A new app launched in the iPhone App Store this week with a simple enough premise. Dblcam (pronounced “Double Cam”) uses a simple fact about your iPhone’s hardware—that it has both front- and rear-facing cameras—to create images with eyes behind their heads. With the press of a button, the app produces a picture that looks both ways.
The app is the product of a company called Social Print Studio, whose founder, Benjamin Lotan, got his start when he had the idea to print posters of people’s Facebook friends for a fee. That effort grew more generally into a company that specialized in printing and arranging the photographs that swarm our social networks, from Twitter to Tumblr to Instagram.
Photographic manipulations are nothing new, of course, from the filters of Instagram to the panoramas stitched together by enthusiasts. But there’s something peculiar about Dblcam’s particular brand of photographic spatial deconstruction. To judge from some early photos made with the app, the rigidity of Dblcam has actually opened up new avenues of creativity. Hold the phone out in landscape mode, so that it looks to your left and right, and you get a very different image from one in which you hold the phone out, and it gazes up at the sky and down at the ground. The resulting pictures can be fragmented and disorienting, but in very structured ways.
A natural image for such an app to produce is one that features both you and what you’re looking at. “I call it the ‘subtle selfie,’” says Lotan. “You’re kind of in it only as a by-product of the image you’re trying to capture.” Dblcam sublimates a ubiquitous photograph narcisissm, since its self-shots are really about a person and the environment he’s in. “I think that people want to share more photographs of themselves,” says Lotan. “Now they can do that without a stigma attached.” The selfies made with Dblcam are about “how you exist in the landscape,” he says.
Lotan and a friend came up with the idea for Dblcam two years ago, and put together a working prototype within weeks. But in the first iterations of the app, there was an interval of time between the capturing of the front- and rear-facing photos. A series of four iOS developers over two years kept rewriting the code to edge the process as close to simultaneity as possible.
The app is free. Lotan is one of those entrepreneurs who has a blithe faith that if you make something cool, the money will follow—and he has a track record to show it. Last year, his company made $1.7 million in revenues, he claims. Much of this money came directly from Social Print Studio’s service called Printstagram, whose operations you can probably guess (tagline: “We Print Your Instagram Photos”).
But some of the most lucrative work came merely fell out of the woodwork, once Social Print Studio’s name was in the air. The company has partnered with brands like Evian and Nike and set up a kind of deconstructed photo booth at their events. Lotan and co. have developed a “live printer” that culls hashtags from the Instagram API, then prints the photos with those hashtags. Attendees at a recent Evian event were encouraged to use the hashtag #evianeats (thereby promoting the brand to their social graph); those photos then spewed forth from the printer. Eight members of Lotan's 15-person team are headed to SXSW this year to work similar events.
Lotan hopes that other partnerships might form as a result of Dblcam. “We just know the way to make money is not to think about making money,” says Lotan. “We just try to make cool things, and when we have cool projects, opportunities open up.”