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Cell Phone Photography at Beyond the Border Contemporary Art Fair


Cell Phone Photography at Beyond the Border Contemporary Art Fair
Feature of Brenda Regier's cell phone photography project.

If San Diego artist Brenda Regier's current project is an accurate barometer, somewhere right now in the world, a photograph is being taken of a person holding a fish. In places as diverse as the US, Mexico, Africa, India, and Brazil, it is apparently a tradition to document a caught fish with its proud captor. Regier calls them "first fish" photos, and she's received a ton of them as part of her year-long art project, ReEnvisioning A World Beyond Borders.

Regier is collecting cell phone photographs from around the globe through 2010, when she hopes she'll end up with a citizen-created snapshot of our world. When she came up with the idea, she approached Qualcomm to join as a partner. The company agreed to provide some initial infrastructure, most notably their global 17-country mailing list, through which Regier solicited the first round of photographs.

The initial response was slow and Regier panicked. But soon news of the project spread virally, through social media networks and word of mouth. Regier says, "I opened my email one day and there were a hundred [photographs] and I went, 'Oh fabulous! We're on our way!'"

She now gets a minimum of 25 photographs a day, and three months into the project, she has over 3,000 images. Regier says certain countries will have bursts of participation at different times, but she doesn't have any way of tracking how the information is spreading. When a large number of images come in from one place "it means that someone was somewhere in a specific country speaking about it and got a lot of people on board." Images are also being added to a Flickr page where there's a map charting where the photos are coming from.

What's interesting about a project of this size is the juxtaposition of photos, where similarities and differences across a geographical span can come to the fore. For example, it didn't occur to me that first fish photos would prove to be a universal tradition (a sampling of the first fish photos is included in the photo gallery to the left).

Regier is also noticing differences in the way demographic groups make images. The photos she receives from senior citizens and older generations tend to be very classically framed. She says they look like "those old photos you'd see of your grandparents standing on the front lawn holding a newborn." On the other hand, the photos she's getting from a younger demographic are more abstract, full of intentional blurs and fractured lights. They'll tilt their cameras or zoom in. This generational difference is predictable, but it's interesting to see the stark contrast at work.

You can see the first sampling of images at the Beyond the Border International Contemporary Art Fair (September 2nd-4th), where they'll be shown in a large wall display over 12 television monitors.

Two local musicians composed a soundtrack for the piece, which includes sounds they've recorded on their worldly travels. Gabriel Rodriguez, who records under the name Boomsnake, contributed sounds from Japan and New York City. Chris Braciszewski, whose recording name is Snuffalufagus (yes, I had to look up the spelling) collected nature sounds in Costa Rica. You can hear the music in my radio feature.

And in case you're wondering, yes, there are images from San Diego, but they are so vanilla! Regier says they are like postcards: sunsets, beach shots, and dogs, lots and lots of dogs! You can contribute to the project by going here.

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.