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Large-format photos come to life on small screen

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JoaAnn Verburg
JoAnn Verburg in her Minneapolis studio. She approached the publishers at Location Books with the idea for an iPad app.
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

JoAnn Verburg is famed for her large, sumptuous photographs which hang in art museums around the world. Now, she's trying something new — and much smaller.

The Minneapolis photographer just released a new collection of images as an iPad application as a new way for people to experience her work — and their mobile devices.

A couple of years ago — for reasons she doesn't really understand — Verburg found herself climbing a nearby hill near Spoleto, Italy, where she travels each year with her husband.

"(It was) to look at an old Roman aqueduct and the trees in front of it every single day with my 5-by-7 camera on a tripod," she recalled.

Each day she set up in roughly the same spot to capture images of the ancient structure and the trees. She ended up with about 180 pictures. Upon her return to Minnesota, she tried printing some of them, but didn't like the results. She set them aside.

"I thought they were going to sit in the box for the rest of my life, until I saw an iPad," Verburg said. "And I thought 'That is the medium, because it has the backlighting that gives it the brilliance and the sense of subtlety and light that is somewhat like the excitement of being in a place."

Verburg didn't even actually own an iPad at the time.

JoAnn Verburg's trees
These are two of the images that appear on JoAnn Verburg's new iPad photo book. The viaduct, at right, stands near Spoleto, Italy. Verburg daily climbed a hill near the structure early last year and took pictures with a large format camera over a number of weeks. Verburg also focused on the tress as they blossomed, at left. She says she wanted to explore the passage of time, and the sense of impermanence, even of the ancient viaduct.
Photo courtesy JoAnn Verburg

"Hey, it's the next wave," said one enthusiast gathered with an enthusiastic crowd in JoAnn Verburg's Minneapolis studio to celebrate the release of "As It Is Again."

Large prints of the aqueduct are hung on the walls, but the attention was focused on the half-dozen iPads on a table in the middle of the studio. People flicked their way through lush images of ancient stone and blossoming trees.

The initial 180 photos have been pared down to a couple of dozen. There isn't a narrative, it's more of an experience. Subtle changes in the photos show late winter turning to spring.

The iPad lets a viewer do what would be unthinkable in a gallery: to touch the images, to zoom in and look deeper, Verburg said.

"Some places where you see raindrops hanging on the tips of branches or you see a blossom that's absolutely sharp in focus," she said. "There are a lot of places that are out of focus and especially if you enlarge them on your iPad they become abstractions and so there is a lot of variety as there is in life."

There are some intriguing forces at work here. One is about location. Until now, experiencing Verburg's work meant visiting a museum or buying an expensive photography book. "As It Is Again" is a free application, available to anyone with an iPad. You can't get it in book form.

But as a free application which now, in a way, has a life of its own, doesn't mean Verburg and her publisher, Location Books, have lost control of the material. The application allows them to ensure the best possible presentation on high quality screens.

Location Books was co-founded by painters Scott Nedrelow and Ruben Nusz. Their primary focus is on celebrating the art rather than making money.

They even hope "As It Is Again" may change how people use technology, Nusz said.

"Often times  we go online, and through digital media, through Facebook, through Twitter, we are speeding up our lives in a way, and this book works in the opposite fashion," Nusz said. "It slows everything down in such a really beautiful way."

Verburg's iPads
Verburg displays various pages from "As It Is Again." The images are all of a Roman viaduct in Italy and the trees on the hill beside the ancient structure. By paging through the images a viewer gets a subtle sense of the change of the seasons.
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

Location Books quietly made the application available a couple of weeks ago. It's finding an audience, Nusz said, having been downloaded hundreds of times without any publicity.

Three years ago, Verburg faced a crisis after Kodak announced it was discontinuing the large format film she uses.

"Maybe the disappearance of film is why I did this," she laughed. "I don't know. I hope not."

Verburg says she's stocked three freezers with film, but she's also looking to her next iPad book in which she hopes to incorporate sound that will move with the reader through the pages.