March 15, 2022

Bored Cellphone: platform helping aspiring smartphone photographers tell stories

Arts/CultureCurrent Affairs

“Our Ethiopia ”, a photography exhibition hosted by Bored Cellphone Addis Ababa.

Avatar: Kulsma Nur
By Kulsma Nur

Kulsma Nur is a law graduate from Addis Ababa University. Reporter and content producer at Addis Zeybe.

Bored Cellphone: platform helping aspiring smartphone photographers tell stories
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Credit: Anteneh Sisay, BCAA

Anteneh Sisay is a member of Bored Cellphone Addis Ababa (BCAA), a Facebook community of smartphone photographers, who displayed their photographs in the recent photo exhibition "Our Ethiopia" held in Addis Ababa.

Driven by an inner passion for photography Anteneh became a member of the BCAA and he said he shared lots of photographs over the past years. 

“I have been there from the beginning. Even though I loved photography in my teenage years, I started taking photos after I joined the group,” said Anteneh who displayed five photographs in the exhibition.

One of Anteneh’s photographs shows a village funeral in the Gojjam, Amhara Regional State. In the picture lots of people, some holding the Ethiopian flag, are seen gathered in mourning.

While he was on a trip to the village some time ago Anteneh says he captured the moment to tell a story about the social cohesion he witnessed at the countryside, where the true color of the country is visible. 

"I took this picture to show the beauty of unity and togetherness, and the beauty of nature as well," said Anteneh.

“The platform provides us an opportunity to tell stories through photography,” he said. “You always have your phone with you, which means you can capture moments quickly and share your photos with hundreds of thousands of people.”

He says the group also helped him meet new people with the same passion for photography and get some professional feedback to improve his skills”

“Our Ethiopia ”, a photography exhibition hosted by Bored Cellphone Addis Ababa, from March 02 to 06, 2022 showcased a collection of compelling photographs and stories by its members.

Pictures of holidays, colors, nature, streets, landscapes, events, food, architecture, portraits, and other themes, all of which were taken with smartphones, are featured in the exhibition, which presented a selection of photographs of BCAA  members participating in the contest.

The series of photographs exhibited demonstrate how smartphones enabled them capture moments in their lives at different times and places at ease and the right time. 

Hundreds of smartphone photographs captured by over 200 members were on display in rows.  Each photograph tells stories about a specific moment in time, about Ethiopia, and they all came together to relate the theme, “our Ethiopia”. 

Eyob Bezaneh, a professional photographer and digital artist is among members of BCAA who took part in the exhibition. "BCAA helps in promoting new photographers," he said. "I started photography a few months before BCAA came to life. I used to take photos and share them on my own social media platforms, but BCAA helped me reach a wider audience and that is really inspiring."

Bored Cellphone Addis Ababa (BCAA), a Facebook platform with over 120,000 members is currently working on creating a digital photography archive or library, according to the founders

Over 3000 BCAA members participate in the group as photographers, with the remaining members engaging and following in various ways. "We receive 200 photos per day and up to 1000 photos during holidays, all of which are taken with smartphones,"  Fikreselassie Tsegaye, founder of the BCAA told Addis Zeybe.

Now with the emergence of smartphones, the vast advancements in mobile phone camera technology, as well as the quick response culture that social media like Facebook and Instagram promote, make it more likely that users, regardless of profession, will be encouraged to take and share photographs. 

BCAA holds challenges on different themes like “helping” or “color blue” so that its members can be creative in the stories and moments they want to share. 

“We believe we have created a platform for people with the same mindset to come together,” Fikreselassie added. 

“The group has collected 170,000 photographs so far. Addis Abeba, for example, changes on a daily basis, and there are places you have never seen photos of in the three years since it was founded.”   

The invention of the smartphone has undeniably altered photography culture. People now use cell phones to capture their precious moments in life more often than not. BCAA members say smartphones have made it easier for amateurs to develop their skills in photography. 

“You are not a photographer simply because you own a camera. And just because you don't have a camera doesn't mean you aren't a photographer. As long as you have a passion for photography, you can hone your skills using cellphones, and when the opportunity arises, you will seize it,” Fikreselassie argued.

BCAA member Peniel Tafesse said, “ Cameras are expensive, and if you can capture moments through your phone, then why not? We receive professional comments on the photos we share on BCAA, we meet photographers and they teach me photography skills.”

Peniel has four of her photos displayed in the exhibition. One of her photos which shows priests chanting and singing inside a church was taken during her visit to Lalibela, a pilgrimage site for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and home to 11 medieval rock hewnt churches.

In addition to its professional influence on its members, BCAA is also developing the cultural demand for collecting and using photographs. 

“The exhibition helps in developing the culture of buying and using photographs for decorating your home, offices. We can't force people to buy photographs, but we can try to engage the community by giving away the photographs as game awards. When people want to buy, we only charge for the printing and the photographer fee. More than the sale, the photographers are pleased that their images are on display for all to see,” Fikreselassie said.