It was all an accident.
What a lucky one.
Joe Cunningham's always loved the first generation iPhone, and held onto it as long as he could. He liked the playing-card size, the keypad felt right in his hand.
Besides, the first iPhone is the one that turned everything upside down when Steve Jobs debuted it almost 10 years ago. That's the device that changed the world.
But Joe "used [his] to death," and about three years ago, it finally up and quit on him. Cunningham's brother, who works in a tech company, said he'd randomly found a first gen iPhone in a drawer in the office. No one wanted it, and he offered it to Joe for free.
Cunningham soon learned this particular iPhone was, for him, more magical even than the original. Stopping to take a photo of a street sticker that caught his eye, he was stunned at the image before him.
"At first I was like, 'WTF,'" says Cunningham, politely using the acronym for an obscene phrase. "And then I started using the camera on a daily basis."
Cunningham had no idea what drenched his photos in this technicolor bath, an effect he likens to seeing the city through an "acid flashback."
Was this a bug? Or a feature? Had someone modified the iPhone on purpose, or was it somehow broken?
All Joe knew was that he loved it.
"I have a massive collection of psychedelic art posters from the 60s," Cunningham says. "I find that whole aesthetic fascinating."
And addictive. Once Cunningham had the power to create such art with his own hands, he couldn't help himself.
He'd dabbled in amateur photography for the better part of 10 years, taking snaps of outdoors scenes, portraits, concerts. Equipped with his new, old, bizarre iPhone camera, Cunningham unleashed his eye on downtown Minneapolis.
Three times a week, Cunningham takes a bus to visit his father in a nearby nursing home. That bus route winds through the city's downtown, and due to construction, he's wound up traversing different streets -- Nicollet Mall, then 3rd Street, then Hennepin Avenue -- hundreds of times.
"I would shoot maybe 150 pictures while I was on the way there, to the nursing home, and then 150 pictures on the way back," Cunningham says. "And then at night, I'd have 300 pictures to go through and edit."
That prolific approach is why Cunningham now has 9,500 photos in his archive, a number of which can be seen on his aptly named "Psychedelicam" website. A while back, Cunningham picked out 720 of his best shots and assembled them for a slideshow at a private venue on Seward, where he presented as part of the "Roosterhouse" artist collective.
"It was really great to see people's reaction to it, and to get that validation, that I'm making good use of my time," he says, laughing.
And Cunningham's even learned a little more about what might've caused this fabulous filter: After he was interviewed by the "Cult of Mac" website, an expert commenter there diagnosed that it was probably either a glitch in the the camera's filtering or a hardware flaw that has the phone misinterpreting colors.
And beautifully, at that. Most people would've just thought it was an old, broken iPhone, and thrown it away. They would've missed the spectacular scenes he's captured: reflections off wet pavement on a rainy day, the hallucenogenic vision of a golden figure waiting at a fuschia bus stop, images foreign and familiar all at once.
Cunningham has often thought how fortunate it was that he, of all people, was the one who wound up with this broken phone. Then again, he credits fate with some of his favorite photos, too.
"Luck," says Cunningham, "is a real factor in photography."
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