LOS ANGELES – American techies have begun to use the built-in digital cameras on their phones to capture and send images of a great meal they're having at a restaurant, the strut of a lead singer at a concert or a neighbor's garbage heap.
But by putting camera phones in the hands of professionals, a new art exhibit is asking the question, "Can high art be low res?”
Camera phone images are pixilated and unsophisticated, but that's part of their charm, according to co-curator Xeni Jardin, a technology journalist.
"People create art with crude, unsophisticated tools," she said. "Why not try this device that wasn’t necessarily intended for the creation of art?"
The exhibit, which premiered Saturday and runs through July 17, explores the impact of wireless consumer technology on art.
Curators put Motorola V600 camera phones in the hands of 23 invited filmmakers, commercial and up-and-coming fine art photographers and celebrities like actress Megan Mullally (search) of "Will and Grace," actor Wil Wheaton and entertainer "Weird" Al Yankovic (search), who submitted a self-portrait. Their work will be displayed in print format at the contemporary art gallery and posted on the SENT show Web site.
Randal Kleiser (search), who directed "Grease" and "The Blue Lagoon," turned his camera on the Michael Jackson Auditorium at Gardner Street Elementary School in Los Angeles. School officials there covered up the embattled singer's name with paint and plywood after parents complained.
The filmmaker, who had never used a camera phone before, also took it with him while scouting locations in the Dominican Republic for a feature romantic comedy. He describes it as a "photography sketchpad, like taking notes."
"It reminds me of the Polaroid art of the past," Kleiser wrote in an e-mail interview from the Caribbean, where he is directing Amanda Bynes (search) in the film "Lovewrecked." "When artists all have the same tools and limitations, their creativity is more obvious. I think it can be considered a type of art ... I don't know how high."
"For some of them they were already familiar with camera phones," Jardin said. "For others this was a complete new experience, so there was a bit of a learning curve."
But the SENT show isn't just about established artists.
National Public Radio's "Day to Day" program issued a "Phonecam Challenge" to its listeners to submit their own images, which can be viewed on the SENT site.
The images taken from all over the world will also be displayed digitally on flat plasma screens at the Los Angeles show.
"The best camera is the one that’s with you all the time," Jardin said. "Having a high-end camera in my sock drawer is less worthwhile than having one in my pocket."
But toting a camera phone from place to place does not an artist make, said Joanna Lehan, who has written about the art for photography publications and worked as assistant curator at the International Center of Photography (search) in New York.
"It doesn't mean that everyone is becoming an artist, but we are more aware of the world around us as a photographical moment."