Do Any of the Photos on Your Phone Have Artistic Value?


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Do Any of the Photos on Your Phone Have Artistic Value?

We wondered if there aren't some hidden gems in that avalanche of narcissism you call the camera roll.

This article originally appeared on VICE Netherland.s

Let's face it, most phones are filled with selfies. If you scroll through the photo feed of the average smartphone, you'll find an endless stream of self portraits—on the couch, on the train, in front of the mirror—punctuated by the occasional group photo, sunset at the beach, a pair of tits or a close-up of a weird mole or bruise. But we wondered if there aren't some hidden gems in that avalanche of narcissism—if there aren't a few works of art breaking up the inanity of your camera roll.


To find out, we went to the opening of the Unseen Photo Festival in Amsterdam and asked the visitors to show us the most artsy photo they have on their phones.

Frederike, 20, Student from Utrecht

VICE: Tell me about your photo.
Frederike: I was in Germany with friends, in the Ruhr region. We went to a light museum there. They had a dark room with a waterfall, and a guy put his hand in the water. That was when I took this picture. It is a bit out of focus, and you can't really make out the details, but I actually like that.

And what does this photo tell us about life?
That you should always stick your hand in the water, because it is nice and refreshing, especially when it's hot outside.

Imagine that this photo is being displayed in a gallery. How would you title it?

Why "Madam"?
During the weekend that I took this photo, my friends and I kept shouting the word "madam" at one another, for no reason. This hand doesn't belong to a madam, but I think it would make a nice title for a photo.

Nathan, 20, Photography Student from Vianen

VICE: What's the story behind this photo?
Nathan: This is my father-in-law lifting my girlfriend's mattress into a van during a recent move. I think it's interesting because of all the different planes in the photo. And it's nice and symmetrical. And it raises a lot of questions: What's that guy doing? Will the mattress fit into the van?

What would you name the photo?
I'd need to think about that. Maybe, "The Struggle." That is a bit of a cliché—but it's kind of hard to come up with a title on the spot, and I don't really think photos should have titles. But, eh, maybe "Sleeping In"?


Maarten, 21, MEDIA STUDENT FROM Mheer

VICE: What are we looking at here?
Maarten: This is a photo of Richard. Richard is the love of my life. I met him in March this year and immediately fell for him. That's why I bought him and had some great adventures with him. Richard is a Volvo V70. The great thing about Richard is that we're really connected and have been through a lot together. He's also gotten me into trouble a few times—fines and stuff—but let's not dwell on that.

Right. And what do you like about this picture?
There's a Russian guy in there. We're all striking a pose, and you can discover lots of Swedish flags in the picture, too. You have to look at it really hard, and then you see them. There's always something new to discover, and that's great.

And what does this photo say about life?
That you shouldn't take life too seriously.

Steven, 21, Photography Student from Amsterdam

VICE: When did you take this photo?
Steven: On August 27, in Rotterdam. I was in town for a fashion show, and we were staying in a hotel by the river Meuse. I went for a walk and suddenly saw these two. So I quickly snapped a photo.

Did you ask them what they were doing?
No, I was just going for a quick stroll and smoking a cigarette. I took the photo as I was walking past them.

Why do you think this is an artsy photo?
The funny thing is that it looks staged, but it's a documentary picture. I like the composition, and there's something mysterious about it… I don't know if I should analyze the entire photo.


What would you call this piece?
"Be from Luv."

Robbert, 23, Filmmaker from Amsterdam

VICE: What are we looking at here?
Robbert: A photo of the sun disappearing behind the wing of a plane. I took this when I was flying back from Stockholm last summer. I was there visiting my sister.

What do you like about this picture?
I was surprised by how dynamic the light is, considering it's an iPhone pic. I like how the blue of the sky bleeds into the warm yellow of the sun. The wing accentuates the contrast. The details of the wing itself are clear as well, which I find interesting because mobile phone photos can often be a bit unclear. But everything's in focus in this photo.

If you were showing this in an exhibition, what would you call it?

Angel, 21, Art Student from Utrecht

VICE: When did you take this photo?
Angel: I was having a party for fresher's week at our school with some friends. We had quite a few photos and videos from that week, and we were going to watch them on a projector that we borrowed from the school. I knew in advance that if you shoot the light of a projector from the right angle, you get a rainbow effect. I like the shadows and the different waves and lines in the composition.

You took the photo exactly at the right moment?
Yes, I was experimenting, but I knew that I wanted to create a rainbow.

What would you call this piece?
"A digital pot of gold."

Maria, 23, recent graduate from Italy

VICE: When did you take this photo?
Maria: In August, in Japan. I was in the city of Nara with some friends. Nara is famous because deer are sacred there and walk around freely in the town. This is a room in one of the holy temples. The lamps are dedicated to the deer. And maybe you can't see it in the photo, but there are deer shapes painted on the lamps.

What do you like most about this photo?
The contrast between light and dark. It reminds me of the moment I entered that room. Outside it was sunny, and in there, it was pitch black. When you're standing there, it feels like the lamps are endless, and this photo gives that same impression.

The Unseen Photo Festival takes place from September 16 to 25 in Amsterdam. Visit its website for more information on the program and exhibitions.