The tawdry image of a frumpy, nude housewife posing next to a dildo on view at a South Dade gallery could easily have been titled, "Is That a Cell Phone in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?"
The photograph is one of about 200 pictures on display in "The International Cell Phone Photo Show" at Artspace MAGQ in Pinecrest, where more than 50 artists from the United States, Italy, Poland, England, Brazil, Denmark, and the Netherlands submitted work to the juried exhibit.
The show was organized and curated by partners Gerardo Quevedo and Mike Arnspiger, artists who own the gallery and are interested in the democratic nature of the medium — just about anyone who owns a cell phone is packing a studio in his or her pocket and can play at being an artist.
"It's amazing what you can do with an iPhone and the apps available to create art on them," says Arnspiger, a photographer. "What's more impressive is that you can create an image and tweak it with the instrument wherever you are at the moment and send it anywhere in the world in an instant."
The duo hatched the idea for the show after tinkering with their own phones in their spacious studio behind the gallery, where they also operate two state-of-the-art Epson printers, make fine reproductions and prints, and do framing for artists and other clients.
The images they received during their Internet call for submissions range from closeups of breakfast cereal and oil stains on concrete to architectural details and roadkill.
"The response was immediate and incredible," Quevedo says. "We received over 300 submissions from all over the world in less than a month, and our only criteria was an $8 entry fee and a brief statement about the work. What surprised us most was that not only artists and photographers send us stuff, but that we also have a psychotherapist and a nuclear engineer who are exhibiting their images in the show."
Arnspiger and Quevedo printed the emailed cell-phone images on 12-inch-square museum-quality archival paper and laid them out on the gallery floor.
"Patterns started to emerge from all these different artists who were working independently," Quevedo says.
Those who made the cut were grouped together in nine distinct grids later hung on gallery walls. They are arranged into collage-like groups of landscapes, portraits, abstracts, street scenes, urban graffiti, gussied-up pets, a striking series of shadows, and architectural details. The works are pinned directly to the walls like bugs in an insect collection and cost about $50 each. Pieces that don't sell during the show will be mailed to the artists at no charge.
The 1,500-square-foot gallery — with its snazzy lighting, polished marble floors, and edgy presentation of work — resembles more an upscale Wynwood space than an unsung, little-known Pinecrest gallery.
"We lucked out with this space," Quevedo laughs. "It used to be a tile showroom, and we got it in the condition you see. We have been here close to two years, have openings about every six weeks, and get decent turnouts most of the time."
Among the more compelling images on display are Claudia Rehder's peephole shots of cruise ships in Biscayne Bay. She placed a blue-and-white-striped drinking straw over her cell phone's camera lens to create a telescopic effect. Her Lilliputian ships appear at the deep center of the composition, haloed by a gauzy, almost ethereal, kaleidoscopic swirl.
Dominican photographer Aida Tejada captured arresting abstract images that look like bold, Nolandesque color-field paintings by sweeping her lens wand-like over mundane surfaces, capturing a sense of electric movement that jolts through her imagery. The artist also used her phone to create a series of shadow pieces that evokes ghostly apparitions.
In a nearby portrait grid of 20 images, an elderly man twangs a violin while a blond little girl beams an exuberant grin in the closeup next to him.
To the lower right of the pair, a bum stands on the side of a highway while holding a sign that reads, "Spaceship broken, need parts." At the bottom left of the grid, a group of kids seems posed at a table in a classic Last Supper arrangement, until closer inspection reveals the teenagers are getting stoned and are surrounded by sundry drug paraphernalia.
Quevedo says he was struck by the quality and variety of the submissions and was surprised to learn there is a burgeoning group of shutterbugs that works strictly with cell phones.
"They call themselves iPhoneagraphers," Quevedo informs. "These artists take images and manipulate them with their phone and never use a computer to alter them. They send their work to be printed straight from their phones and from there to the gallery."
One such artist, Jaime Ferreyros, has a couple of these pieces on display. His Memory Lane depicts a spirit-like wraith floating through a tenebrous alley and leaving behind echoing ripples of ectoplasm. The other snap, Enjoyment, is a ringer for a 19th-century sepia postcard that appears taken at Brighton Beach with a family of vacationers gamboling on the sand under a flock of hungry seagulls.
Among the creepier images is Justin Carolyne's picture of a dead rodent with a mosquito drawing blood from its bloated carcass. "It's as if the mouse was trying to get to a beautiful utopia of greenery past the harsh concrete but died before accomplishing the feat," the artist muses of her cell-phone opus.
"The variety and scope of these images are crazy," Quevedo says. "I am pretty sure this is the first-ever show exclusively based on cell-phone photography in Miami."