The Phone Book by Robert Herman

I have mixed feelings about The Phone Book (the title a play on words since this is a book of pictures taken by an iphone). Since the photographer constrained himself to an iphone app called hipstamatic (as a reaction to burn out with the DSLR 35mm rectangle), we get a collection of 120 square images with a cross-processing type of feel. Obviously, without the ability to change lenses and add their unique creative distortions, the images are all about angle and moment. It has the feel of 1960s/70s photojournalism at heart and likely will be timeless in another 40 years.


And yet – I still find myself drawn to the simplicity of a Vivian Meier honest moment; there is a hubris in Herman’s challenge to himself that somehow translates into the images in a way that defeats their creativity. Yes, there are some strikes captures but others too often feel like the product of ‘Uncle Bob’s’ accidental shutter click when putting the camera down. For me at least, I wish Herman had kept the square but not used a look and feel from another era for a collection of contemporary snapshots. If it really is about the photographer and not the camera, the color effects of the Hipstamatic app aren’t needed and indeed obfuscate the true artistry of the images.

Since this collection is about 2010-2014 era locations around the world, there is already a look and feel from an iphone regular image that we will recognize and treasure in 30 years (even if only that it is a 2D image in a world moving toward 3D). I’d hate to have seen Meier using cross-processing oddness on her moments just as I always look for honest moments that don’t need to be gilded when viewing Herman’s photojournalistic images. It really should be about the photographer and not the process or the equipment, as Herman purports in the introduction. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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