It's pretty obvious that smartphones have replaced not only Walkmans, Game Boys and TomToms but also cameras, making compact cameras disappear from bags and pockets. Google has always played an important role in the world of smartphones thanks to its Android operating system, the most popular in the world. In 2013 the company launched the first phone Made by Google, the Pixel, hailed from its inception as one of the best “cameraphones” that money can buy. Its strength goes beyond the hardware and relies on the amazing intelligence that the digital brain of the phone is equipped with. Pixel 4 and Pixel XL, the new models launched in October, have introduced a series of new features: a second camera with telephoto lens, a more powerful night mode with an incredible rendering of the starry sky ("astrophotography"), the ability to manually compensate for the light between the background and the subject in the foreground, very useful for backlighting, more detail thanks to the live HDR+ image processing. The new Pixel confirms itself as a triumph of automatic photography. But what happens when you try to use it professionally or for an artistic project?
To answer this question we lent a sample of Google Pixel 4XL to Marta Blue, Italian photographer with a past as an art director, 29 thousand followers on Instagram, three exhibitions by the end of this year. “Among them, one personal exhibition that I care about a lot because I will present a new project to an audience that is very far away from me“, she tells me in a bar in central Milan, where we meet to tell us how it went with Pixel 4; instead, her first short film is scheduled for the spring of 2020. When I ask her how she manages to be a photographer, an artist, and at the same time a public figure on Instagram, she cuts short: "eliminating the boundary between public and private on social media", Marta replies smiling.
The photos you took with Pixel 4 are very beautiful. As some would say, they look like they were taken with a “real” camera. How did you find yourself?
Well, I was surprised. In positive, I mean.
How do these images come about?
In general, most visual cues come from cinema and painting. Right now I'm concentrating on a particular concept that is melancholy. Trying to communicate a certain vision, as if it were a memory, is very important because it automatically associates it with your emotion, and by you I mean the person who looks at the photo. And this immediately creates a bond for you.
And what about Instagram?
Instagram is a full and powerful medium, but often recognizing something authentic is really difficult. This could be a downside, but for those with a curious, trained and intelligent eye, Instagram is a great source of inspiration, keeps you in line with trends, is a way to know, be known and establish new professional partnerships. And then there's something...
I know I'll regret it but I want to say it: creating digital content is not photography.
Did the use of a phone change the way you took pictures?
It's obviously more intuitive. And there's the convenience of shooting at extreme speed situations that actually take longer to set up with a camera. For example, dark photos or sets with very intense colors require more time and technical expertise, so probably using this phone has halved the time, making me still get a balanced result from many points of view.
Is there any camera app option that you especially liked?
Portrait mode and double exposure control with the ability to adjust lights and shadows before shooting.
You have chosen to do with Pixel something very close to what you usually do using a camera. Why did you choose this path?
Probably because it doesn't make any difference to me. It can change the shape but if the content is valid, whether you are shooting with a camera or a phone, the perception of the viewer will not change.
What approach did you use?
Knowing that I could not achieve the same softness in the image rendering, I pushed a little more on the colors. The result was true to the light and surprising in detail.
Did everything go the way you expected?
On the contrary. There are some photos that surprised me because they came exactly as I imagined.
Can you give me some examples?
The room, the cake and the red rose are three different sets with zero natural light. In the first two sets it was wanted, in the third the result was a surreal light. There was the intention to simulate daylight in the dark, so it went even better than I had imagined. Actually this shot is a backlight, the sky is a tissue to which I pointed a light to eliminate shadows. The risk could have been many shadows and some problems with the colors. Incredibly with the Pixel you have eliminated the shadows and I kept the brilliance in the colors.
The room of the photo in reality was very dark and the management of the light in this case was essential to be able to maintain the colors as in reality. In all three images I wanted the more or less intense feeling of the message to contrast with the settings. It could have been three dramatic photos, but the freshness of the rendering, the almost complete management of the light, the absence of noise in the dark and the totality in detail allowed me to obtain a result that goes far beyond the technique.
Did you use post production?
No, no kind of post production. That's why I chose to recreate certain sets, to test this phone and understand how faithful it could be to me.
Do you think that a smartphone, this smarpthone, can “be enough” to realize an artistic project?
I don't want to end up in the ridicolous, but if we're talking about art, why not.
And what about flaws or complains?
I would say that, apart from the preview of the filters quite misleading and not faithful to the final, I have not found any.
After this experience with Pixel, will you start again with a phone?
I take pictures every day and of anything, the phone is the first means I use to process my ideas.
If you had to display these photos, how would you imagine the layout?
In my imagination I would recreate every real set and I would place in front of every set a base with the phone showing the final shot. In reality I would probably project them in rotation on a gigantic wall. I'm a simple person.
Google provided the sample of Pixel 4XL used by Marta and with which the photos published here were taken.