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Center offers controversial iPhone photography class, raising questions of what is art

Center offers controversial iPhone photography class, raising questions of what is art

Theresa Escobedo, iPhone class, Houston Center for Photography, January 2013, Untitled (Self-Portrait)-1
Theresa Escobedo, Untitled 1 (Self-Portrait) Photo by © Theresa Escobedo
Theresa Escobedo, iPhone class, Houston Center for Photography, January 2013, Untitled (Elsewhere in Texas)-4
Theresa Escobedo, Untitled 4, from the series Elsewhere in Texas Photo by © Theresa Escobedo
Theresa Escobedo, iPhone class, Houston Center for Photography, January 2013, Untitled (At Home)-1
Theresa Escobedo, Untitled 1, from the series At Home Photo by © Theresa Escobedo
Theresa Escobedo, iPhone class, Houston Center for Photography, January 2013, Untitled (Villa Adriana)-1
Theresa Escobedo, Untitled 1, from the series Villa Adriana Photo by © Theresa Escobedo
Theresa Escobedo, iPhone class, Houston Center for Photography, January 2013, Untitled (Continental)-3
Theresa Escobedo, Untitled 3, from the series Continental Photo by © Theresa Escobedo
Theresa Escobedo, iPhone class, Houston Center for Photography, January 2013, Untitled (At Home)-3
Theresa Escobedo, Untitled 3, from the series At Home Photo by © Theresa Escobedo
Theresa Escobedo, iPhone class, Houston Center for Photography, January 2013, Cooks Branch-4
Theresa Escobedo, Cooks Branch 4 Photo by © Theresa Escobedo
Theresa Escobedo, iPhone class, Houston Center for Photography, January 2013, Untitled (Self-Portrait)-1
Theresa Escobedo, iPhone class, Houston Center for Photography, January 2013, Untitled (Elsewhere in Texas)-4
Theresa Escobedo, iPhone class, Houston Center for Photography, January 2013, Untitled (At Home)-1
Theresa Escobedo, iPhone class, Houston Center for Photography, January 2013, Untitled (Villa Adriana)-1
Theresa Escobedo, iPhone class, Houston Center for Photography, January 2013, Untitled (Continental)-3
Theresa Escobedo, iPhone class, Houston Center for Photography, January 2013, Untitled (At Home)-3
Theresa Escobedo, iPhone class, Houston Center for Photography, January 2013, Cooks Branch-4

It used to be that to delve in photography meant having to invest in pricey equipment while mastering of all sorts of scientific terms and processes. Understanding cameras, lenses, focal length, film, aperture, shutter speed, light metering, focus, white balance and chemistry were necessary, in addition to composition, to render and print a beautifully crafted image.

While some diehard fans of the medium prefer to stick with tradition, technology advances have democratized access to this art form.

It was during a trip to Tivoli, Italy, five years ago when Theresa Escobedo, fulltime lead workshop instructor at the Houston Center for Photography (HCP), began testing the waters with her mobile phone. Although she was outfitted with all the customary gear of her metier, including six different cameras, her iPhone became the go-to alternative for quick, impromptu snapshots. As more apps became available she began developing her own workflow to shot, edit, share and archive her work.

While studying architecture at the University of Houston, photography quickly became a passion for Escobedo. She continued her academic work at the University of St. Thomas and at the Glassell School of Art, earning an internship at Houston Center for Photography. She was offered a position as an education assistant, and today she manages the center's programs of study, including more than 140 courses per trimester.

 "Nothing can compensate for having and idea and an innate, good eye. You can't learn that."

She's willing to share her own research with the public.

As HCP's class offerings move toward a more comprehensive continuum between beginner to advanced digital methodology, Escobedo's job is to tweak HCP's curriculum to address trends in the industry as well as to avoid redundancy. She is set to lead a free iPhoneography class as part of The Museum Experience on Saturday at 1 p.m., and a more in-depth, three-part course beginning on Jan. 30 (fees are $110 for HCP members, $130 for non-members). 

"As much as these apps streamline the technical process, you still have to have a vision and a message to convey," she says. "We often get sidetracked by complicated terms and aren't able to focus on capturing a moment so that it will never be lost. Nothing can compensate for having and idea and an innate, good eye. You can't learn that."

In the class, Escobedo plans to introduce 20 iPhone apps, some free, some paid.

"The foundation for our classes is for beginners to be able to access photography," she explains. "In addition, we strive to be more helpful for those who have a background already and to help young, emerging artists in their development. It's about providing a connection to photography as it evolves, as it's constantly evolving."

The acceptance of photography created in mobile phone speaks to philosophies about beauty found in daily life and mundane activities. A device that otherwise acts as a functional, personal, banal object has morphed into an artistic palette that can hold many devices and execute limitless functions within its interface. It's up to the individual to sense how far to go with these instruments. Sometimes more is more, sometimes less is more.

 "You have to use discretion and ask yourself: What are you willing to share? What are you willing for other people to see?"

But this trend isn't without its critics, those who call into question images crafted using digital tools as art. Escobedo's belief, and the belief of a growing number of people (including Houston photographer Joey Garcia), she says, is that it isn't the tools that create the art, but it's the message that's important.

At first Escobedo may have been unsure about the acceptance of photos created using her handy digital gadget, but when Anne Wilkes Tucker, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's photography curator accepted her work as part of an HCP members' exhibit, she knew she was on the right path.

Part of the appeal of this genre of digital photography is the immediacy of sharing and storing. Cloud services quickly save information and dedicated image-centric social networks like Instagram, Pinterest and Flickr clear the way for others to access the work. But with rapidly evolving privacy settings and terms of service agreements, especially as these types of businesses experiment with leveraging user-generated content in an attempt to monetize everything, is sharing online wise?

"You have to use discretion and ask yourself," Escobedo suggests. "What are you willing to share? What are you willing for other people to see?"

When experiencing photographer's block, Escobedo spends hours poring over the 2,800 plus tomes, monographs, journals and periodicals on the stacks at HCP's John Cleary Library, and browses online forums.

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Stay tuned for Theresa Escobedo's top five apps for aspiring iPhone photographers.