Jonas Altman


Walk the Talk

Not surprisingly, due to his suspicion of the internet amongst many other things, our protagonist goes by the alias “Babycakes Romero” The namesake actually suits him well as I’ve come to appreciate how much Babycakes (it’s easier just to drop the Romero) personifies his character, as well as his signature work.

Computer Cuddles

He’s been taking photos all his life, and like myself, is utterly fascinated by people and technology and the effects one has on one another. Use it or abuse it, take delight or hold distrust — a smartphone is something we not only take for granted but I’d harbour to guess would struggle to function without.

Every time we receive that notification — an email, a text, a share, a like or a comment — we’re hit with a slight dopamine rush to the brain. This condition (or addiction depending on the degree of your dependence) often escalates on a reward-driven behavioural cycle.

The result can be needlessly checking your smartphone in upwards of 200 times a day in pursuit of, what Babycake’s has coined: a computer cuddle.

The magnitude of our obsession for these cuddles is no laughing matter, as a recent report from Ofcam claims Brits are now spending nearly 2 hours a day online via their smartphones.

However if we wanted to avoid the temptation all together, we could begin by getting rid of our smartphones all together. In fact this is increasingly an emerging practice with the rise in popularity of dumb-phones. For Babycakes it was simple, as he’s has never even owned one in the first place.

Always On

Courtesy of @kpbc @johnmaeda Design in Tech Report.

Not walking blindly down the street glued to a screen nor able to escape into a connected world at the drop of a hat — provided Babycakes with a unique perspective from which to see the proliferation of smartphones. Indeed, it does have that much dominance in the world: over 2 billion smartphones will be in use next year and a whopping 50 billion connected devices are predicted to be in use by 2020.

Going Viral

Photo Courtesy of @BabyCakesRomero

In an always on culture fuelled by the smartphone, Babycakes made his observations in a daily photo series.

Photo Courtesy of @BabyCakesRomero
Photo Courtesy of @BabyCakesRomero
Photo Courtesy of @BabyCakesRomero

As was routine, he initially posted the The Death of the Conversation gallery as part of his daily #MYLDN street photography series to be appreciated by his modest but dedicated subscriber base.

Photo Courtesy of @BabyCakesRomero

It was six months later, when Babycakes was prompted to re-post the gallery on a photography site that things changed. Fuelled by the magic of virality — first they went berserk in Columbia and within days like a contagion — the rest of the world.

Photo Courtesy of @BabyCakesRomero
Photo Courtesy of @BabyCakesRomero
Photo Courtesy of @BabyCakesRomero

In a perfect storm the media picked up on the gallery — reposting, scraping, sharing, featuring, interviewing and pretty much anything else you can do with such powerful imagery and a topic that resonates with so many. The irony of it all goes deep –statistically a majority of people viewing the galleries on the over 150 publications on which it was featured, did so, yes, on their smartphones. As well and most special of all, is that during a recent conversation Babycakes told me:

“..The funny thing is, I didn’t feel there wasn’t much to be done about it other than watch it happen and continue with what I’ve always done”

This sums it up, that with all of the hoopla — going from a three figure viewership to a six figure one — his working practice wasn’t affected. It was a project. A moment. And just a like blip, or a tweet, Babycakes was on to the next thing.

The BBC Saga

With gripping productivity and unbridled persistence, Babycakes has consistently put his work out to be enjoyed. For decades he has done so as a purist, with little regard for financial returns. I wanted to dig deeper as I wondered if the narcissistic lure of thinking that one might capitalize on temporary authoritarianism tempted him at all.

What I learned is that there was really just one moment that he cared about. Success was categorically defined for him by landing on the homepage of the BBC, his go-to news source. One spring day when this finally happened, he was pleased with himself. However the moment quickly passed as a trumped Maslow peak experience, and his newfound mission was to be rated number one in the ‘most popular’ section of the site.

Sadly the saga was short lived as he was derailed by amongst other headlines, the world’s first successful penis transplant.

It is this lightheartedness that has carried Babycakes over the decades — inventing and reinventing himself through his photography and pushing the creative boundaries. In his relaxed and unassuming manner, he continues to trod along just doing his thing. Nonetheless, I find it reassuring to see that others are taking notice:

“Babycakes Romero is for photography what Banksy is for graffiti”
- Klik Magazine
Photo Courtesy of @BabyCakesRomero
Photo Courtesy of @BabyCakesRomero

21st Century Marketing

Good things come to those who wait, or so the saying goes. Babycakes was recently invited to tell his story at TEDx. Though many have commented on the topic, no one has quite documented it with such visual force. Babycakes is one of the worst self promoters I’ve ever encountered and upon my mentioning this to him, his relaxed response was:

“You just have to believe that if you continue to produce good work it will get through and find its natural home.”

Indeed content marketing done correctly, is authenticity doing it simply because it matters. With a wealth of productions under his hat from script writing, producing short videos, and still taking his daily street photographs, it’s hard to imagine how Babycakes finds the time for it all. Well actually it isn’t really — after all you’ll never see him staring at his smartphone.

You can view the entire Death of the Conversation Gallery online here.

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