Riel Noir is an photographer and iPhone artist, who is originally from Edinburgh in Scotland. From here she moved to Copenhagen where she lived for 12 years before returning to live in Glasgow in order to attend the Glasgow School of Art, where she studied and graduated in Fine Art Photography, BA (hons).
Riel now makes her living as an artist, tutor and photographer. Her work (including painting and sculpture) has been exhibited in Copenhagen, Glasgow and London. She has had two solo iPhone photography exhibitions, the second of which is currently running at the Skypark, Glasgow until the 24th July, she has also had a third joint mobile photography exhibition. Both of this years solo exhibitions comprise of iPhone Photography. The work includes 3 x Silk Cushions (46cm x 46cm), 3 x Silk Wall Hangings – one measuring 140cm x 95cm + two measuring 110cm x 66cm. There is also 20 framed giclée prints. So it is clear Riel’s creativity extends beyond the mere taking and apping of images to the exploration of different materials that the work can be printed onto.
Besides these real world exhibitions of her work, Riel’s iPhone photography has been featured regularly in the App Whisperer, more than once on iPhoneography Central, NEM Karma and Self gallery several times, a couple of times featured as Daily pic on Pixels, and of course on Mobiography’s showcase.
Here I talk to Riel about her iPhone photography, her approach to creating art with her iPhone and her latest exhibition of iPhone art.
How were you first introduced to the idea of taking photographs and creating art with your iPhone?
When I purchased my iPad I had no knowledge of what could be achieved in the world of iPhone Photography, I was not familiar with the thousands of camera and editing apps available, ( if I had been I would have bought an iPad with a larger memory).
When the sales guy was trying to impress me with the iPad’s 5mp camera I assured him that I would not be using it as a camera!… I had professional cameras, studio equipment and editing software at home. Now it is my working cameras that sit on the shelf until a photo job demands their use.
When working for a week in Cardiff on a photo job I began to play around with the native camera on my iPad when out for dinner in the evening. I then found I could edit those images. Slowly I came to realise the possibilities of this new genre and the amount of information that could be found on the great online magazines.
Once I had viewed the work iPhone artists were creating I was hooked and begun to investigate what I could create using this mobile studio. At first it was very much a case of responding to the technology and playing with the apps out there.
As it is the camera that is always with U, and the immediacy of this way of working I found myself liberated and able to photograph whatever drew my attention, without the need to validate the subject, nor set up heavy equipment. I discovered a freedom that I am now perhaps reigning in a bit so as to work with greater intent.
How would you describe your photographic style?
Prior to my current exhibition I might have said that I have not yet found my style, but, it became apparent when I viewed my work hanging on the walls at Skypark how far my style had developed. Since becoming an iPhone Photographer my approach, hence my style, has changed drastically. Previously I perhaps had more of a clinical approach that often leaned heavily towards a conceptual based.
I changed to digital quite late, but, once I discovered Photoshop I was sold. Years before this I would sometime hand colour fibre based B&W prints with colour inks.
Now that I work with my iPhone/iPad I have a very different approach. Previously I would never work with jpegs, only RAW files. With all the layers my file size could be massive.
Back then, as with now, I enjoyed having my work printed onto silk, and had a great interest in creating 3 panel screens with my art work which I once read described as Art masquerading as furniture.
Quite a bit of my work revolved around the subject of self and I now suspect that I am once again drifting in that direction, though not in the same conceptual manner I approached this subject prior to employing my iPhone as my choice of camera.
Now my self portraits are perhaps a reference to the past and the person I wanted to be. By creating these I am able to begin to assess who this is and if there are traits I admire that might still be put into action. They are allowing a sense of reflective contemplation regarding ones self.
Up until recently I have been exploring the different apps and investigating the ways by which I might employ them. Now my app palette is greatly reduced. Initially due to lack of space on my iPad, however, this would probably have happened in any case.
I have found that I now have a fascination for flowers, especially roses, something I never photographed in the past. I find myself fascinated by their architecture, and the choreography of their movement throughout their life cycle.
This change in approach reminds me of a project we did whilst at art school when we had to produce a body of work employing a snap shot camera, SLR, medium format and a large format camera. Each body of work was heavily influenced by the camera used. With iPhone photography I am finding this to be the case especially at the start – when I responded to both the technology and the fact that it was always with me. Because of this I find that I am taking most of my photographs when out with my wee dog.
here is an example of the importance of my iPhone being ‘the camera that is always with me’ – I came across street performers whilst out grocery shopping last year I did not have my cameras with me though I did have my iPhone and was able to photograph them before they moved on, just as on a photo job at Glasgow Uni I nipped into the museum and photographed, amongst other things, some insects. The third image is from one of many created when out walking my dog down Dunfermline Glen. These three images edited together make an interesting narrative that would not have been created had I not had my iPhone in my pocket.
When working on photography jobs, (like I am for the next few weeks) I rely upon Hipstamatic due to lack of time available to work on the editing side of things.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
In the beginning I would check out in iTunes the apps employed by the artists who had created images I found myself drawn to on the various online mobile photography magazine. If I liked what the app offered I would download it. Apps were not so big in size at the start, therefore, I was able to have quite a collection on my iPad.
Rather than inspiration, with iPhone photography it is more about the liberation this mode of photography offers me. I am having fun taking photos simply because the opportunity presents itself, although now I will also work with deliberation.
It excites me to consider the different surfaces that these images can be applied to. This is an area I wish to investigate further.
As there are so very many iPhone artists that I am now aware of and whose work I admire I feel reluctant to name any individual artists.
Tell us about your exhibition of your iPhone photography at Skylark in Glasgow?
Initially I wanted to primarily promote iPhone Photography with regards to teaching this subject. I wanted people to become aware of this Mobile Studio’s capabilities.
After viewing my first solo iPhone Exhibition in March this year I felt that I had spread my choice of what prints to include far too widely. This I had done in an attempt to please everyone’s taste, in an attempt to exhibit the various different styles that can be achieved, to the extent that it did not hold together, in my view, as a show.
For Skypark I made my selection as an Artist, compiling a coherent choice of art work, that together creates an exhibition reflecting my taste and style as well as adhering to a subject matter. There is a clear deliberation of intent that was lacking, in my opinion, in the earlier solo show.
Nine prints from my previous show hang along side the 18 new works that were created during April and May specifically for the Skypark exhibition. The nine now, however, sit together in way that offers the cohesion they previously lacked. Once I had viewed the gallery at Skypark I had a clear vision for how my exhibition should look, whereas the previous show lacked deliberation. The result is an exhibition that I am extremely proud of on all levels. It looks how I had imagined, but, due to the short time between the first show in March and this one being hung on June 8th I had been afraid that perhaps time would not allow me to complete the work on time. Luckily my fears were unfounded. The small file size for the largest of my silk hangings had caused me concerns – this is the biggest to date that I have printed an iPhone/iPad image, (140cm x 95cm). As there would be no time to remake the silk work I almost played safe and thought to have two smaller pieces printed, but, in the end went along with my first choice. This was a risky decision, but, one that has paid off as it looks terrific.
How did the idea for this exhibition come about?
Initially it was to promote iPhone Photography, but, it has become an exhibition I am so very pleased with, a show that is representative of my work as an Artist, rather, than merely a showcase for iPhone Photography.
For Skypark I decided to feature the selfie although artists of all genres within art have indulged with the subject of self and self portraiture for centuries. Now with so many using their mobile phone camera to communicate with others on i.e. social media sites and text messages the term selfie has an ominous status and perhaps slightly derogatory when used to describe art work, a feeling that this term depreciates the worth of the self portrait.
I wanted to use the language most commonly associated with mobile photography yet challenge ones expectations of what can be achieved on my Mobile Studio.
By moving the iPhone image from the electronic to the printed state alters peoples perception of this genre. To then move it into the world of textiles by creating silk selfie cushions, and to have images printed at the larger size as Silk Wall Hangings challenges peoples expectations of what an iPhone/ iPad can create.
The exhibition has evolved from a showcase for iPhone Photography to an Artist’s solo exhibition.
How have people at the exhibition received the idea of the artwork being created solely with an iPhone?
Those who I have spoke to have been extremely positive about the exhibition. I find that at first most people have been extremely surprised when they find out that the images have been created on my iPhone/iPad.
When Lisa (who runs the Gallery at Skypark) and I first spoke regarding the possibility to exhibit work created on my iPhone/iPad she became quite excited at the prospect of exhibiting the creations of this exciting new genre of photography. One article refers to my show as ‘trend setting‘, whilst the Herald talks of the ‘remarkable images‘.
The exhibition at the Botanics also had a positive response from those who viewed my work.
What apps do you use and is there a process or methodology that you apply to your post production editing?
When I bought my iPad I had no knowledge of what would be capable, that this would become my Mobile Studio, and unfortunately bought the 16GB model. As the apps become more complex in what they offer the size of each app demands a greater portion of this limited memory.
In the beginning I downloaded so very many apps, but, now I have greatly reduced this number. Snapseed was one of my first apps and remains in my small selection of apps. Along with Snapseed I lean heavily upon ArtStudio, iColorama, hopping from one app to another as required.
At times such as now when my freelance photography work can keep me at the photography venue for up to 11 hour + each day I rely upon Hipstamatic as I have no time to edit my photographs.
Although starting out with a notion of how I want to edit an image, if inspired at any point to go off in another direction I will do so. My approach is no where near as rigid as when I was previously printing my photographs in the darkroom or editing with Photoshop,… prior to discovering iPhone Photography.
Do you prefer to use your iPhone or iPad to photograph and edit?
In the beginning I photographed as discreetly as possible with my iPad. Although I have a mac tower and have 2 macBooks, plus my iPad, I could never validate the expense of an iPhone. Eventually my old basic sony mobile died and I decided to buy an old iPhone from ebay.
Just as I placed my first bid a friend rang and when I explained what I was doing she said to stop bidding and she would send me her old iPhone 3GS. This she did and until October last year this is the camera I used to photograph with. Having an iPad I preferred to edit on this for both the larger file size it allowed compared to the 3GS, but also as it offers the larger screen size I prefer when editing – yet it can still fit in my bag. (see fig.1 for an example of a photo taken on my 3GS).
When I gave a talk at the Apple store in Glasgow the event manager was amazed that I had taking the photographs on the 3GS.
My intention was to await the iPhone 6, but, when it came out I was not keen on the size. I want a phone that fits in my pocket and that I can operate with one hand as often the photos I take are when I am out with my dog, and she is on the lead. Instead I bought the 5S that Apple had just reduced by £100 and offered a 32GB model which the 6 does not.
The fact that my first iPhone was free, as are many of the camera & editing apps – with the others being extremely affordable, suggests to me that the iPhone has reached the democratic status Kodak attempted to achieve when they introduced their Brownie Box camera.
Do you have any other photographic projects in the pipeline?
My next exhibition will be in October/November. This will be a joint venture with a friend and fellow artist who works with mobile photography.
My first exhibition this year included 2 x silk scarves, whilst my present show has silk cushions and silk wall hangings – for my next exhibition I hope to include further work on silk, but, in a different way,.. perhaps a standard and table lamp, assuming time allows.
I am also considering taking work down to show in a London Art Fare in October, which will comprise solely of work created on my Mobile Studio.
What would be your top tips or words of wisdom for aspiring mobile photographers or artists?
Check out the various magazines and online groups to view the possibilities and capabilities of this revolutionary Mobile Studio. There are great articles out there to help get you started. Join groups such as Flickr, EyeEm and the various Facebook groups specific to mobile photography. You will find the community to be friendly and supportive.
Most of the apps are quite intuitive. Have fun and don’t be afraid to play around until you get a feel for what each app offers. In the beginning I was concerned about the compression each time I hopped from one app to another until I started to print my images. When possible I choose to save as a PNG rather than a jpeg (there have been many discussions in some of the Facebook mobile photography groups regarding PNG v jpeg).
When first downloading an app always check the settings as they tend not to be set at the highest possible setting for taking & saving the image.