Focus pocus

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 November, 2011, 12:00am


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The best camera in the world, as the saying goes, is the one you have with you.

Like most iPhone users, initially I treated its camera function as a toy; for taking pictures of my children on holiday. But quickly I realised my phone could be used to tell stories in a way that is impossible with conventional camera equipment, the tools I've been using professionally for more than 20 years.

During a trip to Bali, my son, Charlie, and I spent a morning using the iPhone to photograph brightly coloured fish in a pond. A few weeks later, I returned to use it to photograph Bali's rice harvest, taking more than 800 images. I was forced to slow down by the long pause as the iPhone app - Hipstamatic, which makes pictures look as though they were taken by an antique film camera - reloaded. It made me think before taking the next image. The technology, in fact, encouraged me to approach the project in a way that was absolutely new to me.

Walking around a city armed with only a mobile phone makes you invisible as a photographer, enabling you to get close to your subjects and allowing for a degree of intimacy that is all but impossible when carrying chunky cameras and bags of heavy gear.

Most people in the developed and developing worlds have a mobile phone, and almost every phone has a camera. That camera is part of the future, I believe, of personal expression.

The camera phone is a powerful tool for looking at and seeing the world. Understand and embrace that idea, and everything changes. Suddenly, you start looking at raindrops on the window of a bus differently - the same bus you've been catching to work every day for years. You begin to see the patterns and geometrical shapes painted on a road to guide traffic as things of beauty. Footprints on sand in afternoon light become art. They almost demand that you capture their image.

Technology has changed many things about photography but the art will never be dependent on gigabytes and megapixels. It's about light, composition and, most importantly, the moment. Photography is the connection between you and what you see.

The first book I published was about Hong Kong. The pictures in the book were shot on black-and-white film, the old-fashioned way. A dozen years later, having returned after living and working elsewhere in Asia, I decided to look at the city with new eyes: with a tiny camera and in colour.

Hong Kong can, at first glance, appear a grey and sombre place, but there are vibrant splashes at every turn, and those magical moments are what these photographs - along with the book they come from, Vivid - are about.

Vivid, by Palani Mohan (, will be launched on November 24 (at 6.30pm) at the Picture This gallery, 13/F, 9 Queen's Road Central, tel: 2525 2820; The book will retail for HK$300.