Hipstamatic plans launch of Foundation for Photojournalism

Hipstamatic plans to open the Hipstamatic Foundation for Photojournalism to "support photographic storytellers" who use smartphones to tell their stories, BJP can reveal

Olivier Laurent — 26 July 2012

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Synthetic, maker of the popular Hipstamatic application for iPhone, is expected to launch, later this year, a pack of digital lenses and films dedicated to photojournalists to raise funds for its newly created Hipstamatic Foundation for Photojournalism.

The Foundation will help educate and support “the next generation of photographic storytellers using smartphones with Hipstamatic to tell and broadcast their tales”, as the Foundation’s Facebook page reads.

In an interview with BJP in October 2011, Synthetic’s CEO, Lucas Allen Buick, explained: “The idea behind it is to create an educational platform, where professionals will be able give some of their time to educate up-and-coming photographers on how to go into Libya, for example, and not get shot.”

The launch will coincide with the release of the GoodPak of digital lenses and films specifically designed for photojournalists, which has been engineered with the help of photographer Benjamin Lowy.

With the GoodPak, Synthetic hopes to raise enough funds to finance the Foundation’s activities. “Stories have always been a large part of what Hipstamatic is about,” said Buick. “We have an opportunity to let photographers do the stories they want to tell and will be giving out grants to these photographers, so they don’t have to find publishers to finance their work.

“We’re still working on the logistics,” he added. “There will be a form that photographers can submit to apply for funding, and a board of experts will assess whether they should be funded. We still have to work out, among many other details, if these grants will be handed out once a month or quarterly.”

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The Foundation was first established in 2011, but BJP understands that Synthetic has yet to finalise its plans, and an official launch will not happen before autumn 2012.

This latest development comes as Hipstamatic has enjoyed unprecedented success since its December 2009 launch. In 2010, the iPhone found its way into the world of photojournalism, with an increasing number of photographers using the app to report from places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or the US. Some of the images they’ve brought back have won awards or ended up on the cover of The New York Times, among others, often leading to intense and at times acrimonious debates on the ethics of using the application.

That wasn’t lost on Buick. “In 2010, we started noticing all these photographers using Hipstamatic to document things,” he told BJP last year. “Damon Winter, a photographer for The New York Times, had four of his Hipstamatic images published on the front page of the newspaper, and then went on to win awards. This caused a huge amount of controversy in the industry, and we ended up getting involved in that debate. We needed to comment.”

When Buick created Hipstamatic with Ryan Dorshort, his goal was to make software that blurred the line between analogue and digital. “What I’ve seen in the last 15-20 years, in this transition from analogue to digital, is that we’ve actually lost a lot of the emotions you get from photography,” he said. “Now all these camera manufacturers are trying to perfect their cameras and their optics to get the perfect photo. They have ignored what the companies of the 1960s and 1970s were trying to do with, for example, Polaroid and the idea of instant – the fact that you could capture a feeling, as well as a document of what you were seeing. When we made Hipstamatic, we tried to preserve as much of that idea as we could.”

In fact, the idea of Hipstamatic came as Buick and Dorshort were running out of film for their Polaroid SX-70. “We thought it would be cool if you could get that feeling with an iPhone – a device you always have with you.”

And when the app was released, its success took everyone by surprise. “We had made Hipstamatic when my business partner and I were running a design studio. We were building websites for clients and wanted to have a product that went straight to customers,” said Buick. “We thought the iPhone marketplace was interesting because we didn’t need investors to get started, so we turned down a few client projects to work on the app. Our goal was to sell 5000 or 10,000 copies in a year, but then it took off so much faster than expected.” To date, the app has been downloaded more than four million times.

One of these users is Lowy, a Reportage by Getty Images photographer. “I’ve been kind of experimenting with an iPhone for the past four years, ever since it first came out,” Lowy told BJP earlier this year. “Then I discovered Hipstamatic two years ago and liked the idea that I didn’t have to do anything in post-production – the app sort of did it automatically.”

Lowy started shooting with it, mostly on the side, when he was home, for example. “It was a way to refresh my mental energies, as I was constantly shooting with a 35mm Canon. And then I received a film assignment – I hadn’t done one since I was in college. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to do it right, so I took a film camera, a bunch of chrome and I shot it, but I had my Hipstamatic with me, and I just shot a second body of work.” It turned out the client actually liked the Hipstamatic images the most and decided to use them.

“I realised there was something good going on,” said Lowy. “I started shooting other assignments with my iPhone. I’ve been in Afghanistan a few times, for example, but I really started using the app in Libya. I think I shot more with it than with my Canon.” When he came back, he sent an email to Hipstamatic’s communications director and “we started a dialogue”.

Lowy’s idea was to build a relationship that would develop into the production of a digital pack that would help assuage some of the negative feelings the app has created. “There’s a lot of bad feeling from certain purists in the photojournalism world who say Hipstamatic is not ethical and not representative of actual events,” said Lowy. “I wanted to create a look that didn’t have such variables and led to questions on the ethical implications of such photography.”

At that time, Synthetic had started to introduce GoodPaks – digital lens and film packs whose proceeds would go to charitable organisations. The Dali Museum GoodPak, for example, raised money to help the new Salvador Dali museum in St Petersburg. As for the We Heart Boobies GoodPak, it was released to coincide with and support National Breast Cancer Awareness month in the US. So when Lowy contacted Hipstamatic, “we thought we had a great opportunity to give back to the photojournalism community”, Buick told BJP.

The photojournalism GoodPak will consist of a new lens and film named after Lowy, BJP understands, and will have a more straightforward look and feel. “We went through a few of my images, and other photographers’ images, and basically tried to tone it down,” he said. In October 2011, Buick told BJP that the lens will have a bluish-green feel, while removing any “weird vignetting or spotting” from the final image. “The image will be clear,” he explained. However, BJP understands that the final result might differ.

For Lowy, it’s important to get it right. But, also, it doesn’t mean he will be using the app at all times. “I think there’s a danger of it becoming too cliché,” he said. “I don’t know what the future holds, but if I go back to Afghanistan or Libya, I’ll be using Hipstamatic there. If I go a new place, I’ll have to find a reason for using it. I felt like the Arab Spring really deserved to be shot with a mobile phone camera because that’s how it all broke out. It was apropos. As for Afghanistan, it’s much easier to shoot with a phone camera than a DSLR. There’s something much more intimate about it. But if I were to go to Russia, I might not find a reason to use Hipstamatic.”

For more information about Hipstamatic, visit www.hipstamatic.com.

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