Stephen Mayes, director of VII Photo agency, is pictured with his compact camera. Image: Ron Haviv/VII Photo

The impact of mobile photography in photojournalism is huge. The unassuming cell phone allows images to be captured very privately or in dangerous situations without bringing too much attention to the photographer. This, combined with the ability to send and share photos directly from the device, has photojournalists rethinking how their cell phone fits within their photographic toolbox. spoke to the director of VII photo agency, Stephen Mayes, about the importance of mobile photography in the digital age: Why are we talking about cell phone photography?

Stephen Mayes (SM): I think cell phone photography marks the transforming moment.

The transition from analog to digital photography was a pivot point, but it is a pivot that wasn’t fully recognized in that working with these large DSLR cameras we’ve been able to mimic [analog] photography as we know it.

The cell phone is a pretty pure implementation of the digital phenomenon. How so?

SM: There are theoretical differences between analog and digital, but essentially it comes down to the fixed image and the fluid image. Analog photography is all about the fixed image to the point that fixing is part of the vocabulary. The image doesn’t exist until it is fixed. It can be multiplied, reproduced and put in different contexts but it is still a fixed image. 

The digital image is entirely different; it is completely fluid. You think about dialing up the color balance on the camera, there’s no point at which the image is fixed. That fluidity cascades out from that point – issues of manipulation and adjustments are obvious and rife. More importantly than that, images now live in a digital environment. Given that an image is defined by its context it exists in a perpetually fluid environment in which the context is never fixed. Images’ meanings morph, move and can exist in multiple places and meanings at one time. Fred Ritchin, professor of photography and imaging at NYU describes it as “Quantum imagery.” Digital photography is anything and everything at any single moment; it has contradictory meanings all at once.

What the cell phone does is it takes all the attributes of digital and magnifies them.

Read the rest of the interview at