“Memory of Colors” by Jaime Ocampo-Rangel

A version of this article has also been published on the photography site The Luminous Landscape.

Memory of Colors is the name of large-scale ongoing photography project by the Colombian/French photographer Jaime Ocampo-Rangel. His wife Lia Ocampo-Rangel, a videographer, also contributes to the project.

The project involves recording portraits of individuals from distinctive cultures in remote parts of the world. The photographs show individuals or small groups of people against a monochromatic background. The color of the studio-like backdrop plays a major role in the project because Ocampo-Rangel associates different cultures with different dominant “natural” colors. This can be based on the color of their skin, their clothing, their ornaments or something more abstract.

Girl from Ethiopia's Mursi tribe against a dark brown background (c) Jaime Ocampo-Rangel

The resulting photographs have been displayed as larger-than-life prints at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris and at a Paris art gallery, Polka. A collection of 1300 pictures has just been released in collaboration with Fotopedia in the form of an iPhone/iPad app. There are plans for a traveling exhibition on a Memory of Colors sailing boat that will tour six continents starting in late 2010.

A man with a mission

The indigenous people covered by the project are gradually disappearing: they are losing their cultural identity by merging with other cultures and due to their constant exposure to global cultural influences.

An extreme example is the impact of the discovery of oil in the Arabian peninsula. In the span of less than 50 years, this changed relatively isolated sheikdoms struggling to get by, into an affluent nation with bustling financial centers (Dubai, Abu Dhabi).

A more sweeping historical example is the colonization of much of the world by a series of seafaring European superpowers (Spain, Portugal, France, the United Kingdom, and The Netherlands) between the 16th and 19th centuries. This  lead to the introduction of new cultures, new languages, new religions, new industries and above all new rulers for many continents and subcontinents.

The goal of the Memory of Colors project is to record the disappearing world heritage from the perspective of a former fashion photographer, Jaime Ocampo-Rangel. Jaime also hopes the project will increase the world’s awareness of the value of these cultures among the general public, the indigenous peoples themselves and their respective governments.

This quest is quite similar to that of the Canadian ethnographer Wade Davis (a National Geographic staff member) who stresses that the disappearance of cultural diversity in what he calls the ethnosphere is much more dramatic than the ongoing disappearance of biological diversity in the biosphere. Wade Davis held an impressive 20 minute lecture on endangered cultures at the 2003 TED conference that can be viewed online.

The Photographer

Jaime Ocampo-Rangel was born in Colombia (yes, in South America), and subsequently lived in Miami, Spain, New York and now Paris. In his earlier period he became an accomplished fashion and advertising photographer. As his work from this period is becoming increasingly tricky to find (because he has switched to a very different type of work), I have included one example here.

Example of commercial photography by Jaime Ocampo-Rangel

His transition from Vogue-style fashion photography to almost National Geographic-style photography started in 1999 when he met and photographed the Kogui people of Colombia. The Koguis stayed relatively uninfluenced by the Spanish rulers and by modern society because they withdrew to the mountainous Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region and avoided contact with “modern” society. Ocampo-Rangel now describes his encounter as “a spiritual and artistic revelation” that lead him to seek out and document such cultures around the world. The project has been ongoing over the past 12 years, initially in parallel to his glamor photography.

It is worth noting that Ocampo-Rangel is not a typical documentary photographer: he has a specific message he wants to convey and he uses his photographic stills to convey an emotional message to the viewer. The still images are thus not intended to tell a story together with a writer’s text and thus differ from the journalistic approach used by say National Geographic or an award-winning Dutch documentary photographer Ilvy Njiokiktjien (who also photographed African tribes like the Mursi depicted above).

Ocampo-Rangel is also not a trained anthropologist or ethnographer like Wade Davis (who also does photography). Although the two think along surprisingly similar lines, Ocampo-Rangel doesn’t worry about scientific niceties like whether the holy Sadhu’s of India or folkloristic French villagers belong to the same category as indigenous tribes such as the Kogui or the Tuaregs of the Sahara. Jaime Ocampo-Rangel is more a portrait photographer with an eye for striking images who wants to convey the message of the disappearing human diversity to a global audience.

To better understand what drives him, you may want to watch one of the video clips made by Jaime and his wife. Jaime’s narrative, with a voice reminiscent of both Sir David Attenborough (the confiding whispering tone) and Jacques Cousteau (the enthusiasm and the accent), give you some impression about his goals and hopes.

Fotopedia’s iOS App

The Fotopedia Memory of Colors app, released on Feb 23, runs on the iPhone and the larger iPad. It costs only 3$ (initially even less). The interactive app covers over 1300 images of 40 cultures throughout the world – obviously significantly more than what can be shown at expositions or even in a book.

The Fotopedia Memory of Colors app on the iPhone

As all Fotopedia products, Memory of Colors allows you to browse the photographs while accessing corresponding Wikipedia articles and Google maps markers. The Google Maps markers are not intended for zooming in and finding exactly where the images were taken: the “pins” just show a general area rather than a specific village or valley. This may be intentional. Many of the tribes are small, and tourism would further impact their way of life.

Fotopedia’s software is easy to use and allows you to browse the images in different ways, the most important here being per culture or per country (see screenshot). To my taste the images could have been more rigorously selected. Sometimes you find very similar images, or even alternative crops of the same photo. This is obviously not a big deal because the browsing is fast and you are free to browse any way you like. But it would have been nicer to distinguish between photos that are worth exhibiting or including in a photo book and those which are useful if you want to actually study the people.

The overall app can be seen as an iPad-based equivalent of  a coffee table book or National Geographic (which is to some degree a coffee table magazine). The information about some tribes is very limited (because of limited Wikipedia content). There is no information from the photographer about individual photographs or photo shoots – unlike what you would expect in a real documentary. To my surprisingly you can save/post/e-mail medium-resolution copies of the images. Photography buffs may be pleased that the EXIF information about lenses and ISO and shutters speeds is still intact.

Photographic Equipment

Although the impact of fancy photographic equipment is overrated by most amateur photographers, it is worth describing the setup that Jaime uses – if only because he lugged this equipment to various remote deserts, the Andes mountains and Siberia. And to highlight the similarity with the equipment used in fashion photography.

The camera is a medium-format Hasselblad camera with, for example, a 100 mm lens (70 mm in full-frame terms). The digital back on the Hasselblad is one of various generations of Phase One digital backs. The backdrop and reflector panels are standard studio stuff. The lighting is normally a single strip-shaped Elinchrome softbox (obviously battery-powered). As in the blue image below, you can see traces of a reflector on the left side of the face. Jaime mentioned that he used to lug 100 kilograms of equipment around, but that he now travels lighter.

The Colors

Colombian (Guambianos) girl (c) Jaime Ocampo-Rangel

The colors are an important part of the project. Although it sounds like something that  emerged at some point during the project, it is surprising that Ocampo-Rangel’s term

Rainbow of human existence

is echoed in (the much less artsy) Wade Davis’ phrase

Polychromatic world of diversity [of people]

I am unqualified to judge whether a color indeed matches the “spirituality” of a particular people, but the strong reliance on background colors does make a difference.

Note that in many cases the background color is consistent – even if the color doesn’t occur in one of the individuals clothing. But sometimes multiple colors are used for a single people. I suppose that a true artist should be allowed break rules, including his own.

It some of the less important images the background cloth is a distractingly wrinkled. As the cloth presumably can’t be ironed during a trip to the desert, it might help to either wrinkle it more (so that it becomes uniform) or to stretch the cloth to minimize the problem.

World Tour and Sponsorship

As you may have concluded by now, Jaime Ocampo-Rangel thinks big. His next major step in the Memory of Colors project is to travel around the world in a sailing boat. The trip is a combination of visiting more indigenous cultures and docking at major cities to display his work. Stills and video will be projected after dark onto the white sails of his boat. The purpose is to spread the word that these valuable cultures are vanishing.

The trip is supported by the UNESCO and other sponsors. The trip is currently planned to start at the Eiffel Tower (situated along the Seine River) due to its proximity to UNESCO’s Paris-based headquarters and to sail to South America (Brazil, Venezuela and his native Colombia), via Panama and the Panama Canal, to visit Australia, Asia, Africa, and to finally cross the Atlantic a second time to hold an exhibition at the United Nations building (situated along the East River in New York City).

In early March 2011 Jaime told me he had already received substantial sponsorship commitments from the UNESCO and other sources. This reassures me that Jaime has the skills to actually get such a dream off the ground. But the project is still searching for additional sponsorship from both individuals (“minimum contribution 5€”) and especially from organizations. This is not just money needed to finance the costs of the voyage, but also to pay for the facilities and time to convert the resulting raw photographic and video material into a book and especially a film for broadcast on various television networks.

The most obvious types of sponsors that come to my mind include (note that I don’t know the list of current sponsors):

  • magazines and museums related to travel and the peoples of the earth,
  • government agencies committed to the welfare of cultural minorities,
  • companies that are strongly associated to color and its emotional impact (paint, fashion, lighting…),
  • the photography industry,
  • the broadcasting, publishing and movie industries (the movie and book side), and
  • travel agencies that specialize in responsible forms of tourism (a tricky one?).

Last but not least, donations can also be done by providing what Jaime called “professional skills”. That is how I got into fixing some of the more glaring bugs in his English (these kind of details don’t have priority for the master). So, for example, support from a professional copywriter or advertising agency would really help get things rolling. The web page on sponsoring indicates how you can contact Jaime. It is OK to contact me about this topic if you have questions, but keep in mind that I do not represent him. I am merely occasionally in touch with Jaime to help out a bit.


Fotopedia is a photography-centric encyclopedia founded in 2009. It aims to provide a dynamically growing collection of high-quality photos on topics of general interest. Some examples of topics covered by Fotopedia:

  • Barcelona (travel)
  • FC Barcelona (sports, fans)
  • Antoni Gaudí (Barcelona architect), but even
  • Barcelona Metro (special interest).

The company stresses in interviews that it was founded by five ex-Apple employees with a user-interface background. This bit of name dropping is forgiveable as there is actually something clean and elegant in both their concept and their design.

Fotopedia is growing rapidly and currently has over half a million photos on 40,000 topics or articles. Its ease-of-use, track record, and its recent launch of a high-profile iPad/iPhone App suggest that it may well find its way into the short list of Web 2.0 household names. In fact, their planned series of free “coffee table books” for iPad/iPhone apps may be attractive enough to serve as a killer app for the iPad (which is partly a coffee table device).

Example of articles ("Black cat") with photos (our cat) and rating (+1).


As the name suggests, Fotopedia is a hybrid between

  1. Wikipedia – the concept of a community-driven encyclopedia.
    Fotopedia incidentally extracts authoritative descriptive texts for its “articles” from Wikipedia.
  2. and photo sharing sites like Flickr or Picasa with massive amounts of user images.
    Fotopedia, however, is only for “serious” pictures – there is no point in putting your party photos in Fotopedia.
    And, again, Fotopedia can interface to Flickr to easily import hand selected “serious” photos when the photo has a suitable license.

Fotopedia stated that it aims to combine the permanence of Wikipedia (articles and photo sets remain available, but gradually improve), but with the ease-of-use of Flickr. So the challenge is to mobilize significant numbers of users, each with their own interests and expertise, while not deviating too much from the authority of Wikipedia. I will come back to content reliability later.

Importing from Flickr

Fotopedia supports easy imports of photos from Flickr into Fotopedia when the photo has appropriate sharing licence. Fotopedia software simplifies the process to a few mouse clicks if the keywords and article names match well:

  • The registerd  Fotopedia user has control over which images are imported. This acts as a quality filter. You don’t want a “Aunt Jane drunk on Times Square” photo in the encyclopedia for Times Square.
  • A (registered) Fotopedia user is not limited to his own Flickr images. Any Flickr photo with appropriate sharing licence can be imported – without permission of the original photographer (although Fotopedia abides by the original sharing conditions).
  • A user can attach an image to a specific Fotopedia article using knowledge that the Flickr keywords didn’t provide. You can attach a Flick “Eagle” photo to “White-bellied Sea Eagle” if you know your Australian birds well enough.

Fotopedia and Wikimedia Commons

As far as I know, there is no formal collaboration between Fotopedia and Wikipedia. In any case, Fotopedia is essentially a direct alternative to Wikipedia’s own Wikimedia Commons: both are collections of high quality images for articles covered by Wikipedia. I won’t call this competition, as both are trying to achieve similar goals and certainly Wikipedia is entirely non-commercial.

The overlap between the two may explain why there is no automation support yet for importing Wikimedia Commons images. That would make a lot of sense because those images are already quite well linked to Wikipedia and thus Fotopedia articles. And Wikimedia Commons images were uploaded with the intent to serve as (backup) encyclopedia illustrations.

We will have to wait and see how the relationship between Fotopedia and Wikimedia Commons develops. Given the quality standards of the latter, they probably need to see what level of quality developes in Fotopedia before they accept any kind of formal relationship.

When is it useful?

Use as .. illustrations for an encyclopedia

Fotopedia itself stresses the encyclopedia side and actually has guidelines and a ranking system that stress this:

Is this a great photo to illustrate Golden Gate Bridge?

Encyclopedic articles obviously benefit from well-selected or even custom diagrams. But Wikipedia’s articles already have illustrations as well as significant collections of browseable illustrations per topic. But the power of Fotopedia might be that it is easier to submit a few “nice” photos about an article than to write the actual article.

powered by Fotopedia

Use as .. “free” stock photography

The founder of Fotopedia, Jean-Marie Hullot, indicated that he got the idea while helping his children find photos for school reports. So you can see Fotopedia as a (largely) freely accessible source of images. It thus can serve as a free competitor to commercial stock photography sites like Gettyimages or Veer. These sites feature photos that can be easily licensed (at commercial rates) to anyone in search of a specific type of image for a specific purpose.

Many Fotopedia contributers (including myself) only impose mild licensing restrictions. For example, most of my own recent images to Fotopedia are (in the Creative Commons jargon) “by-nc-nd“: you have to say the image was made by me (via a link), can can use it freely for non-commercial use only, and you cannot create a derived work without the photographer’s permission. Similarly, I am actually using such licensing conditions from others so that I can provide the example images in this article.

powered by Fotopedia

Use as .. a site for photography enthusiasts

There are also signs that Fotopedia can be seen as another site for photo enthusiast (like Photo.net or Photosig). To some degree, the photographers will always compete to see who has the best photo of  Westminster Abbey or even of a black cat. This is encouraged because Fotopedia appears to prefer “National Geographic” quality photos (when they can get them) over basic photos that are clear but not meant to be esthetic. Thus Fotopedia doesn’t encourage images of say an elephant next to a person, event though that can be effective to show the elephant’s size.

Fotopedia is, however, not ideal as a club site for photographers because

  • photos in the actual encyclopedia part need to be linked to an article in Wikipedia
  • images in Fotopedia are not allowed to have visible watermarks and can be readily downloaded (regardless of what licensing type your chose)
  • photo sites typically have large numbers of “portraits”, “architecture”, “nature”, etc photos and are organized to get attention for the more recent ones as well as the best ones
powered by Fotopedia

Use as .. a giant travel book

And finally, some people see Fotopedia as a travel book. Many articles are directly linked to geographical locations (as in the collaboration with UNESCO for the iPad where photos, Wikipedia topics and Google maps are seamlessly integrated): you get attractive pictures of faraway places. This should cause companies like Lonely Planet or National Geographic to rethink their long-term strategies.

Although this offers a service similar to Google’s Panoramio (5 million images linked to Google Maps locations), Panoramio “just pins photos to the globe”: there is no machine readable information about what the photo is really about, and the geographical coordinates in Panoramio can be very inaccurate if the submitter was sloppy.

powered by Fotopedia

Use as .. a generator for coffee table books

Although Fotopedia’s link to Google maps adds significant extra value to the proposition “Fotopedia as an ever-growing travel book”, you could also create other combinations of Wikipedia topics that are visually interesting but where location plays a secondary role:

  • an architecture encyclopedia: buildings, architects, architectural styles, cities, definitions
  • clothing, street fashion, regional costumes, haute couture
  • airplanes (or trains or ships or cars): planes, airports, airshows
  • birds (etc): male and female pictures, natural habitat, images in different locations, feeding habits
  • musicians: band members, concerts (until the band gets too famous and bans photography), fans

You could see the above as Web 2.0 counterparts for any existing photo book category: You can buy commercial photo books (say about “Andalusia“). Alternatively, you can make your own photo book (“Andalusia 2010“) based on your own material if you are sufficient motivated and skilled. But with Fotopedia you can collectively create an ever-changing online collective work (“Andalusia“). In fact, Fotopedia uses a “Project” concept (such as Mountains of the World) to bundle hundreds or even thousands of related topics.

powered by Fotopedia

Business models and copyrights

The Fotopedia service and support software is currently free. The company runs on venture capital (see their web site): unlike Google or Facebook or WordPress.com, there is only advertising in a corner of the Fotopedia site. This probably doesn’t cover the developers, computers and organizational staff yet.

Presumably the idea is to first become big and famous, and then work seriously on models that do generate serious income. The risk, however, is that the people who provide and review the images for free may see themselves as co-owners of the Fotopedia phenomenon (like Wikipedia): if you donate material to the public domain, you may not like it if someone else manages to earn money on this. This sensitivity probably requires a delicate balance between goodwill and keeping advertising unintrusive versus making the endeavor financially sustainable.

How photos are reviewed

Like Wikipedia, anyone can upload images to the site, anyone can link shareable images to existing encyclopedia topics and can help in the quality control. The option that you can link images that are by someone else to articles is interesting: you can thereby add information and structure, but can also create mis-information and chaos.

The Fotopedia model has the same mindset as the proven Wikipedia model, but works slightly differently. Registered users can vote (thumbs up/down) on the suitability of an image in the context of an encyclopedia article. Essentially the general public is asked to help by judging whether a photo of, say, the Colosseum in Rome

  • is technically acceptable (e.g. correct exposure, reasonable resolution, sharp)
  • adds value to any existing images. Today, there were 31 accepted or “Top” or approved images of the Colosseum. In addition there were 30 “Candidate” images that had been submitted, but were awaiting further endorsements.
  • indeed shows the Colosseum (which can be hard to judge if you only see a small detail)
  • is on-topic enough (what to do about a hypothetical “stray cat in the Colosseum” or “street performer in gladiator costume outside Colosseum”?)
  • is it visually pleasing?

So registered users are thus responsible for promoting “candidate” images to or “top” images. This incidentally requires 5 endorsements (including the original poster). A thumbs down vote cancels a thumbs-up vote and can ultimately lead to demoting “top” images back to “candidate” images. Users can explicitly reporting bigger issue (like “inappropriate content” or “this photo doesn’t match this article”).

The iPad and UNESCO connection

Logo of the Heritage app

On August 14th 2010, Fotopedia and UNESCO jointly released an app called “Fotopedia Heritage” for iOS that allows you view Fotopedia images on an iPad in conjunction with (“mashup of”) Wikipedia and UNESCO information about the location, along with its exact (!) location in Google Maps. You can also view travel information. There is an extensive, but excellent interview with the Hullot about this app on YouTube.

You could see this app as a coffee table quality photo book about the 900 UNESCO Heritage site. The look and feel resembles browsing through a copy of National Geographic containing 900 locations or groups of locations illustrated with on average 25 pictures per location. But obviously all this is very interactive compared to a printed magazine, and the set of pictures you find can vary from day-to-day.

Although the app allows you to upload new material from the iPad, more features are available using a web browser or Fotopedia’s “client” software (from PCs running Windows or Macs running OS X).

Note that the database of UNESCO locations, as used in the app, is not quite at the level as the official data: some well known sites (Luxor, Yosemite) have internal locations. For others, the UNESCO data shows subsites but some of these subsites are missing – typically because either no photo’s are available or because there is no corresponding article in the English version of Wikipedia. Example: the Monestary of St. Simeon at Aswan is not covered, even though it is on UNESCO’s list as component 088-009, because nobody created a Wikipedia page for it yet.

Fotopedia projects

In the near future Fotopedia plans to launch a series of app-like products similar to Fotopedia Heritage. These will be electronic coffee table books on interesting cities (like Lisbon), architecture, or special topics like mountains or orchids. These are currently being prepared as “projects” whereby Fotopedia sets up the table of content and a target for the number of required pictures.

How you can help

Obviously, you can help Fotopedia in general and the UNESCO Heritage app in particular by adding any high-quality material you might be willing to share.

You can help me by signing up at Fotopedia, and checking out my photos there: especially photos linked to more obscure topics could use some votes. Feel free to issue a thumbs-down where appropriate. Fotopedia surprisingly suggest using your social networks to campaign for votes and even provides a button to simplify generating an e-mail for this.

Antoni Gaudí

Antoni GaudíAntoni Gaudí

Photo book on Egypt

Our photo book on Egypt is nearing completion: as I will need a total of 10 copies (at about $100 each, hard cover, 30×30 cm = 12″×12″) for members of our group, a prototype copy has been completed, has been reviewed, and we are approaching the point of no return (for a $1000 order).

Upper Egypt

In March 2010, our family went on a one week Nile cruise. The cruise covered the main sights in Upper Egypt from Luxor down to Abu Simbel (on the border with Sudan). The trip covered the highlights of Egyptian antiquity – with the notable exception of pyramids and Great Sphinx which are both in the Cairo area. These highlights will certainly be familiar to all who have visited Upper Egypt and sound familiar to all who haven’t:

  • Luxor (aka ancient Thebe) – this is perhaps the 2000 BC equivalent to visiting Washington DC
    • Temple of Queen Hatshepsut
    • Valley of the Kings
    • Colossi of Memnon
    • Temple of Luxor
    • Temples of Karnak
  • the Temple of Edfu
  • the Temple of Kom Ombo
  • Aswan
    • the Unfinished Obelisk
    • the Temples from Philae
    • the two dams
  • the Temples of Abu Simbel

There was also the option to take a hot air balloon (yup), drive quads in the desert (yup), sit on a camel (nope), visit lesser known temples (yup), visit a mosque (nope), cross the Nile in a small traditional sailing boat (yup), and tip almost every Egyptian you ran into (no thanks).

I originally had a bit of apprehension about cruises: those were for old folks and you don’t get the freedom that you have when you are on your own. This sounds especially scary if you are into photography. But this cruise (and the weather) was great: you get the benefits of somebody taking care of the logistics and food, you get a guide explaining the historical basics (an Egyptian who spoke a bit of Dutch), but we actually did get enough time to roam around and take pictures and occasionally even head out on our own.

The book

First page of the chapter on the Temple of Kom Ombo (click to view larger)

This is the first page of one of the chapters. After a bit of introductory text, the rest of a chapter is only photo’s. Captions with photographic and historical information are in an annex.

It was quite a bit of work to research the texts in order to get them accurate, interesting, and concise. The colored words are respectively the names of gods and pharaohs. Essentially every temple was commissioned by a pharaoh in the honor of one or more gods as well as the pharaoh himself/herself. Typically a pharaoh claimed to be direct descendant of the gods in order to justify their role in society.

Front cover of Egypt photo book
Cover for Egypt photo book (click to enlarge)

Egyptian History for Beginners

The last page of the book contains a time line that I designed to visually summarize Egyptian history. An engineer’s way to see history, if you will:

Time line of Egyptian history (click to see larger version)

The horizontal axis simply marks off the fifty (!) centuries of recorded Egyptian history. The vertical axis shows degrees of latitude and are aligned with the map of Egypt on the right. Egypt spans between 21′ North and 31′ North. Given that the Nile is roughly vertical on the map, and that major historical sites were never far from the Nile (the rest is desert), you can more or less locate any event in Egyptian history with just two coordinates: time, and location on the Nile. Thus the graph (actually an Excel scatter plot) allows you to see how far apart any two events are in time and roughly in space.

The final page also contains a companion table listing the historical 32 events included in the time line. The list is somewhat biased towards antiquity and the places we visited, but it does include British rule in Egypt, Egyptian independence, the building of the dams at Aswan.

Thus the diagram shows that the role of Thebe, as the capital of Egypt, spanned from 2000 BC to roughly zero BC. It shows that major monuments in Thebe were however primarily built between 1500 and 1100 BC (in the “New Kingdom”). In a bizarre episode in Egyptian history, the pharaoh Akhenaten essentially rejected established religion and government and created a new capital in Amarna, quite some distance North of Thebe. Unfortunately his “reforms” were undone and Thebe became the capital again shortly after his death. The dotted purple line links the Amarna episode to the rediscovery of Amarna by the German scientist/explorer/map maker Lepsius in 1843. Amarna is, incidentally archaeologically interesting because it was only inhabited for a few decades. The dotted cyan line links the golden age of Thebe to the discovery of tomb KV62 of Tutankhamun by Howard Carter in 1922 and the discovery of the next tomb, KV63, in the Valley of the Kings in 2005. Actually KV63 itself isn’t really that important (unless you are an egyptologist in search of funding), but it shows that new discoveries are still occurring.

The diagram also shows that Edfu, Kom Ombo, and Philae (Aswan, 285 BC) are not only relatively close to each other, but were built in the same (Greek pharaoh) period.

The diagram also shows that original activity in the Cairo area started slightly further South (Memphis, 3000 BC; Pyramid for Djoser, 2630 BC) before getting really close to where Cairo lies (pyramid for Khafre, Giza, 2560 BC). The dot at 969 AD is the actual founding of Cairo by the Islamic Fatimid people.

Want more information?

The current plan is that anyone can

  1. view the entire content of the book online (http://www.blurb.com/books/1556622, click on Full Screen, and click to turn pages)
  2. or even order a hard copy of the book from Blurb.com (same link, costs cover only what Blurb charges)

A warning in case you order a book: the 160-page photo book contains roughly three thousand words of text in Dutch. That is not a lot (this text is a bit over one thousand words), but there are no plans to translate it into English or Urdu. But here is a copy of the text in case somebody wants to decode what it says.

If you want to use material to create a “derived” work of some sort, please contact me first: note that the text and photos are copyrighted! I am likely to react supportively. If you want to order the book, feel free to do so as long as the group permits this (but please consider contacting me first, comments below are fine).

Footnote on copyrights: The map used with the timeline graphic is by Wikipedia contributor Lanternix who generously made it available to all without any restrictions.

Fotogroep Waalre 1-Jul-09

Photos shown at my local photography club on July 1st 2009.
These photos are © 2009 Peter van den Hamer.

All three pictures are taken in Andalusia, Spain. All are images of interior architecture lit by daylight. All are technically a bit challenging due to extreme contrast. All were taken at 24 mm, f/4 and roughly 300 ISO and 1/25 second.

Alcázar Fountain (Sevilla)
Alcázar Fountain (Sevilla)

ISO 200, 24 mm, f/4, 1/30 s

I had expected this Moorish fountain in the palace garden to be a well photographed spot – but it turns out that it isn’t. One reason might be that there is simply too much to see at the Alcázar and this is a less spectacular sight. Much of the other sites are easier to photograph. Or people are simply tired by the time they reach this part of the garden (at least many of our party were). 

The above picture is used on the cover of my Andalusia book at Burb.com (not available for ordering yet). On Burb’s glossy dust jacket, the shadow details are actually better than on my home HP B9180 printer. But on the semi-glossy interior pages, the shadow details are a bit lacking. The image was accidentally taken as a full-resolution JPG rather RAW.

Palacio de Lebrija (Sevilla)
Palacio de Lebrija (Sevilla)

ISO 400, 24 mm, f/4, 1/20 s

In this 16th century building was redecorated about 100 years ago by the Countess of Lebrija (Doña Regla Manjón Mergelina). She collected Roman frescos and pottery from nearby Santiponce as well as neo-Mudéjar and Renaissance artwork. It helped that her daddy directed the excavations at Santiponce. The palace (now a museum) is somewhat over-decorated.
Palacio de Carlos I (Alhambra, Granada)
Palacio de Carlos I (Alhambra, Granada)

ISO 200, 24 mm, f/4, 1/30 s

The Palace of Charles V (aka Carlos I from a more Spanish perspective) is the largest building within the Alhambra compound. The Renaissance building is square on the outside, but has a large round patio. See areal photo. This particular staircase is squeezed between the round patio (right) and some flat walls that form a square (left).

The picture seems to remind many viewers of staircase pictures by Escher.

The stairs are a good test for screen and printer color management. In the original RAW image, you can see the steps all the way to the top. This is probaly no longer possible in a JPG due to the 8-bit resolution. And printers have trouble with these shadows for other reasons.

Blurb’s BookSmart Software

Here are some notes on the BookSmart software (version 2.0.2 in Aug 2009) used by Blurb, a do-it-yourself book publishing company. This posting can be seen as a lightweight review and contains a few tips and pointers. Note: on October 1st 2009, BookSmart 2.5 was released.


The software is reasonably stable, but it is aptly called a “beta” version.

Unlike Google betas, you may and probably will experience an occasional crash – especially if your book contains significant amounts of text. This not too problematic as you will not normally lose any work: the software automatically saves all modifications frequently. After the crash, you are asked to provide an optional E-mail address and one-liner about what you were doing. I have not gotten any reaction from Blurb whenever I did fill this in.

Most stability problems appear to be related to editing large amounts of text. For example when you have a text that spans multiple pages, any change needs to propagate to other pages as well. For larger chunks of text, it is safer and faster to do the text editing outside of BookSmart and then copy and past it in.

Don’t enter right-to-left languages

In Aug 2009, I had one very serious problem: I tried to copy in a few words of Arabic (for a book on southern Spain – once part of the Arab world). It turns out that BookSmart doesn’t like Arab (or Hebrew for that matter) because that is written right-to-left. Unfortunately, the crash-and-restart solution didn’t work this time. BookSmart had written the Arabic words to the .book file and even to the .backup file, and thus crashed immediately on any restart attempt. As usual, I had a backup, but it meant loosing a full day or two of work.

Incidentally, the right-to-left language issue suggests that BookSmart had made an attempt to support such languages (interesting market) and had left buggy prototype code for this in the normal distribution: I obviously hadn’t told BookSmart in any way that this was right-to-left text and would have been perfectly happy if these UniCode characters had been handled as left-to-right text.

Blurb customer support

I followed two parallel paths to get the above problem solved: fixing the problem myself (by modifying the XML-based .book file) and via Blurb customer support. The do-it-yourself solution was a bit faster in my case (mainly involved discovering which lines to delete in an ASCII editor). The customer support route initially didn’t read my mails well. They scan (maybe automated??) incoming mails and trigger to words like Arabic and send clippings from their FAQ and customer support material. But somebody or something had concluded from “file no longer opens” or so that I lost the location of my .book files – and sent appropriate instructions. On the second or third mail I started sounding technical enough that I got put through to a more technical person. I am pretty sure that Blurb would have gotten my problem fixed in one or more exchanges (they were requesting me to send the .book=.xml file). But I didn’t do the experiment because I had solved the problem myself in the meantime. It earned me a complement (“good sleuthing”) from the technical  person.


The software in written in Java and saves the text and formatting of your book as an XML (structured ASCII) data file with extension “.book”. The use of Java makes editing of text within BookSmart slow. Selecting text with a mouse is particularly painful.

Images are stored as individual files in a “library”, but with machine-generated file names (hashing). I am not quite sure why image file name hashing was use. It could be there for privacy reasons: file names could accidentally reveal information. File name hashing does allow you to use multiple files with the same file name without using subdirectories. Unfortunately, it is also easy to accidentally have two copies of the same file.

A minor problem with Bookexport

The book can be exported and imported using a format called “.bookexport”. This turns out to be a zip file containing the .book file and the image files. Distributing a draft book via a web site upload/download turned out to be tricky as somehow Windows may treat the file as a .zip file and unzip it (MIME type?). A workaround is to upload a zipped version of the .bookexport file. This doesn’t further reduce the file’s size, but prevents users from accidentally unzipping the .bookexport file.

So the steps I used to put my draft book online for friends are:

  1. export to a .bookexport file
  2. zip the .bookexport file to create a .zip file
  3. upload the .zip file

For the receiving party, the steps are:

  1. download the .zip file using an http:// or ftp:// link
  2. unzip the .zip file
  3. import the resulting .bookexport file

The fact that the .bookexport file can be unzipped using winzip or by Windows if you rename the extension is then an irrelevant technical footnote because it no longer happens automatically.

Image resolution

The software warns if image resolution drops below 150 dots/inch. The maximum recommended image resolution is 300 dot/inch. 300 dot/inch doesn’t sound like much, but implies 7,2 Megapixels if you fill an entire page of an 8×10 inch book. and 13 Megapixels for an 11×13 inch book.  This is surprisingly high – given that you can create excellent A4 or A3 prints with high quality 4-6 Megapixel images.

Freely position text and photos

Before BookSmart 2.0.0 you had to choose one of the templates provided by Blurb. You couldn’t freely add images or text anywhere you liked or re-size the images or text containers defined by Blurb.

Since BookSmart 2.0.0 you can edit the template used by a page, and optionally save it as a user-defined template (but that’s not necessary to modify a page). The heavily template-oriented heritage still shows as you normally design a page by selecting one of the available templates. This isn’t bad because it makes the process simpler and allows you to rapidly preview a page containing say 2 pictures using alternative templates. It also saves time as few people have the skills and discipline to deal with all the flexibility which you get with a blank page: for me it helps to first start off with a page that follows a template, and then to fix anything I really don’t like about it.

PDF to bypass BookSmart

For ultimate flexibility, some more professional users actually created their book using specialized professional software such as Adobe CS4 InDesign. The route was then to create the entire book that way, and to export all pages as image (e.g. .JPG) files and use these to create the pages in BookSmart.

Since June 2008, BookSmart provides support for InDesign and potentially other software by allowing the user to submit their book as PDF. Obviously some constraints apply: Blurb cannot adapt the size and shape of the book to whatever you happen to have in mind. This seems to be solved by a combination of templates (for InDesign) and expecting advanced users to know what they are doing.

I have no experience with the use of InDesign, but know that some demanding users took this route even before Blurb made it easier to use.

Printing your own photo books

Although I am in the process of creating a photo book (on a trip to Spain) using Blurb.com, I haven’t seen the results yet.


The market is rather diverse: at the bottom end, Print-on-Demand can be seen as a replacement of photo albums: the album is printed instead of printing photos and pasting them into a blank album. At the high-end, the end result may be viewed more as a book self-publishing  route and the output can be an artistic end product in its own right. The high-end can range from wedding photos taken by a professional photographer  to an artsy book with pictures of someone’s recent trip or creative project.

I tried to classify the quality requirements for print-on-demand photography books as follows (highest to lowest):

  1. Traditional professional photo books.
    If you earn a living partly by selling good-looking “coffee table books” with photos from Antarctica or of antique locomotives, you will need large series. The on-demand printing techniques are financially less attractive for larger series: these call for a normal printing equipment. An example of a photographer who does this is Karel Tomei – who does areal photography in Holland or elsewhere. Karel said he sometimes even takes the trouble of traveling to the printer’s site (in his case the Czech Republic) and personally checking image quality whenever they start printing a next sheet (in his case every 4 hours).
  2. Professional wedding albums. If you spend 1000+ dollars/euros on a wedding photographer, you will want print quality that approaches “National Geographic print quality”. Or quality that is close to that of traditional photographic prints. Such albums sometimes have high quality bindings, and avoid showing any logo of the printing company. Series size aspirations: 1 to 10?
  3. Aspiring photographers who want to display their portfolio. They may have high ambitions, but likely limited budgets. Series size aspirations: dozens? Some wedding albums also fall under this category, and can even be for sale for friends or even to the general public.
  4. Books that happen to have images as well. Here is an example of a children’s book. Image quality can be important (because these are clearly creativity-driven products), but the maker is less image-oriented than a photographer or graphical artist. Series size aspirations: dozens, hundreds?
  5. Family photo albums. The idea is to have  you vacation photos printed so that they end up in a physical form. And, above all, to have fun designing it. The fun factor, and ease of use are more important than image quality (after all, this is the market where some pictures may not al be great in the first place). Series size aspirations: 1 to 3.

A few suppliers

  • Blurb (http://www.blurb.com/) – categories 3 and 4?
    Blurb has an international network of about 80 “presses” (print shops with HP DigitalIndigo ws5000 printers) in “over 60 countries”. Interestingly, Blurb allows you to regard your end-result as regular books: friends and (if you want even strangers) can order a copy via burb.com.
    Color management: Blurb assumes images are in the sRGB color space, but can (for those who care) provide an ICC profile for their printing equipment.
  • Albert Heijn (http://www.ah.nl/fotoservice/fotocadeaus_album.jsp) – category 5?
    This is handled by the largest supermarket chain in The Netherlands. You submit your photos and layout online, but pickup the book at the local store. AH obviously doesn’t have its own print shops; many print distribution channels options are likely to end up at the same specialized printing companies.
    This service is seen as a variation of traditional photo printing services: www.ah.nl probably does not save a copy of what you ordered for any significant period of time. Blurb, in contrast, keeps the digital source file for years.
  • Albelli (http://www.albelli.nl/) – category 5?
    Albelli operates in Europe and the US. They use HP Digital Indigo printers. They used to be known under the name AlbumPrinters. A large local photo store links to their site.
    Despite winning a competitive review in a test by a Dutch consumer review organization, reviews by users range from very happy to very unhappy. The trouble is that one doesn’t know, for example, whether ah.nl uses Albelli or someone else.

An overview with user ratings of suppliers in The Netherlands (many operate internationally) can be found at http://www.onlinefotoservices.nl/faexp_ia.php. Note that different printing sites probably give different results. And that maybe some operators had trouble (e.g. new equipment, new staff) which has since been resolved.


The graph illustrates the pricing for hardcover books printed in the Netherlands. The www.blurb.com pricing includes 5.90 Euro shipping costs (less if you buy multiple copies). The site www.ah.nl charges 99 cents (which I didn’t add) for “handling”. Note that the dimensions, cover type and paper type are not standardized.

Hardcover pricing depending on the page count
Hardcover pricing depending on the page count

The biggest differences between both pricing models is the price markup as you add more pages. AH charges 5 Euro extra for each additional 8 pages (on average, 0.63 Euro per extra page). For the largest size, this becomes 0.90 Euro per extra page.

Albelli has similar prices to AH, but charges per page rather than per eight pages. The initial price at Albelli is  bit higher, but this is largely due to the included shipping costs (about 4 Euro depending on the size). The shipping cost goes down if you order 2 or more books at the same time.

Blurb.com, in contrast, asks only 4 Euro extra for 40 additional pages (on average, 0.10 Euro/page extra). For the largest size, that becomes 0.20 Euro per extra page. This makes Blurb.com much more attractive once you exceed the first 40 pages. And this implies that with Blurb you may feel free to add a lot more “artsy” empty space without having to worry about costs. With Blurb, you can upgrade to a thicker “premium” paper and suppress the small Blurb logo at the front of the book by paying extra.


The print-on-demand industry is very reliant on special software: you download a free, dedicated software package from the service provider. That allows you to select a book format, add pages, add text and photos to pages, and above all customize the layout. It allows you to design the book, preview it, print a draft to a home printer and generate a file for uploading to the service provider.

It is likely that there are only a few types of available software for the dozens or hundreds of POD services operating per country. But for now you just need to go with the software supplied by your service provider (there are no clear standards, or dominant software packages).

One notable exception to this rule seems to be Apple’s Aperture (and Apple’s iPhoto). Aperture is Apple’s counterpart to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom: it allows you to manage, modify and print your photos. It contains built-in support for creating a photo book via a service provided by Apple. It is possible (but not easy or intended) to export book designs from Aperture to the software provided by another POD supplier (e.g. via PDF or JPEG page images). Interestingly Adobe’s Lightroom 2 doesn’t have an option to create a book yet – despite Adobe’s strong commitment for PDF. Maybe this will get sorted out once there is a dominant input standard for getting photo books printed.