Innovative ideas for cultural and creative sectors in Europe

Laapse: Rephotographing Sofia

Picturize Your City

Laapse is a continuous then-and-now photography web platform that allows people to explore various viewpoints in Sofia, Bulgaria at different stages. The aim is to record a continual visual history of the ever-changing built & natural environment of the city and empower people by giving them a new tool to interact with the cultural heritage.

Innovation

Lapse (n. A period of time; an interval)   Rephotography (n. The act of repeat photography of the same site, with a time lag between the two images) --- Laapse.com will empower people by offering them a new tool for cultural heritage preservation. How it works: The Laapse Team will be always on the hunt for historical images of Sofia and will partner with key organizations facilitating that process. The pictures will be then geotagged to their exact original shooting location with the use of GPS technology.   Users of the site will be able to find a nearby viewpoint (or create a new one), shoot a picture of that particular scene and add it to the viewpoint's timeline. With time each viewpoint will build up a visual log, recording each change it has gone through. These changes might include specific buildings, infrastructure, street furniture, nature, whole cityscapes and even people. This creates an exciting new tool that people and organizations can use in order to keep track of the built environment and empowers them to react to those changes. So far experience shows that when comparing different pictures the changes in the cityscape are surprising, even in short periods of time. Laapse will be innovative in another way too: by creating a rephotography platform that photography enthusiasts can use to showcase their work and have an experience very different from other sites.

Technology

The ICT used for the idea can be divided into three groups: website, mobile app and GPS-geotagging. The website will be a crowdsourced platform with dynamic content and will be handling large databases and using cloud storage for the great number of pictures. The content will be filtered based on keywords, popularity, years, number of pictures, upvotes, shares etc. The site will also have an implemented Google Maps API and will be able to use browser-based location to find nearby viewpoints. EXIF data will be pulled from the pictures and shown on the website. The site's framework should allow responsive design to make sure it looks good on different devices and resolutions. All of the above will apply for the mobile app with an accent of nearby viewpoints (using the phone's location) and will also have a camera screen to capture pictures on the go. The screen will have an optional transparent overlay of the original picture, so that the people would capture exactly the same scene. The apps can be developed for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. The Laapse team will use GPS technology to pinpoint the exact shooting location of the historical images.

Target Group

Main target groups: people with a passion for photography, architecture, urbanism and socially active people. The target is regular users of one or more of these websites: Flickr, Panoramio, Foursquare, Instagram, Geocaching or the local Photo-Forum.net, LostBulgaria.com, Stara-Sofia.com (En: Old Sofia). Flickr's ‘Then and Now' pools and some Facebook pages show that there is a huge interest in rephotography but the limitations of the site are too many: you can't see the location on a map, you must use photo editing software to make a collage of the pictures and no one can add additional pictures to that particular viewpoint, leaving it with a maximum of two. Laapse will provide that audience with a platform specially designed for rephotography with no such limitations. Some people may need to show off their skills in the photography world and shooting the best pictures from the same viewpoint provides a great base for that. Users will be able to upvote a picture, making it a cover of that particular viewpoint: thus the author gains esteem and the others strive to make a better shot. Laapse will also provide civil society with a platform to visually illustrate people's concerns for the city and the changes it goes through, in addition to the regular Facebook and blog posts. Reaching the target group can be done through the web and also, being local in Sofia, through real life meetings at different events, club gatherings, university workshops etc.

Implementation

The next steps will be to create a dream team, build the website/apps and secure an investment. At the same time, to acquire historical imagery (or the rights to use such images) and information about certain buildings and spaces in the city. This step is already happening with great success and with positive reactions from different organizations. I'd be grateful to be able to partner with the following ones: ICOMOS Bulgaria UNESCO Bulgaria Sofia 2019 Candidate for European Capital of Culture National Institute for Immovable Cultural Heritage History and Theory of Architecture Department at University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy, Sofia Regional Studies Department at the Sofia City Library Sofia Museum of History Museum of Architecture at the National Polytechnic Museum National Library of Republic of Bulgaria Sofia Municipality Old Sofia blog The images should be analyzed and their original shooting location pinpointed on a map using GPS technology. New accurate pictures from the same viewpoint will be taken as an example. At the same time we should be gaining popularity, improving the idea, technology and monetization strategy.

Sustainability

This idea offers something that, surprisingly enough, has not been done yet, which gives us a head start before any competition arrives. In the long run the idea could grow to include other cities in Europe, USA, Asia and eventually the world. If every growth stage happens as a separate campaign, we would build strong partnerships with many local and international organizations, which is very important for sustainability. Of course, apart from offering a great user experience and a new tool for cultural heritage preservation, in order to exist the site should benefit the people keeping it up. Experience shows that ideas constantly evolve and they become clearer and more focused with time. Having a great monetization strategy at this early stage would be useful but is not a must, as better monetization solutions will arise with the development of the project. Nevertheless, there is a variety of options that can be considered from the start: Offering a paid product: a book/album; printed posters of exciting then/now comparisons, or serving as a paid stock image bank - all of these would provide payment to the image author, which might attract a lot of photographers. A paid service: professional accounts for photographers who want their pictures featured and contact information visible to the public as an ad. The same might apply for architecture and construction companies whose work is showcased in the pictures. Affiliate links: selling photography equipment.