Chronic photography

Mikko Villi, Media Factory

Today over half of the global population owns a mobile phone. And an increasing number of those mobile phones contains a camera. One estimate is that camera phone shipments will exceed one billion units per year in 2011.

As a consequence, photography is becoming quite a ubiquitous activity: in addition to stand-alone cameras, it is possible to take photographs with phones and other electronic devices as well. When the camera is incorporated into a mobile phone, it becomes a pervasive extension of the eye. People can snap all the time, as much as they like. Shooting pictures is a way of being.

This “chronic” photography is more convenient than ever before, as the camera in the phone follows practically everywhere. The camera phone is, thus, not reserved only for special moments, as has been the case for most personal photography before. Photography turns more into photographic observation, capturing the everyday.

The camera in a modern camera phone can also be used to access information without taking a photograph, as, for example, when using augmented reality applications. The camera provides an informational connection to the physical surroundings of the user. The camera in the phone is then not only about photography.

However, a more significant shift brought about by camera phones is that photography can become a widespread and common activity also among the people in the less developed world. For us here in Finland owning a camera is nothing new, but for many people living in developing countries the first experience of taking pictures is likely to be on a camera phone. This is suggestive of how in India or Africa most people will connect to the Internet for the first time with a mobile phone, rather than a PC.

Mikko Villi defended his doctoral thesis “Visual mobile communication: Camera phone photo messages as ritual communication and mediated presence” on the 20th of May at the Aalto University School of Art and Design.

The thesis can be acquired via It is available also in PDF format at

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