What I See Now

Interview: Jason Willis on creating Gridstamatic prints from Hipstamatic photos

Artist Jason Willis, who ran through just about every Hipstamatic combo to produce a stop-motion Halloween video, has also been using Hipstamatic to create a series of wildly creative photographic assemblages, which he calls Gridstamatic prints. Part cubism, part collage, they’re an awe-inspiring example of what’s possible with artistic vision and the iPhone camera.

I’m really wowed by them, and I interviewed Jason by email.

How much planning typically goes into your Gridstamatic images?

Planning really varies from image to image. Some of them are pretty meticulously plotted out, like the 7x7 grids that I take with a macro lens, for example. I knew in advance what each of the 49 pictures were going to have to be in order to successfully “build the whole” there (as in “Imperial Gio,” shown above, and "Jackie in July").

For many others, I prefer to wing it: taking repetitive images, changing up the “film” and “lens” combos in the Hipstamatic app, and moving closer or further however the mood strikes me. It’s a lot of fun to work this way, and as you might expect with this kind of “organic and improvisational” process, I tend to embrace the flaws and “happy accidents” more often than not.

What’s the actual process for creating the grids?

The basic process is pretty simple. I take the photos in a sequence of sorts, sometimes top to bottom, sometimes right to left, sometimes from the middle out to the sides — basically however I’ve framed it out in my mind so that the composition will work not only within each individual image but also (hopefully) across the whole. Then later after I’ve downloaded them all to my computer at home, I create a blank canvas in Photoshop that is the size of the final collage (so if it’s a 3x3 grid with nine 1936x1936 images, my blank canvas would be 5808x5808). After that it’s just a matter of dragging the raw Hipstamatic images into the larger canvas, and seeing which combinations I like best. Aside from this assembly I never do any post processing of the photos though (by this I mean stuff like color correction or pixel manipulation), and that’s both because I like working within the limitations imposed by the Hipstamatic app, and because that road seems kinda endless to me. It’s also why I tend to work with apps that don’t include a lot of post-processing within their workflow — heh, I know myself and throwing that on top of the collage options that I’m already playing with would result in a zillion combinations that I would never be able to choose from.

How did you get into iPhone photography?

I started out with traditional photography as a high school student back in the 1980s, but after (ahem) dropping out of art school I really put the whole deal on a back burner, due both to the prohibitive costs and my own general lack of focus. Okay, okay — mostly it was that “lack of focus” part.

I dabbled with traditional and digital cameras over the intervening years, but it honestly wasn’t until I bought an iPhone and began to play with some of the early “toy camera emulation” apps that my passion for taking photos was really re-energized. For me one of the coolest things about photography has to be its power to really democratize the process of art making (or documentation, etc. — obviously the medium will serve however you want it to), and the ubiquity of the camera phone along with the high quality results and ease-of-use only intensifies this. Combine that with the myriad of really cool (and cheap!) apps out there that make interesting results so easy and so fun to achieve and it’s hard NOT to want to play.

I can’t stress enough how much I enjoy seeing the photographic doors that this is opening for so many people — I really, really love how people who might never try and tinker with the visual style of their images are just jumping headfirst into complete art-ville.

The other great thing is that whatever initial concerns I might have had about “novelty fatigue” (like in regards to seeing the same styles of processing over and over, etc.) seem to have been pretty unfounded. Instead the expansion of the form is happening at a nearly impossible-to-keep-up-with pace, making this a really exciting convergence of mass-medium technology with some previously “niche-only” sensibilities. Very cool stuff!

Anything else you’d like to add about iPhone photography or your own work?

Art-wise I’ve always been attracted to a more “gut-level” sensibility rather than a technically controlled one (you know the deal, German Expressionism, Punk Rock, Fluxus — that kind of thing), and I really value having fun with the form no matter what tools I’m trying out. I also try to “always be learning,” which gives me the perfect excuse to jump around all over the place from discipline to discipline without ever really mastering any of them. Oh! And it excuses a lot of the sloppiness too, which brings me to the other thing I deeply love in most of the art I enjoy the most: embracing whatever flaws might be present within the process and amplifying them so as to make it “the point.” I think that a number of the camera phone apps we’re seeing today do a truly outstanding job of taking this maxim to heart. One of the most amazing and awesome has to be the Decim8 app. That thing is a monster of cool!


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