The great thing about having good cameras on our smartphones isn’t necessarily that we can take pictures whenever the inspiration strikes. It’s that we can take a picture at one moment and beam them out to the world in the next. The convergence of cell phones and cameras has effectively set our snapshots free; today, we don’t shoot for our own collections so much as we do for the grand public galleries in the cloud, places like Instagram and Facebook, where our photos can actually be enjoyed by others.
With DSLRs and point-and-shoots, we still don’t have that luxury. With those pieces of gear, technically superior though they may be, we shoot, we dump onto our computers, we meticulously archive–and then what? Whether you’re dragging files into folders and subfolders and subfolders inside of those by hand, or letting iPhoto do the work for you, the sad outcome is often the same: Many of those photos just end up sitting there gathering digital dust on our hard drives (or, worse yet, on our external hard drives, where we can’t even click across them serendipitously). Eternal Light gives them new life.
In essence, Eternal Light is a slide show app, not altogether unlike iPhoto. But where iPhoto repackages photo sets as glossy, limp screen savers, Eternal Light transforms them into hallucinogenic time lapse movies. Experientially, it’s like the difference between watching a piano recital from a row of folding chairs and soaking up a raucous concert from the middle of a mosh pit.
The aim, explains developer Stefan Landrock, was “to simulate a near death experience–a wild stream of all visual memories of my life,” and the software has a number of features for delivering that effect. You can choose the order you want your images to be displayed, and the speed at which they’re played back–anywhere from a Baby Boomer-friendly pace to a frenetic dozen-images-per-second fever dream. The audiovisual features are especially cool: You can pick a soundtrack and sync images automatically to its volume, or tap out its BPM manually and sync the images to the song’s tempo. And you can control your slide shows on the fly via an iOS app, or save them as Quicktime movies for uploading to the web.
That option of effortlessly exporting a folder full of still photos as a single, self-contained clip is one of the great things about Eternal Light. It’s just an eminently more watchable and sharable way to package a huge set of pictures. But the software is also useful simply for rediscovering your own long lost photos. Tapping your way down through a massive folder of old pictures isn’t like flipping through a scrapbook of prints–there’s none of that intimacy or nostalgia. It’s more like looking glossy-eyed at a towering stack of library books. Eternal Light gives you a chance to fly through your own photographic history at warp speed.
“When I had the basic functionality going and I was actually able to control streams with thousands of images, I began to realize that there are hidden treasures in my archives,” Landrock says. “Just because I have such a tool at hand I am able to discover and dig into my memories in whole new ways. In some way it feels like taking a microscope to my brain.”
Granted, not everyone wants a trip down memory lane to be a near death experience, and not everyone will even have enough photos to make the app’s approach worthwhile. But on a conceptual level, Eternal Light is working in some important and oft-ignored territory. Technology lets us create and collect media like never before, but that’s only half the equation. Those capabilities don’t mean much if we don’t have equally powerful and compelling tools for consuming that media.
The Eternal Light team is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to finish up the software. To read more or pledge your support, check out the project page.