Arts & Theater

Art reinvented: Smartphone pictures take a stylish turn in museum show

Dave Webb’s iPhone photos will be exhibited in a 10-day run beginning Wednesday, Nov. 7, at the Tsao Gallery at the Davis Art Center.
Dave Webb’s iPhone photos will be exhibited in a 10-day run beginning Wednesday, Nov. 7, at the Tsao Gallery at the Davis Art Center.

In all kinds of weather, Davis couple Dave Webb and Melinda Welsh would get up at dawn for a leisurely drive along the flat and winding back roads of Yolo and Solano counties to capture the beauty and natural drama.

Along for the ride was their dog and Dave’s smartphone camera. They found many exciting images: a darkish morning sky, the changing looks of fields over time, flowers and vegetables in various states of being. The rides became addictive. Dave Webb says his smartphone pulled him in “and won’t let me go.”

Webb, 62, a longtime resident of Davis, has developed into a “mobile photographer” of the highest order — someone who shoots photographs and edits them on a phone or tablets, uses one or more software applications to manipulate the images and prepares them for viewing.

It is a 10-year-old art form that had its humble beginnings with low-quality phone cameras. Today the phone art movement has come into its own because of consumer demand for better smartphone cameras and phone apps.

The best of Webb’s best images from Yolo and Solano counties form a collection he calls “Drama in Agriculture.”

It will be exhibited in a 10-day run beginning Wednesday, Nov. 7, at the Tsao Gallery at the Davis Art Center, 1919 F Street, Davis. In addition, Webb will be available to talk about his works at a public Second Friday ArtAbout reception at the Taso Gallery on Friday, Nov. 9 from 6 to 8 p.m. Admission is free.

The exhibit is in keeping with the Davis City Council’s proclamation of November as “Phone Art Month”. The public is invited to participate in displaying their phone art on a Facebook page. Webb hopes hundreds will take advantage of it.

The art speaks for itself, but locals should recognize a few of the spots presented in creative ways, Webb said. Some examples: “The line of the horizon and the levee, the texture of the sky, the fields of water and the stretch of grasses … the miracle of food growing, the flight of birds, the roam of the cattle and goats” will be among the enlarged images selected for the show. The images will be presented on paper, metal or on a lighted monitor that he calls a “glowing frame.”

He said he loves to turn the photographs into “moments of art” and applying phone art tools from software phone apps like Snapseed, Glaze, Mextures, or Imageblender. His pallet of tools enable him to edit the image, adjust color, play with curves, soften focus or add luminance, apply sandy grains or dust, even create an effect that makes part of the image appear as if it was painted with oil.

Mike Azevedo, deputy director of the Davis Art Center, said patrons won’t be disappointed.

“Dave’s mastery of his tools is clearly evident,” Azevedo said. “His keen eye for composition, line and color can be seen in every image. But his work is much more than technically proficient.”

“He brings an understanding and empathy of the subject matter…,” he said. “Red tomatoes dotting the shoulder of a curvy county road, or the mystery of the erratically painted traffic lines on the road to the dump. ... Dave has captured the drama that can be found in agriculture, but also the transitory nature of life.”

“Drama in Agriculture” is Webb’s third exhibit at the Davis Art Center. His work received honorable mention in 2017 in the International Mobile Photography Awards, which bills itself as the world’s longest-running international competition for mobile photography and art.

Dan Berman founded the annual competition in 2011 to bring attention to individual creations and to the art community as a whole. Each year it generates around 7,000 entries from at times 65 or more countries. “Interest has really exploded over the last decade,” he said. “It’s no longer a ‘lo-fi’ (low pixel) hobby – phone cameras are the real deal and we see the tech grow every day. “

Today, consumers insist that phone camera quality be high, Berman said, “both via the hardware and continuously updated photo apps.”

All of which Webb will put to good use in the future.

If you go

Where: The Davis Art Center

When: The exhibits run through Nov. 17. The museum is open Monday through Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Fridays 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Admission: Free.