Monday 19 February 2018

Happy 20th birthday to the camera phone

It's hard to imagine a world without selfies.

Pobalscoil Iosa debs in Malahide, Co Dublin
Pobalscoil Iosa debs in Malahide, Co Dublin
The first mobile phone picture, of newborn Sophie Kahn, in June, 1997
Welsh football fans in Temple Bar
Illinois State University Marching Band in Limerick
Angie's Ark Rescue fundraiser on Grafton Street, Dublin
A 'selfie' at St John's Castle, Limerick

David O'Flynn

It is difficult to believe that the first ever mobile phone photograph was only taken 20 years ago.

The first photograph, like so many since, was taken by a proud father of his new-born baby daughter. Sophie Kahn was born on June 11, 1997. During her mother's labour, her father Philippe had been banished from the birthing suite for a period of time.

Like many expectant fathers, he had a small digital camera with him to record his new baby's arrival. Sitting in the waiting room, he wondered how he was going to show off his new baby when he had an idea. He rigged a makeshift connection from his camera to his mobile phone, wrote a couple of lines of simple code, and a short while later, a photograph of his beautiful baby daughter became the first image to be transmitted by a mobile phone.

The camera phone is probably the most important development in photography since the medium was developed in the 1830s.

The first mobile phone picture, of newborn Sophie Kahn, in June, 1997
The first mobile phone picture, of newborn Sophie Kahn, in June, 1997

The number of people with mobile phones is staggering. According to Comreg, the Commission for Communications Regulation, there are almost six million mobile subscriptions in Ireland, impressive for a country with a population of about 4.8 million.

Worldwide, it is estimated that there are about 4.6 billion mobile phones, almost half of which are smartphones. The numbers of photographs being taken are staggering also, some projections estimate that well over a trillion photographs will be taken in 2017, and that over 75pc of these will be taken with a camera phone. Image is the only truly global language.

The camera phone has changed the photography profession also. Citizen journalism now means that the immediate aftermath of an atrocity or a disaster is more likely to be recorded on a mobile phone by a bystander rather than by a photojournalist. Much of the imagery published following the recent horrific attacks in Manchester and London was taken on mobile phones.

This small project is to celebrate the camera phone's 20th birthday and it is pure street photography. Street photography is the most accessible and real form of photography there is. It relies totally on the photographer's eye for an image, and being there and being ready. These photographs were taken at events or tourist locations in Dublin and Limerick and are of people out and about. Most of the images taken were probably posted online, a visual record for loved ones and friends to see (but probably not printed).

The camera phone is now an important part of most family and social events. And because it is much easier to share photographs taken on a phone, perhaps the digital camera itself is ultimately heading for obsolescence.

Not only is image the global language, the camera phone has made the world a smaller place. Images taken now can be seen online within seconds. The camera phone is here to stay and it is hard to remember a time without camera phones. Twenty years ago, Philippe Kahn could scarcely have imagined the changes his new invention would bring.

Welsh football fans in Temple Bar
Welsh football fans in Temple Bar

David O'Flynn is a Dublin-based photographer and he is the author of three books. His work can be viewed on www.clix.ie

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