Mobile Photo Group – an Obituary.
The Mobile Photo Group (MPG) was formed in 2011. The purpose that the members shared was to set a standard for quality mobile photography; through exclusivity. That purpose continued to be the driving force through each call for new memberships. We looked for people who individually inspired literally thousands of people.
This initial exclusivity was seen as a threat by some, a slight by others, and ultimately an inspiration to most. Members contributed individually to the idea, through individual efforts. The group rose to prominence with members appearing on national television programs, and being invited to teach at photography and art institutions.
Now, with thousands of quality mobile photographers, this idea of exclusivity is no longer as important as it once was – back when the question of “is mobile photography, photography?” was still being asked (it is, I checked).
Now, it’s time to bury the dead. But first, let me tell you how the Mobile Photo Group died.
Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained?
Last week seven new members were suddenly added to the Mobile Photo Group.
This decision to add these seven new members was made by a single MPG member. No other MPG member knew that these photographers were going to be added to the group.
The existing members had not been consulted and they were not involved in the recruitment process at all.
MPG had always taken a very restricted approach to new membership. By only adding one or two members at a time the group was able to continue to engage in conversation and collaboration without ever needing to centralise the group around a single member.
As the members were usually already high achievers in the mobile photography landscape, they were usually already committed to several of their own projects. Several were writing articles for the connect.dpreview.com website, and I was teaching mobile photography at three Sydney institutions and also at the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence, as well as consulting in PR and judging a local photography competition. The result of all these individual projects was that the MPG grew very slowly, although the overall focus was still on sharing quality mobile photography.
Despite the potential, MPG was still simply looking to set a standard and inspire others.
And MPG did inspire. Weekly emails would arrive asking for potential membership from every corner of the earth. It was humbling to think that the group was being recognised so widely. We would thank the interested photographer for their email and inform them that our call for submissions for new membership would occur early in the New Year.
Internally, we tried to change the purpose of MPG. Conversations, many of them heated, dominated the group's internal discussion. The purpose of MPG had never evolved, let alone really been defined. Exclusivity and high achievement in mobile photography were all that MPG had to offer. It simply wasn’t purpose enough.
To some MPG members, a model of participation was required; where members would either contribute to the group projects, or be asked to leave. In arguing for this structure conversation turned to examples from existing photography collectives. We used examples of the importance of internal debates at Magnum and also Oculi for inspiration. However, as some members opposed the proposed changes, or simply never participated in discussion it soon appeared that the only outcome was a stalemate.
Despite the capabilities of the members individually, a new purpose could not be determined collectively. Eventually, after some members had abandoned the discussion completely, founding members Star Rush, Sion Fullana and Anton Kawasaki departed. The remaining members waited to see if the New Year would allow for a refreshing of the group, and clarification of purpose.
And then, seven new members were added, without consultation or deliberation from any other member.
This blatant deviation from the collaborative nature was simply the final twist in the current of events that swept the potential of MPG away. It was also a snub to hundreds of mobile photographers who had been promised the opportunity to apply for membership in the New Year, in what would be a transparent, fair and collaborative process.
In the days that followed this event, existing members (including myself) departed, leaving the new members feeling both uncomfortable and confused. Soon, several new members also decided to leave, realising that rather than being a part of the MPG experience they had been used like pawns in a game.
Finally, without warning or notice all material disappeared from Twitter and Instagram. At the same time the website went offline. In closing up without any communication, no respect was shown to the supporters of the group and for that I am truly embarrassed. On behalf of MPG I would like to thank all of you who have shared your support for the group, we were very appreciative and humbled that you followed our work.
Finally, to the seven new members who had been caught up in the mess I am incredibly sorry that you were put through the turmoil of these past few days. You are all passionate mobile photographers, and I look forward to hearing of your future success.
Something Gained, Something Lost.
I am grateful for my time at MPG. All the members are truly fantastic people and inspirational photographers in their own way.
Yet I am also grateful that the group no longer exists.
Although the photography coming out of MPG was quality, for me the exploration of mobile photography is no longer in simply proving the capability of mobile devices to capture and share quality images. With thousands of talented photographers accepting mobile photography as a medium for sharing images the focus for exploration has shifted.
There are so many new ways to harness the potential of mobile photography; the best example is Misho Baranovic’s recent effort to curate a stream of quality images as they appeared out of New York from Instagram in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Unfortunately, the decision to shut down the MPG website has removed the original article, although you can read about the process here at connect.dpreview.com website: http://connect.dpreview.com/post/0914189863/tracking-hurricane-sandy-on-instagram
I look forward to announcing a new project that I have been working on with Misho in the next few weeks, once he gets a chance to breathe over at the FORMAT festival in Derby.
(If you’d like to participate in the FORMAT festival, check out the Eyeem blog post here!)
The Mobile Photo Group is dead, long live mobile photography.