“A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine. Fabulous!”Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film maker
by Beth Lilly
When cell phone cameras first came out, I saw this new technology as an opportunity to directly interact with my audience. Instead of putting an exhibition up on a wall, I could make photographs for individuals with my cell phone and send directly to them. Starting in 2006, I began a project to do just that. Loosely based on fortune telling, I presented myself as an oracle and artist who would take photographs for callers that, theoretically, answered their personal question. Via email word-of-mouth, I invited the general public to call my phone on the seventh day of the month. Since the idea was for me to randomly create images for them, they were instructed to keep their question secret from me. The other rule was that, whatever my location when they called, that was my starting point to make three unique images and email to them. The caller was instructed to reply to the email and reveal their question. Questions were paired with their images and posted on the project blog, The Oracle@WiFi. I now text the images and post on Instagram (theoracleatwifi) For me, the best thing about this project is how people get really engaged in examining
the images, coming up with theories and comparing those with friends. It’s rare to see people give that much scrutiny to photographs. The book, “The Oracle@Wifi” compiles the most compelling results of that original six-year experiment. The resulting pairings of text and random images often suggest answers that are highly clever or amusing and sometimes even profound. Many callers wanted to know my thoughts on possible meanings. For the most part, callers were not people who were usually involved in the arts; they just wanted their fortune told. So I used that as a teaching moment to talk about visual language and how to unpack meaning from an image. All my answers had the caveat “I am an artist, not a psychic! Do not make any decisions based on this art project!!” Here are some of my favorite “readings” from the book and in the captions, I’ve included my personal and highly subjective observations. If people want to participate in the project, I am now taking calls on the last Monday of each month. Complete instructions are on the website, www.oracleatwifi.com.