E-Project: A Photo Monograph as iPad App
JUNE 02, 2011
By Holly Stuart Hughes
Published in 2009, Capitolio presents photographer Christopher Anderson’s view of the violence, unrest and sensuality in Caracas, Venezuela, under President Hugo Chavez in multilayered, high-contrast black-and-white images that match the intensity of their subject. The book carries the reader from cloud-rimmed mountains to shadowy alleys, from mass political rallies to the stage of a strip club. Thanks to some positive reviews and a lot of press, Capitolio sold better than many photo books: close to 3,000 copies.
That might have been the end of the story, but last fall Anderson bought an iPad. He started browsing through publications converted to apps, and thinking about how the iPad presents material. “It’s different from something on the Internet, where there are related links and suddenly you’re on another page. It held you in this one experience, like a book does,” he notes. “You have to click a button and literally shut the app down to get out of it, which is like closing the book and putting it on the shelf.”
Anderson also began thinking about the iPad’s touch-screen navigation, and how it allows viewers to move fluidly through a series of images. He had sequenced the photos in Capitolio with film editing in mind. He ran photos across the gutter in many spreads so one photo flowed into another, and in one sequence, he showed increasingly tight crops of the same image, suggesting a camera zooming in on a subject—an effect that, on an iPad or iPhone, could be achieved with the touch of a finger. “The structure of the book lent itself quite well to the swiping feature” of a touch screen, he explains.
What most excited Anderson about creating an app, however, was the chance to disseminate Capitolio to new audiences. “The book form was the ultimate statement of this body of work, but only 3,000 copies were printed and it was expensive to buy,” he says. “I thought: Wouldn’t it be great if a much wider audience could experience that?”
In April, Capitolio, the first photographic monograph adapted to the iPad and iPhone, went on sale in the Apple iTunes store for $4.99. The app features a facsimile of the printed book, additional photos not included in the print edition, and a video interview with Anderson conducted by the late photojournalist Tim Hetherington, a friend of Anderson’s.
To create the app, Anderson hired Justin Stahl, a graphic designer in Champaign, Illinois, whom he met through a mutual friend. Stahl had previously created a few apps, including a manual for graphic designers. He began working on Capitolio in December, after Anderson sent him a copy of the print edition and all the image files, sized to Stahl’s specifications.
Stahl modeled the app’s typefaces, colors and design elements on those found in the print edition. For example, a motif that borrows a detail from one of Anderson’s images of a graffiti-covered wall appears in the introduction to the book, and is also repeated throughout the app.
In planning how to present the book and its extra features, Anderson and Stahl continued the cinematic feel, and came up with the idea of presenting it like a “director’s cut” of a movie on a DVD. Stahl created a scroll bar that appears at the top of the screen to help the viewer navigate between sections: the book, the video interview, an interactive slide show displaying extra photos. Says Anderson, “I wanted it to feel like you were looking through scraps on the cutting room floor.”
“I learned a particular lesson working on the app I did before this,” Stahl says. “You want to do the iPad version first” before designing the iPhone version. It’s easier, he says, to scale down the app for the iPhone than it is to calculate how much to enlarge the type, navigational buttons, and white space around photos to fit the iPad. After programming the iPad app, Stahl says, “for the iPhone, you just strip away what’s not needed.”
For the video interview, Anderson recorded a conversation he had in which Hetherington asked him questions that illuminate his approach to capturing his experiences in Caracas. “We sat down and had conversations on different topics: Hugo Chavez, Venezuela, propaganda, politics, the notion of journalism and art,” Anderson recalls. He edited their conversation weeks before Hetherington’s death in April while covering the fighting in Libya.
It took Stahl only a matter of weeks to prepare and program the app. Then Anderson registered as an “app developer” with Apple and submitted the paperwork to have the apps sold through the iTunes store. Anderson wrote a description of Capitolio, with input from Stahl, who suggested listing the features included with the app. One compromise had to be made to get the app accepted: A photo of the nude torso of a woman in a strip club, which appears in the book, had to be deleted from the app. Apple has a strict no-nudity policy.
Stahl and Anderson had long discussions about how to price the app. On the one hand, the book sells for $75; on the other, most apps in the iTunes store sell for $.99. “I tried to think, ‘What is my threshold for buying things?’,” Anderson says. “If you’re curious, it’s not a big investment. At $4.99, you’ll check it out.”
Stahl notes that the price is high for an app, but says he advised Anderson that at a lower cost, he might not make back his investment. “He’s going after a niche market,” Stahl notes. He adds, “Most of those 99 cent apps, people buy them and a month later forget they have them. I said, ‘This book is fantastic. Price it higher and feel proud of it. People will pay for it.’”
Anderson is pleased with the price, since his goal was to make his project appealing and accessible to a variety of readers, including students. “There’s no way my book could be on the course requirement for a class on photography or book making, but with an app, you can have everyone in the class have it and share it. That to me was an interesting application.”
Since the Capitolio iPhone and iPad apps hit the market, they’ve gotten press on both photography and technology blogs. Stahl notes, “Since it came out I’ve gotten e-mails from photographers, at least two every single day.” He won’t say how much he charges to create an app, but he does say that it requires a lot more work than dropping images into a readymade template. “I wrote every line of code in this,” he says. “The last thing I would want to have happen is for the app store to have thousands of photographic monographs that all look the same.”
Though he’s pleased with the app and with the way his black-and-white prints look on screen, Anderson says, “I absolutely prefer paper. There’s something about the three dimensionality, the depth and the smell of paper.” Noting that he has a collection of photo books, he adds, “I see iPad apps as an augmentation of photo books, not a substitute.”
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