The rise of the toy camera app

Posted by Red Ruby Rose Sunday, September 26, 2010

taken on my iphone using the plastic bullet app

taken on my iphone using the plastic bullet app

taken on my iphone using the hipstamatic app

taken on my iphone using the plastic bullet app

I read a great article on the Photoworks San Francisco blog recently. The author discusses the increasing use of iphone apps including Hipstamatic which filters an average camera phone photo turn into a pastiche of a holga, diana, any number of hip camera film effects. I totally empathise with his feelings and comments as I too feel conflicted about the medium.

Partly, hands up, I know I'm being a snob. I've worked extensively with camera film, and effects including light leaks/flare/polaroid borders/pinhole and toy camera over the last ten years. It informed a large part of my illustration style and it wasn't always the easiest process to work with. To suddenly see the effects available at the touch of a button is partly amazing and partly infuriating.

Some of the comments in the follow up to the article are eloquent; "photography is about the journey not just the end result. If they come out with cool pictures and learned nothing on the journey then they have gained much less." and in a similar vein: "I guess it comes down to that old chestnut, is art created without intention as valid as art created with intention."

But, maybe more importantly, the conflicting argument that film shouldn't be revered just because it's film: "I feel that a far worse trend, is glorifying toy camera photo’s just for the sake that they are shot on film. Just because you leave your negative frame on your photo, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good.

Recently I bought an iphone and started using hipstamatic. To be honest, it didn't do a huge amount for me to begin with, but then I found plastic bullet and I love this app. The interface is much simpler and it has a lovely element of surprise in that you have the choice of four different processed images, and if you don't like any of those it develops a fresh set for you.

I think it's time I got over myself and embraced the medium. What are your thoughts?


  1. Hi Rowena,

    One of the co-creators of the Plastic Bullet app is my friend's brother-in-law (Stu Maschwitz). What a small world (or maybe he's that awesome)!


  2. Filipa Says:
  3. Rowena, this is a great post. I didn't actually think about this at all, but you brought up an interesting issue. I guess it's much the same with every part of art, where things are getting easier- design, fashion etc.. But partly, I believe, good art is the one when you don't realize what was so hard to do about it... That's how I judge a good photo editorial, or a fashion shoot- that I didn't even realize it's 'there', not because it was so bland, but because it was so natural.. Hm, I went off the point, but what I'm trying to say is that I think that the final product is what matters, and I think that if you 'haven't learned something along the way' then, chances are your art won't be as good (maybe few picture will, but not many)... and the way how the art is being made was changing all the time in history, and I think if someone can make a beautiful picture through an iPhone, then why dismiss it just because the means by which it was made aren't 'professional'... When I see a picture, and it's so natural, that I don't know if it was made by a pinhole camera, iPhone or Nikon, because it is just so natural, that it might just as well be reality or a dream than that's what I call good art! :)

  4. Beautifully put Filipa, thanks so much!