“Mullan’s approach to photography is very exciting and revealing a technological and cultural change. For the great activist/humanitarian that he is, it’s a new way to express his commitment. I love that!”
– Agnès Grégoire, Editor-in-Chief, PHOTO Magazine, Paris
Mobile Phone Photography – A new departure
In 2006 Don Mullan was named a NOKIA Ambassador following his proposal to create the World’s 1st Photographic Exhibition based entirely on NOKIA/Carl Zeiss mobile phone imaging capabilities.
Mullan had no training in photography but his interest was awakened one Saturday afternoon when he heard his son Carl and daughter Emma playfully running through their home. When asked what they were doing, he was informed they were taking pictures. Mullan was confused as he could not see a camera.
“With what?” he asked.
“Our mobile phones,” he was informed.
“Your phones?” he queried, confused.
“Yes,” Emma replied, “there is a camera in our mobile phones.”
Reaching for his own cell phone, Mullan asked, “Is there a camera in my phone?”
“Yes, Dad!” his children answered, somewhat incredulous at their father’s ignorance.
Up until that moment, Mullan was only interested in using the phone for making and receiving calls, and for texting. However, he began to experiment with the camera on his phone, a NOKIA 6131, and an idea began to emerge. Throughout 2007 and 2008 he would be travelling to Asia, Africa, North and South America, Europe and the Mediterranean on various projects. So, he decided to approach NOKIA with the idea of testing the dexterity of their mobile phones, including their imaging capabilities.
With the support of RTE’s John Murray, Mullan was welcomed to NOKIA (Ireland) by a young executive, Aoife Byrne, NOKIA’s Marketing Manager. Mullan had just turned 50 and in the new corporate world of high flying young executives, he was feeling ‘old’. However, Aoife Byrne was hugely respectful and enthusiastic about his proposal. She championed the idea amongst her colleagues, principle amongst them her line manager, Sian Gray, Head of Marketing, and Alan O’Hara, NOKIA’s General Manager.
In April 2009, NOKIA hired Gallery Number One in Dublin for what they proclaimed as the World’s 1st Photographic Exhibition by an amateur photographer, based entirely on cell phone photography.
The exhibition, entitled, A Thousand Reasons for Living, comprised 60 images which Mullan had captured on the NOKIA N73 (3.2 megapixel) and NOKIA N97 (5 megapixel) taken during Mullan’s travels. Not only was the exhibition a pioneering adventure in its own right, it was also clear that Mullan recognised how this new technology could be used as a campaigning tool.
One of Mullan’s photographs showed an elderly woman signing her autograph. The subject was Millvina Dean, the last remaining survivor of the 1912 Titanic tragedy, who, following an accident in 2005, was forced to spend the remainder of her life in a private nursing home close to her rented accommodation in Southampton.
Despite her advanced age she was forced to sell her personal Titanic memorabilia, and her autograph, to pay for her nursing home bills. Mullan considered this situation to be unjust, especially given the money that had been generated through the billion dollar franchise associated with the James Cameron blockbuster movie ‘Titanic’. In 2007 Mullan had written to James Cameron asking his help in supporting Millvina. He received no response. Consequently, he decided to use the opening of his 2009 exhibition as an opportunity to challenge the stars of ‘Titanic’ to match him dollar for dollar with the sales of a framed photograph he had taken, detailing Ms. Dean signing her autograph.
A young journalist, Alison O’Riordan, first published the story in Ireland’s Sunday Independent on 26 April 2009. Two days after the article was published, Mullan received a call from Ken Sunshine of Leonardo Di Caprio’s publicity agency, Sunshine and Sachs, New York. After a 15 minute conversation, Sachs informed Mullan that he would speak with his client. The following day he called Don to say that Mr Di Caprio would donate an initial US$10,000 but assured him he was ‘pushing an open door’ if more funds were required. With that, Kate Winslet also donated US$10,000, followed by Cameron, Celine Dion and Sony.
Sadly, Ms Dean died on 31 May 2009, less than five-weeks after a total of US$50,000 was donated by DiCaprio, Winslet, Cameron, Dion and Sony.
The bulk of the money raised by Mullan’s appeal was used to help fund a Millvina Dean Memorial Garden in Southampton, the city from where Titanic’s maiden voyage began and within which Ms Dean had lived most of her life.In addition to the Titanic story, there were a number of other off-shoots of the Mullan/NOKIA exhibition including what Mullan believes is the first full-colour illustrated book, reproduced from his mobile phone photography.
In addition to the Titanic story, there were a number of other off-shoots of the Mullan/NOKIA exhibition including what Mullan believes is the first full-colour illustrated book, reproduced from his mobile phone photography.
And So This IS Christmas
Mullan was asked by a friend, Irish author John Scally, to assist him in publishing an illustrated children’s book, ‘And So This Is Christmas’, through Mullan’s small publishing house, a little book company. The book had been illustrated by the acclaimed Irish artist, Don Conway. Royalties and profits from the book were being donated to an Irish Hospice.
The manuscript that John Scally produced would have required a highly professional studio to photograph the illustrations, or the removal of the illustrations from the manuscript for the purpose of scanning. Mullan, however, decided against both options. Instead, he decided to photograph the illustrations with his NOKIA N95 (5 megapixel) handset, using weights and the natural light of his back garden conservatory.
Initially his designer and printer were incredulous when he said he would provide the images from his mobile phone. They suggested Don Conroy, the artist, would be furious, as they were expecting images of an inferior nature. However, when they saw the quality of the images they were, quite simply, amazed.
Subject to correction, it is the first illustrated colour book ever produced where the images, including the cover image, where taken by a mobile telephone. The cover image formed part of Mullan’s exhibition, ‘A Thousand Reasons for Living’.
REACTIONS TO THE NOKIA/MULLAN EXHIBITION
The exhibition was featured on national television and newspapers and also by El Pais, Spain. Reactions to the exhibition included the following:
“You can get ideas and inspiration [at the] exhibition… Don had no training. Only the phone. It’s hard to believe that these moments of magic were captured on a mobile.”
– RTE National Television News
“They really are remarkable pictures, un-PhotoShopped, and full of incredible moments.”
– The Sunday Tribune
“Amazing! We must get this exhibition to New York and LA.”
Oscar winning director – Jim Sheridan
“What makes [the] exhibition even more interesting is the fact that photographs are neither enhanced, nor edited. This turns the exhibition into what we would call “The world’s most beautiful camera sample gallery”.
“Don Mullan who had the exhibition printed directly from phone to A3, and they looked brill”
And from the gallery that hosted the exhibition:
“Due to the demand around the Don Mullan show we will be running it up to WEDNESDAY 28th of April!”
– Gallery Number One
“Several people came into the gallery and began to look at the exhibition. They then approached me and ask, ‘But where is the mobile phone exhibition?’ They were amazed when I told them, ‘You are looking at it!'”
– Jen O’Dwyer, Curator, Gallery Number One
“I’m going to get rid of my expensive camera and buy a mobile phone.”
– Written in gallery comment book
Don Mullan was commissioned to produce two other major mobile phone photographic exhibitions for the 2013 UK City of Culture and the France/South Africa Season in Paris. In addition he produced smaller exhibitions on the theme of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s ‘Le Petit Prince’; for an on-line magazine, ‘About Place Journal’; and as part of a re-imaging project associated with the city of Madison, New Jersey – ‘The Rose City’, which also included a book, based on his concept and photography. He was also invited to exhibit at the prestigious Paris Photo Exhibition, and did so alongside the photography of Yann Arthus-Bertrand; and was featured in the French photographic magazine, Paris PHOTO.
About Place Journal: