Documentary photographers are embracing the iPad, having struggled to get their long-term projects into print. With the iPad’s immersive viewing environment and an entirely new cost model that lets them bypass traditional media altogether, it’s little surprise to see photographers favour the tablet. Olivier Laurent talks to four early adopters.
Migration has always fascinated Kadir van Lohuizen. “People move to different places for all kinds of reasons, be it economical, political or because of conflict,” says the Dutch photographer, one of the founding members of the Amsterdam-based agency, Noor. “The idea for this project came about four years ago. I wanted to do something bigger about migration issues, and I wanted to do it in this part of the world,” he says, referring to the Americas.
His goal is to travel from Chile to Alaska in one year. “We get very little news about Latin America, while I think it’s an incredibly interesting continent right now.” But van Lohuizen faced a familiar problem for such an ambitious undertaking – how to fund it. “As soon as you say ‘migration’ to magazines and newspapers, you don’t really get them excited, especially if it’s a long-term project such as this one.”
Last year, when Apple had yet to announce the iPad but everyone knew it was coming, van Lohuizen contacted Paradox, a non-profit organisation specialising in large- scale projects and exhibitions. “I thought they were capable of thinking out of the box and we were talking about this thing, this device that was probably coming. And we felt that we could use this project of mine with this device.” A year later, in June 2011, the Via Pan Am iPad application arrived in Apple’s App Store, priced £2.39.
He is, of course, not the first photographer to realise the iPad’s potential to publish in-depth stories, bypassing traditional media and using the iTunes store to underwrite much of the costs. Photographers such as Carl de Keyzer and Christopher Anderson from Magnum Photos have launched iPad apps, as well as Brent Stirton working with Human Rights Watch.
But not all of them have taken the same approach to the device. Anderson, for example, wanted to reach a wider audience – people who could not necessarily find or buy his books. “Books are expensive, both to produce and to buy,” he tells BJP, echoing the sentiments of publisher Michael Mack, interviewed on page 89. “There’s only a finite number of books available, and it occurred to me that there was a potential to reach an infinite audience.” Earlier this year, he released his latest book, Capitolio, as a print and iPad product, adding extras such as a director’s cut interview that “provides a unique insight to the work”.
Fit for purpose
He admits, though, that the app is very straightforward. “I want to have the book as it appears in print with some added things that could only be possible in that medium, such as a video interview.”
Van Lohuizen chose a different approach. “I think the main problem with apps is that people think, ‘How do we get a magazine or a newspaper into an app?’ Via Pan Am is really an attempt to produce something with the iPad in mind and make use of its possibilities,” he tells BJP.
The application was built as a diary of van Lohuizen’s travels across the Americas, regularly updated with new stories, interviews and slideshows. “The app was ready in May, but we only went public in June, because there were too many bugs in the first version. We wanted it to work properly before a wider audience saw it. I didn’t want to get trashed for an app that wasn’t working.”
The Via Pan Am concept also meant that van Lohuizen had to change the way he worked. “I’m editing these stories and writing the captions as I always do, then I send them over to Holland where they are uploaded to the app. But what I did discover is that, while doing edits, I really had to take into account the fact that I’m doing this for the iPad,” he tells BJP. “Normally when I do edits, I think about pages in a magazine or a book – I can start with a double spread, then one image on one page, two smaller images on the next one, and so on. With the iPad, it’s very different. You’re swiping through and every image has the same format, it occupies the same space. So, to build a story, I need to think differently; you don’t want people to get bored halfway through the story. You have to build it in a different way. You have to make sure that they remain curious.”
He adds that the great thing about the iPad is that videos and audio can be integrated to the stories – although van Lohuizen has yet to upload audio to his app. “The audio is not perfect at the moment; we’re still working out how we’re going to integrate it because the problem is, if you move from one image to another, it stops the audio. We’re sorting out whether we want the audio to be linked to a specific image or an entire slideshow, for example.” But overall, van Lohuizen believes that the iPad is an ideal device. “I can use text, blogs, maps, video, audio, stills and it’s all in this one thing.”
Carl de Keyzer is of the same mind. For the past year he has been working on an iPad application for a book to be released next year. But, in the meantime, he has re-released his book Zona on the device – and the Belgian photographer had three reasons to do so. Firstly, he believed in the device; secondly, he wanted to make his out-of-stock books available to new audiences; and lastly, he wanted to correct something that had gone completely wrong in the past.
“Zona was first published in 2003,” he tells BJP. “And I was very unhappy with that book, mainly because of the printing quality – something had gone terribly wrong and all the pictures looked way too blue and way too green. That was not my intent.” With the iPad, you get a second chance, he says. De Keyzer could rework all of his images, but also add more – the iPad version of Zona packs in more than 200 images that were not published in the printed version. “Some people say that adding that many extra pictures is diluting the work, but I think that most people are happy with that because it shows them very clearly how the initial selection was made – why this picture is in the original book and the other is not.” Also, it’s a chance to make corrections, he says. “When you make a book you have three months to make a selection. Two or three years after, you might regret your edit. You don’t usually get that second chance.”
Before releasing Zona, de Keyzer had to get past a few hurdles, the main one being his own voice. “I’m not a native English speaker so, when I was narrating, it became a bit too monotonous,” he admits. “We decided to ask a real English person to narrate it. He’s pretending to be me, but it works much better in terms of intonations. The text comes alive.” There’s also the issue of selecting the right content for the app. “The problem with iPad apps is that you can put a lot of content in there, but it can affect the structure. You need interactivity, of course, but you can’t include too much of it, otherwise people get lost in it.”
Van Lohuizen was faced with the same problem. “The iPad offers a lot of possibilities, but we learnt very quickly that we shouldn’t make use of all the device’s features. For example, the fact that you can turn the iPad around – we felt it might be distracting for this particular project. You should only use a feature if you know why; if it has a function. In most cases, less is more.”
While Anderson, de Keyzer and van Lohuizen all agree that they will continue to use the iPad to showcase their work, they are all cautious about the price of developing an application.
“I don’t think Via Pan Am is going to be a huge financial success,” says van Lohuizen. “I think we sold 1000 apps, which is already better than what a lot of people said.” De Keyzer, on the other hand, needs to sell between 2000 and 2500 apps to break even. “It’s expensive to develop an iPad app, and mine was not a PDF-type application. It cost us around €12,000 to produce it. But, I think I will cover the costs in a year or so.” The good thing, though, is that he’ll be getting 70 percent of all revenues (after Apple takes its 30 percent cut), which “is actually a lot more than the 10 percent you get when publishing a traditional book.” “Sometimes I think that we’re far too early – a lot of people don’t have an iPad,” says van Lohuizen. “But I think in the future, it could definitely be a model for photographers. We should be able to fund projects thanks to the device. If enough people buy the app, if you have 20,000 apps sold, you’re getting somewhere.”
Danfung Dennis doesn’t believe that photographers should limit themselves to images when developing an iPad app. The freelance photographer, who is expected to release his first feature film later this year, is currently developing the Condition One app.
Condition One combines “the power of the still image, the narrative of films and the emotional engagement of tactile experiences to create a new language that is so immersive, it will shake viewers out of their numbness to traditional media and provide them with a powerful, emotional experience”.
In essence, the app, which will be released later this year, allows iPad users to control what they are seeing on the screen by pivoting their devices. For its first “issue”, Dennis has enlisted conflict photographer Patrick Chauvel, who filmed his reports in Libya using a custom-made system of five cameras. While the main camera records what’s in front of the photographer, the four additional devices also record what’s happening above and below him, as well as on his left and right. The footage is then brought together, allowing viewers to move around a scene by moving their iPad, and get the full experience. “Instead of opening a window to glimpse another world, we are attempting to bring the viewer into that world as an active participant,” says Dennis.
This is the future. “The market is changing,” says van Lohuizen. “We’re very aware of this, and we are learning from each other. It’s only the beginning. We know that more and more people will be consuming content on these devices. It’s just starting.”