shutter,” and an emotional response. I’m attuned to my surroundings, I’m kind of synchronized with it, when I have my iphone as opposed to my film cameras. With my iphone, there’s no lens in front of my face, blocking me from what’s before me, the world and people, and I feel inclusive in those moments.
Q: Can you recall the first iphoto you took that made you go WOW!?
A: Yes, it’s called “Public Seating.” It made me think differently about what I had been doing with my iphone until then. I had already taken many photos using many apps, but for this one, I just picked a simple black and white app, Vintage Black & White, and that was it. This one stood on its own just as a black and white photo. Looking back, this was the photo that made me thing not about how fun this new phone was, but how much opportunity and potential there was for me to become better at something I’ve longed enjoyed doing. It could help me set aside barriers and reach. That’s my “wow,” and I’m still reaching.
Q: Do you have any formal training regarding photography?
A: No, I’m not formally trained in photography. I’m self-taught. I still remember getting my first Kodak Instamatic for my 8th birthday and just being thrilled. My mother thought my first photos were horrible, and she encouraged me to continue, but with a bit more thoughtfulness. I still think about her advice, to be mindful of the moment, so that each one would count—to not be wasteful. I’m a film buff, I love documentaries, I enjoy visual arts of all kinds. I have an affinity for visual language from immersion and aptitude, for the formal elements, and I’ve been working to bring that aspect into concert with the emotive and expressive qualities that are also important to me.
Q: What are some of your favorite subjects to photograph?
A: I enjoy candid aspects of street photography because they present the moment between unconscious intent and consciousness of one’s actions. There’s an electricity in serendipity, encountering the unknown and unanticipated, staying open to what presents itself in front of me, and being mindful of how I position myself in that teeming activity or the weight of silence of another’s experience. I’m drawn to people and take a lot of candid portraits. I like exploring the individual’s experience extracted from the public collective of our lives. The everyday, mundane, small moments, are exalted not by the rendering of the artist, but the attention of humanity—it’s just that writers, artists, photographers, we have the opportunity share the exaltation of those moments with others. I’ve been deeply influenced by Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” the profound point he makes about a field of grass when seen up close is actually composed of many individual, distinct blades. We individuals are those blades, and from examining and exploring them as distinct we better understand them and ourselves, as well as how we may fit or not into the “big picture.”
Q: What makes your hometown of Seattle special to capture through your iPhone?
A: For nearly 9 months of the year, we have many over-cast days with muted light. Usually, there’s not a lot of bright sunlight, shadow or contrast. When I see photos from other parts of the world, I sometimes think—wow, that would be cool to have a photo look like that! So the myth is that it rains a lot in Seattle—when in truth, it’s just cloudy all of the time.
Seattle has many diverse neighborhoods and communities. It’s fun to take my iphone and re-imagine and explore them. Some times different places in the city look like other places in the U.S. or even the world, and I don’t think that’s bad. We don’t necessarily have a distinguishing architectural style, for example. There’s a little bit of a lot of things here: lively, artistic, musical, literary, outdoorsy, international, high-tech and lo-fi lifestyles, diverse and friendly people, standoffish and quiet people. I love my hometown!
(“Each Life Converges to Some Centre” by Emily Dickinson)
Q: Who or what are your influences as it regards to iPhoneography/the arts?
A: There are so many iphoneographers doing imaginative and innovative work all over the world. They are quite lively on flickr and tumblr, two social media communities I participate in. Looking and commenting on their work has been an education. Some specific individuals are Michael Baranovic, Gusbano, Sion Fullana, Robert Paul, Sascha Unger, and Carmen Cabrera. There work is stunning and compassionate. Like many photographers, I’m influenced by a myriad of artists and thinkers: Henri Besson-Cartier, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, and especially the lyricism of writers Zora Neale Hurston and Emily Dickinson—each having been innovators of form. I admire designers Eileen Grey and Jens Risom, and the work of German and American Expressionism. I adore the direction and cinematography of Jean-Luc Godard’s films, with that mid-century black and white, urban aesthetic. Just wonderful.
Q: What has been the single biggest challenge of using the iPhone as a camera, explain?
A: The iphone’s challenge is its greatest opportunity. People know that it’s had—until the iphone 4—a less than robust camera. But that’s the appeal, too. This tool’s limitations have unleashed all kinds of creative work all over the world from a diverse population of professional photographers to casual amateurs. Sometimes art or innovation doesn’t come just from thinking outside of the box—or building a bigger, faster, more expensive box—but in creating from within, seeing what can be done with little rather than with more. I have to work harder sometimes with my iphone. For example, I walk closer or from side to side to frame and compose—no zooming. And it reminds me of Haiku or Sonnets; these are forms with limits and yet amazing work and a long history of amazing writers creating solely within this limited and strict form.
Q: I love your B&W work and you also have some color. What makes you choose to shot something in B&W over color?
A: Color is limited for me because I feel uncertain of myself when I’m in the color world of photography. I choose color when the subject will be about its color, when there’s a tension or a multi-color relationship that would be lost if only captured in gradients of black and white—or in grey. I am comfortable in black and white for most of what I do; and I prefer portraits to be in black and white—color unsettles me. We might live our lives in wondrous color, but sometimes, color in a photograph can be too loud or mask the emotional reality of the moment. My mind and eye are working in black and white. In fact, most of the time, I shoot using Vintage Black and White, which does not have an import or an undue. There’s no color original for me to play with later. It’s as close as I can come on my iphone to shooting on black and white film—with no going back.
Q: What has been the most surprising or most predictable reaction from people to your iphotos?
A: A lot of people say the same things, “I can’t believe you took that with your iphone,” or “I didn’t know that the iphone takes such good photos.” I think it’s interesting how much attention can be paid to the tool in photography. When I write poetry, I’ve never had anyone tell me that they didn’t know my typewriter or word processor writes such good poems. I understand what they are trying to say, though, which is that the image moves them, they like it, and they’re amazed when good work can come from within limitations. I’m always pleased when people share their feedback with me. If my photographs affect others—in any way—than I am satisfied.
(You don’t need a bus to get there)
Q: What’s in your iPhone camera bag (apps)? Which one do you currently use the most often?
A: I have a lot of apps. I go through these periods where I’m really using a couple of apps quite a bit, and then I don’t. I use Hipstamatic mostly for the black and white combos and because of the square form. It’s also fun & surprising. Currently, I use the following apps most often: Vintage Black & White, Cross Process, Film Lab, Perfect Clear, Cropulator, TiltShiftGen, and SwankoLab. If something cool comes out tomorrow, I’ll give that a go, too.
Q: What other thoughts would you like to share?
A: I thank my partner for her patience and support whenever our supposedly short walks turn into unexpected photographic journeys, and for encouraging this exploration. Also it’s been a pleasure getting to know people in the iphoneography community. The work is creative, innovative and on the frontier of “what’s next.” What’s important for me, too, is the global reach of mobile photography, the significance of not just shooting on our iphones and processing, but how that artistic expression is wrapped up with social media, community-building, intercultural and international artistic exchange. That intersection of media and message is a significant development for photography, I think, and for the arts overall.
For more on Star Rush check out these links:
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© 2010 iPhoneogenic