The merits of mobile phone photography

Glenn McGillivray on the democratization of art and communication

My ex-colleague Glenn and I used to work for a big reinsurance company for many years. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered his passion for photography when coming across a wonderful selection of  pictures on his website

Bathing Pavillion front

Bathing Pavillion front by Glenn McGillivray

Collingwood Terminals Two

Collingwood Terminals Two by Glenn McGillivray

Glenn, how did you get into photography?

Glenn McGillivray: Perhaps two years ago I was inspired by our freelance graphic designer who specialized in taking very abstract shots of objects he would find on the street: crushed drink cans, road markings etc. I found his work really interesting and began to take similar shots using the camera on my cellphone.

Why did you not use a ‘real’ camera?

Glenn: First of all is, of course, convenience: I almost always have my phone with me and the picture quality is much better than some people may think. Second, and more interesting to me, was the idea of ‘accessibility’ – which is to say that I wanted to show that a person didn’t need an expensive camera outfit to take good pictures.

So even though you could easily purchase a good camera, you stuck with the cellphone camera for some time to prove a point?

Glenn: That is correct. It really speaks to the “democratization” of art and communication that I spoke to you about before.

You pointed out that art and communication have been opened up much wider than in the past – how?

Glenn: One no longer needs ‘infrastructure’ and connections to be seen or heard: musicians can now record themselves and broadcast their music on YouTube or what have you; artists can display their work on social media or on their own websites; performers of all kinds no longer need an agent or big corporation to get them places. My cellphone photography, in my eyes, was part of that new dynamic. I was somewhat inspired by a story in the NY Times about a New York taxi driver who takes pictures of street scenes using a cheap disposable camera. My cellphone work was along the same lines.

What is the main focus in your work?

Glenn: I have focused – pardon the pun – my work on architecture and gritty urban street scenes. I like dereliction – rundown buildings, old junked cars, gritty street people. I really don’t know why, but I relate to it. I have pretty much given up on the cellphone pictures, as commercial work requires higher resolution photos, though the camera I now use is nothing special.

Why does your Mother think that you were born in the wrong era?

Glenn (laughing): Maybe because I like classic neon signs – I recognize that we are losing these icons at an accelerated rate, and if we don’t capture them on camera now, they will soon be gone for good.

Which work intrigues or fascinates you?

Aside from our graphic designer, I have not really been inspired by any one photographer in particular. But I am intrigued by William Eggleston.

The American photographer William Eggleston is widely credited with increasing recognition for color photography as a legitimate artistic medium to display in art galleries.

Yes. Eggleston’s work is very different, gritty, but different. Some have described his subject matter as ‘banal’ – but it’s of the real world, so if his subject matter is banal, then so is the world.

Glenn, thank you for sharing your thoughts with my readers.

Glenn McGillivray

Glenn McGillivray

Glenn McGillivray M.A. is Managing Director at the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction in Toronto, Ontario.

His website

Interesting articles on William Eggleston