AMITIAE - Wednesday 28 December 2011

Fotopedia Apps: Dreams of Burma; Images of North Korea; and Fotopedia Japan

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In June and July of 2011 I reviewed two apps from Fotopedia: a collaborative photo encyclopedia and online community. Later, in November, a third app -- on Japan -- was issued. With the closing of the AMITIAE site these items are no longer available there. As I am reviewing another app from the same developer, I am making the updated texts and some images from those earlier reviews available here.

Dreams of Burma

This is a free app from Fotopedia and, as we have come to expect from this source, the photos in the screen shots are high quality and delightful. However, the description tells us that the internet is needed and wifi preferred (for those with EDGE and 3G where it exists). Coupled with the size of the app (14.8MB) this suggests that most data is downloaded as requested by the user. The app is pure travel, so there are no comments on political problems or democracy or even a photograph of Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi, at least not in the shots I could see on the App Store.

To make sure I downloaded Dreams of Burma and put it on the iPad. There are scores of images that are available for the user to scan through (or better take time to examine) and I do not think there was a single unhappy face (a lot of smokers though). The app is in several sections with "Dreams of Burma" containing 739 photos; Shan State (82); Inle Lake (53); Landmarks (332 split into specific places); and Essential Burma. Each photo has information included, though this is usually hidden. A map focuses on the Shwegadon Pagoda, but we may add our own locations (if we are allowed to visit) and the we may add our own photos owing to the interactive nature of this app. A search feature can display content that refers to specific locations in the information downloaded.

On the iPad this works in portrait or landscape mode, but it is really designed for the wider aspect of landscape and for full screen display.

Images of North Korea: Fotopedia North Korea for the iPad

fotopedia I always travel with a camera, although I must admit that in recent months I have been relying more on the iPhone 4 than bothering to reach into my backpack to drag out my Nikon DSLR. I save that more for special occasions these days. Living in Thailand the opportunities for interesting photography are always there and when I used to ride motorbikes into places tourists are never seen, as much as I enjoyed the thrill of riding, I would make sure I stopped for those interesting shots. A problem is that there are so many who are better than me. For example in central Bangkok this week I saw an exhibition of photographs of traditional Thai dance where a book of the images was also on sale for a reasonable price.

The iPad has proved a remarkable display medium for Art (as I have been finding out in the last week) and for photography, with many apps featuring great images such as Life, The Guardian Eyewitness and National Geographic apps. We recently looked at the excellent Dreams of Burma and now another closed state, North Korea is featured in a similar Fotopedia app (Fotopedia North Korea for the iPad) with the work of Eric Lafforgue. Before downloading, I looked at the screenshots on the App store and at the information on the Fotopedia site which gives a complete rundown of the app, and of Eric Lafforgue.

There is no information about how Lafforgue managed to enter this secretive country on the site (see below), but the results are rather good. As well as the beauty of the images, tainted somewhat by the militaristic nature of many, or the uniformity of the subjects, the viewing of such photographs gives many of us a first look through the what remains of the rusting Iron Curtain.

The setup is identical to the Dreams of Burma app and like that app it is available for the iPhone and iPad. I am reviewing the iPad app here as such works deserve the larger screen. The controls are similar to those in Dreams of Burma and are easy to use. Images may be displayed in portrait or landscape mode either as full images or, by tapping the screen, with a description when the correct tool icon is touched. We can use the tools (which can be made to disappear when not needed) to go forward or backwards and to start a slideshow.

The slideshow is also available at the top (menu screen) level along with a link to all images. These are grouped (as with the Burma app) in locations or events and some natural overlapping occurs. These keyword groups (e.g. "North Korea> People> North Korean Men> North Hwanghae Province") enable quick navigating to a particular group of images. On the main page there are also links to Favourites, which we may add by clicking on a star icon with the toolset, as well as specific links to the Arirang Festival (Mass Gymnastics and Artistic Performance) and Propaganda. When viewing this or ay photograph, a list of thumbnails can be dispalyed by tapping a film-strip icon at top right of the screen.

The main menu also has a link to a Foreword by Barbara Demick, herself an author of books on North Korea, and it is here that the motivations of Lafforgue and how he managed to go to N. Korea (4 times). We also have icons on the Main menu to five other Fotopedia apps, including Dreams of Burma.

The images in this app are unsurprisingly of high quality, but for this secretive country it is the content that is most interesting. As well as the propaganda, the goose-stepping troops, the mass displays (with their own geometric beauties), the ugly architecture and the revolutionary monuments, there are some wonderful images of the people themselves going about everyday tasks. It is after all, for all the strutting and the posturing of governments, the people that make a country and we may all learn something here.

Many of the images that appear in the app are not included with the installation but downloaded while the user is viewing. On a number of occasions I found the app slowed down and rather than a photograph I was left with a spinning wheel

Images of Japan: Fotopedia Japan for the iPhone

fotopedia A few months ago I looked at two of the Fotopedia apps in the space of a couple of weeks: Dreams of Burma; and Images of North Korea. As both are closed countries, but have many stunning sights within their borders, the vicarious experience is delightful.

Also closed in a way, is Japan. Not that there are the same restrictions on travel or telecommunications that exist in North Korea or Myanmar, but parts of the society within Japan are so mysterious to us westerners that it is rare that someone from the West fully understands Japan. I read about Japanese Art for years, sampling the history and some of the politics, but only just scratched the surface.

Thank the gods then for organizations like PBS, the BBC, National Geographic and Fotopedia among others, whose skilled personnel visit such places and seek out the rare for our delight and education. I have been looking at a recent arrival in the series, Fotopedia Japan.

fotopedia Although this type of app is perhaps best on the iPad, mine is still inaccessible due to bBangkok's floods. My comments are therefor limited to what I can see on the iPhone. Like the other two apps I have downloaded and installed, the app needs internet access. When I first started this, there was a slight problem with carrier access, but experience told me that a restart of the iPhone would fix this. The circumstances are unique to my current location.

When the app opens there is a welcome screen which has a brief introduction to the country, ending "This is Japan. We are honored to be its gateway. Please see for yourself." Pressing a blue arrow on the screen begins the tour.

The contents are images taken by Norbert Woehnl (and the Fotopedia Community). There are two controls: Start Here; and Slideshow. A Narita link at the bottom of the page takes us to the same welcome page.

As suggested by the app, I tried Start Here and the first of some 500 images was displayed. This was the famous Nagoya Castle, viewed through cherry blossom. When first viewed, the image pages were in portrait mode (how we often use the iPhone) and to the left of the screen were several control icons. When in Landscape mode, some of these are displayed across the screen. Tapping a screen removes all controls and the image can be viewed as the photographer intended. The top one was Shuffle, which reorders the images displayed. Below this is a Slideshow icon. When a slideshow begins, tapping the screen reveals a Continue/Cancel dialogue.

fotopedia An icon for favourites is below Slideshow and this has the conceit of a personal journey, so a user can select specific images to create a personal view: perhaps to plan for a future journey. To assist with this idea, the Globe icon below reveals the location of the photograph being viewed on a Google Maps panel within the app. An Information icon ("i") displays a text description of the current image, while a Search icon (like a magnifying glass) allows users to examine an index of regions, each of which is then sub-divided into areas. Photographs taken in those specific locations are then shown. As an example, I selected Hokkaido and then Kushiro, which displayed two images only, of the beautiful Red-crowned Crane that can be seen there. A Copyright symbol bottom left reveals the name of the photographer, in this case Alastair Rae.

At the top of the screen is a Back button to the left, a description of the scene in the center and two controls to the right. The first which has an icon like a person, takes the user to the Trips pages. The other is the standard iOS export icon and we may send to Twitter or Facebook, send by email or save as wallpaper. When sent by email, images were 480 x 320 in JPG format. Saved as Wallpaper and imported via Photostream to Aperture, images were 1594 x 1080 (560KB).

There are currently eight Fotopedia apps listed in the App Store here (plus the new arrival Fotopedia Wild Friends) and each is available for iPad or iPhone. Some of these, like Fotopedia Japan, are free. While the iPhone with its Retina Display does a good job of producing the images for our viewing, the iPad with its larger screen area is a far better experience with this sort of app. As a rough comparison, reading a book on the iPhone is possible, but on the iPad it is clearer and easier to absorb. The same is so for such apps as these excellent Fotopedia issues, beautiful as they are on both.



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