Have mobile phones killed photography?

In a recent film, posted on the BBC website, German film director, Wim Wenders, expressed his concern that mobile phone use is killing photography. At the time he was speaking at the launch of his Polaroid works exhibition. Between 1973 and 1983, Wenders estimates that he took over 12,000 Polaroids (O’Hagan 2017). A photographic journey which included brief encounters with Annie Leibovitz. It is Wenders’ belief that mobile phones have killed photography. The purpose of this blog post is to challenge this view. 

One of Wenders’ main concerns is that there are so many photographs being taken that they are soon swiped and never to be seen again. However, I wonder how many of his 12,000 Polaroids are still in circulation? An alternative view could be that the smartphone has returned photography to the masses, in the same way that the Kodak’s Brownie camera did in the early 1900s.

Nowadays, ‘You press the button, and your smartphone does the rest (With the help of an Internet connection!). Advancements in technology have democratised the image once again. Before the digital revolution, decent photographs could only be obtained from a professional photographer, especially if all family members wanted to be in the picture. As soon as a front facing camera was installed on phones, such as the NEC e606, NEC e616, Sony Ericsson Z1010 and Motorola A835 in 2003, it became easier to photograph yourself.

Wenders decried the use of filters in todays images. However, his Polaroids developed themselves. He didn’t spend hours perfecting the process in a darkroom. With its square cropped, filtered images which appear for all to see, Instagram is the modern day equivalent of a Polaroid. These photographs are able to be tagged and shared for the world to see. They can also be used to inspire others to improve their own photography.

Wenders says, “I’m in search of a new word for this new activity that looks so much like photography, but isn’t photography anymore.” Maybe he would prefer it to be known as ‘fauxtography’! Alternatively, the resurgence of photography and its ease of use would suggest that photography is very much alive.

Anyone who picks up a paint brush and paints can produce a painting. Anyone who picks up a camera can take a photograph. Maybe its rather a case of the mobile phone has killed professional photography. After all, there is no longer a need for a press photographer to capture the seen of a newsworthy event hours later, when bystanders will have recorded and broadcast it instantaneously on to their social networking channels.

On reflection, may be we need to make a distinction between photographs and images. That is, if we define photographs as printed pictures and images as collections of pixels on a screen. If this is the case, then I would have to agree with Wenders. Fewer people are printing their photographs. Why would they want to see the same out-dated photograph on their wall, when they can see up-to-date images on the walls of their social media profiles.


  O’Hagan, S. (2017) https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/oct/12/wim-wenders-interview-polaroids-instant-stories-photographers-gallery [Accessed 18/08/18]

Instant stories

https://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/wim-wenders-instant-stories [Accessed 18/08/18]