John Vink saw an opportunity in the growing popularity of Apple's iPad to do something that was close to his heart.
Sitting in Java Café on a recent rainy afternoon, the Belgian-born photographer and Phnom Penh resident talked about his new iPad application, which addresses the issue of land grabbing in Cambodia and its consequences.
"It's 11 years of land issues in Cambodia," he says of the app. "It's a way to explain what land issues are about."
Titled "Quest for Land," the 20-chapter iPad app consists of 720 of Vink's photographs and about 21,000 words written by Phnom Penh-based journalist Robert Carmichael. "That's a lot to read," he says.
As well, the application features slide shows with soundtracks and links to reports about land issues in Cambodia.
An Apple iPad app, Vink says, was simply the best way to present such a huge volume of photos and information about land issues in the Kingdom. It wouldn't have been possible to show that many photos in an exhibition, he stresses. And it wouldn't be possible – or feasible – to put together a book with all those pictures.
"I couldn't put 720 pictures in a book," Vink says.
He says he would have only been able to feature about 50 photos and a lot less text in a book. Another problem is that the costs associated with distributing the book would be "staggering". And such high costs would result in the book costing a lot of money to purchase.
But that isn't the case with Vink's iPad app, and he points out that he's able to include all those photos and text and sell the app for only US$8.99. Vink only had to pay for such development costs as paying the writer, and he doesn't have to pay any money to a publisher. "I am the publisher," he says.
Apple takes 30 percent for its share of the profit, Vink adds.
Vink invested US$8,500 in the project. "I have to sell about 1,500 copies to break even," he points out.
A member of the renowned Magnum Photos agency, Vink first visited Cambodia in 1989 when the country was essentially being governed by a Vietnamese-backed government. He visited the country again in the 1990s before eventually deciding to settle in Cambodia in 2000. It was in that year that Vink witnessed people who had been evicted from their land in Poipet protesting at the National Assembly. It was that incident and others related to land-grabbing in Cambodia that resulted in Vink developing a passion for raising awareness about land problems in the Kingdom.
He plans to promote his app at a festival for photo journalists in Perpignan, France, in early September.
During a recent interview, he was quite hopeful that "Quest for Land" would be a hit. "It's only two weeks old, but I think the response will be good."