theCOLLARBONE app - on a mission to bring top-notch cycling photography to the iPad
Camille McMillan and Luke Scheybeler talk to Simon MacMichael about their collaboration on iPad app
theCOLLARBONE, a collaboration between Camille McMillan and Luke Scheybeler, formerly involved with, respectively, Rouler and Rapha, launched its iPad app earlier this month and road.cc caught up with them recently to find out the background to it and their future plans… take it away Simon.
One of the reasons I bought an iPad in late 2010 was the dizzying thought of being able to swipe through the virtual editions of L’Equipe and the Gazzetta dello Sport at the same time print copies were hitting the newsstands in Paris and Milan.
I’d give little thought to what else I’d use it for, but the size and sharpness of the screen made it perfect for photography, whether uploading and editing my own pictures without having to lug a laptop around, or viewing other people’s. So when news arrived that theCOLLARBONE iPad app had been launched, I was keen to find out more.
The men behind theCOLLARBONE – also planned to be made available as an iPhone app, with an Android version as well as possibly other platforms in the pipeline – are photographer Camille McMillan and designer Luke Scheybeler.
Both have been involved with what have become iconic brands within cycling since their launches in the middle of the last decade, McMillan as editor at large of Rouleur, Scheybeler as co-founder of Rapha. He also created the design style of Rouleur magazine, and now runs the design and branding company Scheybeler+company. He designed the tax disc on the iPayRoadTax jersey, too.
Initially launched as a Tumblr feed last year which displays just a tiny selection of McMillan's work, the venture was conceived first and foremost as a way of showcasing cycling photography on the iPad, as Scheybeler explains.
"The idea for theCOLLARBONE came from excitement about the new medium, excitement about the possibilities for photography and a desire to experiment with it. We talked about it and said, let’s just do something. This could work," he says.
"We were looking at the Guardian Eyewitness app, which was one of the first really elegant photography apps. It’s very simple, just a single stream of photographs and the quality of the photography is brilliant.
"We loved it, we thought it was fantastic, and we said, let’s do something similar that’s inspired by this, but that has more of a niche focus, so obviously cycling is what Camille has been obsessed with since he was racing as a kid and something I’ve been very close to with starting Rapha and being involved in that side.
"So we decided to take it as an inspiration and turn it into a platform for great cycling photography."
The app itself is free to download, as are some of the galleries that go to make up its content - one, which brings together 26 pictures taken by McMillan over the years, is called The Selection, Part 1 and is a good introduction to his work. While the focus is firmly on the pictures, tapping on an individual photo brings up commentary from McMillan which gives an insight into the background of the shot.
"The interesting angle we try and get with a lot of those collections is if you read the commentary from Camille, it’s about the photographer’s perspective and I don’t think you get that a lot from sports photographers, it’s a unique thing we’ve managed to tease out," says Scheybeler.
While some of the galleries that make up the app's content, and which will continue to be added to on a regular basis, are free, most it has to be said are not. Asked whether this might cause some resistance on the part of potential users, McMillan points out that the cost - currently ranging between 69p and £2.99 depending on the gallery - compares favourably to that of magazines.
Scheybeler also frames the issue against the wider question of paid for versus free content, saying, "If you look at technology, it’s a massive disruptive force on the media industry. Whether it’s Hollywood films or the music industry, it’s massively democratising or marking it very easy to share content. So what it’s done is it’s pushed the price of a lot of the content down.
"The way in which some people are responding to that is by saying ‘everything should be free, everything should be given away,’ but I don’t believe that. There’s a certain set of content that’s going to be free, and that’s probably the vast majority of content, but the really high quality stuff that you can’t get from anywhere else you’re going to have to pay for.
"We’re not going to be showing advertising on the iPad, but we are going to be charging effectively micro-payments per collection. In terms of working out how much people are willing to pay for those things is still an open question, but if you look at the Six Day collection [comprising 36 images], those images are on film, it’s a season or two of images, if you break that down and work out how much it costs to process the film and have the eye and the equipment, if you look at it on that basis, it’s an absolute bargain to get those images in a format that looks really good."
He has a point. Personally, I have stacks of cycling magazines sitting at home that cost getting on for a fiver a time, many of which will never get opened again. What I've found with the iPad is that carrying it around everywhere, I do tend to go back to the more powerful and engaging content again and again - and the COLLARBONE certainly falls into that category.
There's been a lot of discussion on social media such as Twitter about whether the likes of Graham Watson have had their day as more of a reportage style of cycling photography, boosted by publications such as Rouleur, has come to the fore. However, theCOLLARBONE team agree that for as long as newspapers, magazines and websites need to get that picture of the winner crossing the line or the victorious rider on the podium, those photographers will continue to have their place.
What McMillan and Scheybeler are looking to do instead, is get beneath the skin and behind the scenes of a sport that is perhaps uniquely photogenic.
“There’s a place for all that and you wouldn’t be able to remove Watson from his throne," maintains McMillan. "But I think there is room for other photography. People are drawn to it, it’s very visual, people want to explore it."
Scheybeler adds: "The stuff that’s interesting about cycling isn’t just the racing, it’s a soap opera, and the whole culture that surrounds the sport, and the weird, slightly ritualistic ‘oddness’ of the sport is very interesting. That’s what I’m interested in, and Camille too. Most of it’s behind-the-scenes action, the sideshow, the stuff you see when you’re looking away from the race," he continues.
"There’s an amazing amateurishness even about professional cycling. It’s all a little bit crap. That doesn’t diminish my love for it, if anything it increases it. Obviously the top guys are paid huge amounts and it’s quite glamorous, but if you dig below the surface, actually, it’s not that glamorous. It’s delightfully amateurish. I love that stuff. I think it’s brilliant.
“Cycling is a unique sport in that the photography is better than most other sports in the world, simply because it’s not in stadiums,” he points out. "It’s a very visual sport and I think it’s very suited to a photographic treatment.”
A case in point is a shot of a road passing through an Italian mountain village, taken during last year's Giro. Look closely, and i the convex mirror on the wall of a building you can see one name reflected, drawn in pink chalk on the road; 'Contador.' Earlier this month, of course, the 2011 Giro winner was stripped of that title by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, now making the image a particularly powerful one."It's poignant," says Scheybeler.
While Rouleur itself has recently launched an iPad app - essentially enabling you to download a virtual copy of the magazine for now, although that looks likely to evolve with other features going forward - Scheybeler isn't convinced that print transitions well to the device, although he is defintely a fan of hard copy.
"I love print, print’s amazing," he enthuses. "Certainly people like Tyler Brulee, what he’s doing with Monocle magazine, his complete rejection of moving towards digital media is fantastic. I think the world would be a much poorer place without print, without daily newspapers without really high quality magazines and we agree Rouleur is one of them
"But even if you look at technically clued up magazines like for example Wired, you see what they’re doing on the iPad and it’s too complicated, it’s slick but not particularly compelling, I think once you delve beneath the surface you’d much rather read the magazine because the quality of the magazine is based on the writing and I don’t think the iPad is actually a very good thing to read on."
Instead of looking to replicate a magazine format, then, the pair are looking to develop theCOLLARBONE in other ways, such as adding audio to galleries, for example through interviews with photographers, riders or commentators. During the launch phase, however, they are keen to keep things simple and let it gradually evolve.
Future galleries will feature other photographers besides McMillan - one went live this week of pre-season training camps in Mallorca featuring Team Sky, Lotto-Belisol and RadioShack Nissan, taken by Kristof Ramon - while others will draw heavily on his own personal archive. Those may include past editions of races such as Paris-Roubaix as previews to this year's Spring Classics, plus a behind-the-scenes gallery from the Tour de France.
One particularly striking shot that would be likely to feature in the latter was taken at the Hotel de Crillon on Place de la Concorde the evening after the final stage of the 2007 Tour de France. It shows David Millar buttonholing Lance Armstrong on what McMillan described as "a very strange evening" and was used in the Garmin rider's autobiography to illustrate a episode in which, by his own admission, "I'd lectured him for too long... perhaps 10 minutes too long..." It's that behind the scenes access that Scheybeler and McMillan see as one of theCOLLARBONE's big draws.
I ask McMillan and Scheybeler to choose their own personal favourites from the shots contained in The Selection Part 1 gallery. McMillan singles out one taken on the Tour of Missouri showing the empty High Road team bus, with three vacant chairs that ordinarily would be occupied by the driver, Bernie Eisel and George Hincapie, saying "photographically, I love that picture."
"But," he adds, "if there’s a back story there’s a picture of Ian Stannard leaning up against a bus at one of the semi-classics and that picture I really like because by the end of this Classics season I think people are going to be talking about him."
Scheybeler, meanwhile, selects one showing the aftermath of a chute on Paris-Roubaix.
"I quite like the ungainly stuff, there’s a couple of shots of Roubaix with riders all over the road, it’s not a bad crash – I never watch replays of crashes, it’s almost disrespectful because these guys are doing their job – but I quite like a comedy, slow-motion crash," he reveals.
"There’s some really awkward, ungainly moments in cycling, and Camille talks about this, some of those shots manage to capture a real beauty in the awkwardness."
One of my own personal favourites from McMillan's work can be found on theCOLLARBONE’s Tumblr feed, although I imagine the square crop means it’s unlikely to find its way onto the iPad app.
To begin with, the juxtaposition of the riders on the final stage of the Tour de France whizzing past a giant screen that shows those very riders from another angle is rather disorienting.
But then you realise that McMillan is there somewhere towards the left of the peloton on the giant screen, capturing the riders as they flash past, as well as the TV feed itself.
For those of us who follow racing through the medium of television, it’s the frozen moment of action captured by the photographer that we see afterwards that often endures.
Here, the two come together, and I think reflects theCOLLARBONE’s ethos; it’s giving us a different perspective on the sport, quite literally in this case, and one that without McMillan’s lens we wouldn’t otherwise see.