Mobile Apps for Vintage Photographs

The original text for this article was contained in my broader review of vintage photo mapping services, but I thought it deserved to be given its own slot.

This is a really fascinating area that I feel has the opportunity to take this whole field away from just being a relatively passive, observational experience on a home computer into something truly immersive and participative.

I won’t try here to cover all the myriad of options available, though do send in further examples and I’ll be happy to add them. From a technology and conceptual point of view (sorry, slipping back into my day job!) there is a fascinating array of approaches, each potentially with its own strengths and weaknesses.  These range from apps built to provide interfaces to the major websites listed above (and their extensive, user contributed content), through to bespoke apps perhaps featuring just one collection from one location, typically carefully curated by a single organisation. Somewhere in between, but closer to the latter, are some providers who deliver a technological solution that a content owner, for example a museum, can then use to deliver their own images.


One of the first apps I ever recall was the deservedly acclaimed Museum of London Streetmuseum. It was truly groundbreaking.  It falls into the latter category of stand-alone bespoke apps, and is available for iPhone and Android.  I’m not sure if they are actively adding content or if it is static.


As part of its relaunch in July 2011 Historypin released a beta version of an Android app, and have since gone on to develop this and to release an iPhone version (an interesting reversal of the normal iPhone then Android pathways most sites take). As well as exploring your current location for any photos that have been added to the Historypin site, you can contribute your own, including a neat little tool that allows you to view the old image as a semi-transparent layer in the phone’s camera, line it up with the current view, and then(and I believe this is unique) take and upload exactly the same scene as it is today.

What Was There

Available for iPhone only, this app also provides immediate access to the ever growing wealth of images being uploaded.  I’m afraid I have had a chance to try it, so can’t immediately comment on functionality, although it looks like it has the same great feature of overlaying the image on a current view.  The few reviews on the iTunes store appear favourable.


Rama is a suite of tours, covering a growing number of locations. It is currently for iPhone only.  Whilst they appear to source content and write the tours themselves, they also invite other authors to participate on a royalty basis.


Layar was one of the first apps to deliver so-called augmented reality experiences and works by providing the framework through which content providers and developers can deliver any manner of material, be it the closest pizza restaurant, an immersive treasure trail, or more traditional location based interpretation.  Example layers using vintage photographs include Philadelphia history and Warsaw (1944).  There’s even a tour of San Francisco’s Market Street based on archival video footage

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