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Out Now: Condition ONE iPad App Makes War Reporting Visceral, Terrifying

Danfung Dennis’s iPad app is a window onto places you’d never want to be.

Out Now: Condition ONE iPad App Makes War Reporting Visceral, Terrifying

We first wrote about war correspondent Danfung Dennis’s “Condition ONE” project back in March, and now his immersive take on conflict video journalism is available in the iTunes App Store. We got a preview of it, and in many ways it makes good on Dennis’s promise to “shake people from their indifference to war.” Here’s the demo video:

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The main feature of Condition ONE is its augmented-reality-esque interaction design. Instead of watching documentaries in a tiny, static video window, Condition ONE plays back full-screen video that you can literally pan and tilt around in by moving the iPad around in physical space. Think of it like a magic window onto the worst places on the planet–you’ll be glad there’s glass between you and the flying bullets.

The addition of first-person interactivity to conflict journalism is extremely effective. The video itself is a bit blurry and grainy, but you can’t resist whipping the “camera” left, right, up, and down to reveal details in the scene as if you were there witnessing it yourself. As for backing up Dennis’s claim that “the visual language of journalism is dying,” though, Condition ONE has some kinks to work out. The short documentaries (by seasoned conflict journalists like Patrick Chauvel) are still shot and edited in a traditional linear style, which makes the interactivity a bit awkward sometimes–every time the film cuts to a different shot, the physical orientation of the iPad becomes “re-centered,” so if you pan to the left within one shot, when it cuts to the next, you have to turn the iPad even further to the left to “look left.” After a handful of edits, you’ll be turned completely around in your chair. (The app does provide a “Center” button to reset the virtual camera, but the edits in the film I watched still came too quickly for me to take advantage of it.)

I’m not sure how to solve this problem, but it makes the video experience rather jarring, and occasionally difficult to tell exactly what’s going on from shot to shot. Then again, that may be part of the point: In one sequence depicting a road in Libya besieged by rebels, I felt tense and somewhat confused as I looked this way and that, just as I would if I were really there on the scene. Watching war reportage in Condition ONE may not be a perfect experience, but it is an undeniably memorable one–which is more than one can say for far too many noble-but-forgotten foreign dispatches.

Download Condition ONE via iTunes

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.

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