An Interview With Jenny Lam: A Long-Form Project Photographed Entirely on a Smartphone

Most of us have smartphones these days, and all of us with these smartphones have used the camera function on them. Every few years, when a new phone is released, the camera is often marketed with images taken on the phone.

In her series, "Mobile," Jenny Lam decided to take this to a whole other level by creating a long-form project spanning nearly seven years of curated images from 2014-2021, the caveat with her series, of course, being that they were all photographed on her smartphone!

I feel like I wear many hats!

Jenny is a Chicago-based visual artist. Her main mediums are drawing and illustration, but also sculpture, installations, and writing. In addition to this, she curates independent art shows. From her long list of talents, her main passion is curating art shows. She enjoys the community aspect as well as helping others shine through their work.

Jenny mentions that she brings a lot of her visual arts background to the images she photographs — a specific way of seeing and framing things. The things she draws and the things she photographs are stylistically similar with each medium being a different way to see the world and express herself.

I was very stubborn about not getting a smartphone for a very long time.

Sometimes, a series of images is created with the intention to create a particular body of work. "Mobile" did not necessarily begin this way. Instead, Jenny’s first real camera was a simple point-and-shoot. She enjoyed the fact that it was light and flexible and she could take it with her almost anywhere. Once she finally purchased her smartphone in 2014, she realized that the smartphone camera was also as good for the types of images she was making.

In her own words, she became a “one woman tourist bureau” for Chicago. The series started, and essentially ended, in Chicago. However, it does include other images from travels abroad. She focused on creating images that were like tourist photos, but from the perspective of someone who lived there natively. She chose to share locations or ideas that were a bit more hidden or not as seen. This way of highlighting lesser-known locations is a carryover from the way she sees the world. For example, Jenny mentions that she prefers to write about lesser-known art shows that may be happening. Or when she curates works herself, she prefers to include lesser-known artists.

It’s more about the artist behind the camera. It’s not about the camera itself.

Working with the smartphone offers a certain immediacy. She wasn’t waiting for hours for images to appear like some street photographers. Additionally, unlike some traditionalists working with film (or even digitally), she wasn’t dedicating time to developing film or even retouching digital files.

It was another way to make myself take better photos.

Given her camera choice, she also had to be intentional with the images she did photograph because of the limited storage she was working with. Given the planned obsolescence of modern smartphones, Jenny was very aware of battery life and storage as well. These weren’t challenges but rather constraints to work within for her series.

The lifecycle of my phone died ‘at the right time.’

Much the same way the project began, the project ended with a surprise software update to her phone. To clarify, her phone had stopped receiving updates a long time prior due to its age. However, its crash coincided with a recent Apple update. The two events were correlated, but one didn't necessarily cause the other. She had already been thinking about putting together a collection of images she had worked on. Once the phone died, it was a serendipitous way to end the collection.

What sets this series of images apart from those on most peoples’ camera phones is the intent. Jenny worked with the intention to not only capture a certain type of image but then took the extra step to curate the images in a way to show a specific visual narrative.

The work isn’t about any particular image, even though the individual images are amazing on their own. But rather the work speaks to multiple other ways of viewing: it’s about finding beauty in the lesser-known and taking the time to explore the world around us, but also about appreciating what we do have and working within the confines of what we have at hand. The series speaks beautifully to rejecting social norms and embracing a culture of fixing and embracing things that don’t work perfectly rather than simply throwing them out and getting a new one.

Images provided by Jenny Lam. Used with permission.

Log in or register to post comments

2 Comments

J.d. Davis's picture

"It ain't about the brushes, it's all about the artist who uses them"

Ali Choudhry's picture

Exactly that!