Your City In Focus: How Mobile Photography Is Changing Our Urban Perceptions

When I started the Urban Phoenix, I approached it like a photographer… after all, that’s what I am.  I was going to visit cities that had a less-than-stellar reputation and capture the beauty, both overt and hidden, in an effort to change negative perceptions.

While this is still in part my goal, the UP format has changed to more of a conversation piece about our cities in transition.  Not that my photos don’t support this dialogue, but for certain, what once was a photo blog has at least “changed focus” highlighting an appreciation for the elements that make our cities great.

One of these key elements, interestingly enough, is the importance of fun, interesting, beautiful and intriguing urban photos from cities that erupt on social media by the hundreds of millions each day.  And these aren’t professional photographers, these are everyday citizens who express their love for where they live through the convenience and ever-increasing quality of their smartphones.  Our cities are front and center, taking the virtual stage every moment of every day in the photos we take.

Photos, paired with social media, give you a preview of that new restaurant that your friends just visited.  They capture that new park that just opened, or that new bike lane they just put in on Main Street.  They open our minds to the beauty of our cities through different eyes, and on the other side, they feature the parts we might not be so proud of.

iPhone Photos of cool spaces in Rochester

Every moment of every day, our cities are being captured for dozens, hundreds, thousands and even millions to see… not just outside our communities, but within them.  I know first hand that flattering photos I’ve taken in my travels have changed the way people view their hometown.  I know because they tell me.  It’s not that my photos are anything great, it’s that my photos, along with the hundreds of others, show the best of the city they love.

The Urban Phoenix has taken photos of fun and beautiful places in Utica and Schenectady that have been seen by over 100,000 people across the state and the around the country.  

And it’s not just that people love seeing great photos of their city, they also love to take them. They will go to the places that feature the best views, the greatest streetscapes, the coolest architecture, the most awe-inspiring street art, the tree-lined sidewalks in spring and the unique flavors that make each city visually unique.  They will make a point to uniquely capture the best of what their city has to offer for their followers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Explore Rochester, Schenectady Doesn’t Suck, Utica’s Ken Smith, Syracuse’s Mike Heagerty, Enjoy Troy… every city in Upstate New York and beyond features an Instagram account where an individual or a group features semi-daily photos of their city, and are followed by thousands of residents who get a charge out of seeing their hometown so beautifully and/or energetically captured.  These accounts are shaping the way we see our urban centers on an organic level, bolstering the attitudes of their respective communities by blending their own creativity with their city’s brightest highlights.

With this in mind, every city, every business and even every individual needs to realize that now more than ever, our cities are always on and always in front of the camera.  In a time when nearly everyone carries a decent-quality camera in their pocket, our urban populations are always ready to instantly become informal photographic armies of internal and external promotion.  If you think that the stylish new three-toned curvy sidewalk lined with young, lively trees doesn’t matter, I can assure you it does.  How about that parking lot your city turned into a public space for reading, meeting and mingling… think that’s a waste of money?  Guess again.  LED accent and uplighting?  Yes, it’s a good thing.  How about that brick building with history-driven character that was just revamped into local office and retail space with gorgeous new street-level amenities?  Yeah, that’s important too.  Know why?  Because these are the things people see now.

These are the photo opportunities that become windows into a growing city’s soul.  As we become increasingly visually aware, as we all become self-proclaimed photographers, we don’t just see the world differently, the images we see change how we think about our surroundings.  Whether you’re the photographer taking the picture, the person in the community who sees the picture and takes pride in where they live, or the person hundreds of miles away that sees the image and says “I didn’t know that was there,” creating visually stunning spaces is key to changing perceptions and cultivating our urban success stories.