Ireland is at the centre of a technological shift affecting something almost all of us use every day: our smartphone’s camera. This month in Galway, some of the most talented smartphone photographers, journalists, and storytellers will gather again.
MojoFest is the successor to RTÉ’s three-year-running Mojocon. Both events focus on Mobile Journalism, also known as Mojo.
“Look at the trends in the growth of smartphone photography,” says founder Glen Mulcahy. “There’s a growing appetite… to take better photographs.”
Mulcahy is the driving force behind both conferences, before while he worked at RTÉ and after he left. RTÉ is a sponsor, though since this year’s event is no longer directly under the broadcaster’s umbrella, Mulcahy says he is able to branch out from a strictly journalism-focused conference.
In addition to sessions about how journalists can use mobile phone cameras to tell stories, Mojofest will have an extra emphasis on smartphone filmmaking as well as video marketing.
A lot of the technology isn’t new: people have been telling stories with phones for a decade now. However, how people use the tech is constantly evolving. Cameras that were once a way for newcomers to show off their skills are now getting more experienced users.
Earlier this year, Hollywood director Stephen Soderbergh released the feature film Unsane, shot entirely on an iPhone. Soderbergh has said saving money was not the main reason why he chose a phone over more expensive cameras. Instead, he wanted to use the smaller technology to add suspense and get into smaller spaces the expensive cameras couldn’t fit.
Hollywood isn’t alone. Mulcahy says he’s ecstatic Duncan Stone, a highly acclaimed cinematographer from BBC will speak at Mojofest. Stone is leading an effort to equip some of the most experienced photojournalists at BBC with Mojo gear.
“Almost everyone else has used Mojo as an entry-level platform for upscaling people who otherwise don’t shoot,” says Mulcahy. “BBC’s approach is the absolute polar opposite. It’s a case where these guys already have €18,000 cameras. They’re also gifted aesthetic creators.”
Also new this year, Mulcahy says they’ll honour some of the best Mojo creations of the past year. The Mojofest awards, he says, will be informal but an important recognition for content creators.
What starts here
Ireland is the perfect place for experimentation. We have easy access to new technologies and a history of creative storytelling. As a small and well-connected country, with a well-established documentary filmmaking industry, it only makes sense for Ireland to be at the centre of this growing trend.
One advantage of Mojo is the democratising nature of the technology. It costs a lot less to use a phone than traditional cameras.
One of the amazing trends in the last few years has been the growing community journalism efforts in communities without news organisations: rural towns and less developed nations.
A lot at stake
Despite a successful programme for three years in a row, Mojofest almost didn’t happen. Since leaving RTÉ to start his own Mojo training business, a lot of the responsibilities covered by the broadcaster fell on Mulcahy.
“It really does change things when you have to do everything yourself,” says Mulcahy. “Oh my God.”
Opening up to the 4,500+ members Mojocom (Mobile journalism community) Facebook group in March, Mulcahy was honest about the financial struggles to make an event like this happen. The community stepped up. So did Mulcahy, who invested his own personal money and managed to get corporate sponsors.
“It’s been a steep learning curve over the last six months.”
Why a conference focused on smartphone journalism and photography matters
While much of the event’s focus is aimed at professional journalists, marketers, and videographers, the discussions at Mojofest will have a trickle-down effect on a wide variety of people. After all, when was the last time you posted a video or photo to a social media platform.
“With the youth audience, certainly in my experience, they’re all want to be vloggers,” says Mulcahy. “They all want to be [Youtube personality] Casey Neistat. It’s alarming and interesting at the same time. They’re all over digital content creation.”
“They’re shooting short films. They have no barrier to entry or fear.”
The people attending Mojofest in Galway are some of the most talented and pioneering men and women in the craft. Mulcahy says the event and the online community give those content creators a platform to connect, share advice, and seek feedback.
Reflecting the community
As a member of the Mojocom Facebook group, I’ve had the chance to see Mulcahy’s process to make Mojofest a reality. He regularly seeks presentation ideas and advice. It’s a community-led event. He did make a concerted effort to feature women in the conference.
“I’ll put my hands up. When I organised Mojocon 1, I didn’t think for a second about gender diversity, or for that matter culture or religious diversity, or ethic diversity. None of that was on the agenda.”
As a result, about 70 per cent of the speakers that first year were men.
Several female content creators and business leaders whom Mulcahy respects challenged him to do better. He says those women actively helped him not repeat the same mistakes.
He went into Mojofest seeking at least gender parity, though it seems more women than men may end up presenting.
Still, always looking for ways to improve, Mulcahy admits he could do better, specifically seeking out speakers from a wider variety of ethnicities.
“That’s my fault,” says Mulcahy. “You learn every time. You kind of f*** up every time to a certain extent. You need to be able to walk away and be critical and say ‘I can do better.’”
It is in that spirit of constant improvement, Mojofest will provide new updates and exciting trends in the field. That’s the advantage of an outlet like mobile journalism: you’re only as good (or bad) as your last story. What matters is that you keep working at it. It’s only fitting that Ireland hosts such an event.