'Across the Street': Italy through an iPhone lens

'Across the Street' is on view at the Italian Cultural Centre till May 31


When asked if he would use his iPhone 6 for professional work as a photographer, Arvind Hoon thinks for a few seconds before giving the nod, "In certain instances I could, yes." He does not forget to further support his answer with an example of how in 2017 Time revealed they had shot 12 of their magazine covers entirely on iPhones.

It was in the summer of 2016 that Arvind Hoon took off on a two-week holiday to Italy for the first time. Being a commercial photographer in the hospitality industry, he was naturally scoping out for information on the kind of lens to use and the gear to take. His mentor and editor of a previous photobook on Kashmir offered him a simple advice.

"You are going on a holiday with your wife. The camera should not come in the way. Your iPhone is good enough," said Hoon's mentor and editor Sanjeev Saith. By virtue of being familiar with his protege's work, Saith also suggested Hoon take his pictures in a square format which is what most mobile phones allow. Hoon did just that. Rambling and roving the length and breadth of Italy, Hoon had his phone to capture the glittering streetscapes from Venice to Milan to Rome to Verona.

"The light in Italy is generally very good. There is no dust or pollution. The sunlight is clear and soft. This easily lends itself good quality pictures," says Hoon. Even though Hoon edited his pictures on Instagram for sharpness, contrast and shadow control, he did not use any filters. He simply framed them in a jagged, black border on the app.

The pictures from this personal trip to Italy resulted in a photobook in 2017 called 'Across the Street'.


On 8 May, the pristine white walls of a gallery at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Delhi opened an exhibition of these keenly observed holiday photos in elegant little squares not more than 14 by 14 inches in size. "The traditional photo albums where you preserved cherished photos from family milestones are disappearing. They are all there as feeds on Instagram and Facebook. Even so, I haven't seen printed versions of these digital photos in a gallery," says Hoon who has applied his lensman skills to craft quietly chic and flaneuresque vignettes of a lazy Roman holiday.

Even though the pictures can't be scaled beyond a point—such are the limitations of iphoneography—the format holds the shape of things to come. One will be hard-pressed to find big-camera photos sharing space with mobile photographs in a white-cube gallery, but there's much happening in the world of smartphone photography which might make old warhorses and purists balk. There are regular contests by legacy magazines, classes and workshops on taking professional photos with cell phones and niche Instagram exhibitions. The unobtrusive and accessible nature of a handheld device is easily amenable to candid shots, its proponents claim. How soon till we can consider mobile photos employing the art of photography as fine art?

'Across the Street' is on view at the Italian Cultural Centre till May 31.