Posts Tagged ‘photography’
“Our people are good people; our people are kind people. Pray God some day kind people won’t all be poor”*…
For a singular image of the Great Depression and the roughness of those years, it’s hard to do much better than Dorothea Lange’s 1936 photograph of Florence Owens Thompson, two of her children tucking their faces over her shoulders, a baby in her lap.
Where that image comes from, there are many, many more: around 175,000 surviving portraits of America between 1935 and 1945 taken by the photographers of the government’s Farm Security Administration. The Library of Congress, which houses the collection, has, remarkably, digitized all the negatives and tagged the records with loads of data, such as who took the picture and where it was taken.
Now, thanks to a new project known as Photogrammar from Yale University, viewers will have a much easier time exploring the photographs. There’s a map that displays the images by county and another that shows where each picture was taken and by which photographer. There’s also an interactive that allows viewers to sort the photos by theme (e.g. “war” or “religion”) and then browse from there. Other tools are still in the works…
More at “Seeing the Great Depression.”
* John Steinbeck,
As we go West, we might recall that it was on this date in 1935 that Parker Brothers purchased the patent for “The Landlord’s Game” from Elizabeth Magie, a Quaker political activist who had used the theories of the economist Henry George to create the game to illustrate the way in which monopolies impoverish (“bankrupt”) the many while concentrating extraordinary wealth in one or few. Parker Brothers had released a copy– Charles Darrow’s “Monopoly”– which was (to put it politely) closely modeled on “The Landlord’s Game”; when Darrow’s version became a hit in 1933, Parker Brothers bought “The Landlord’s Game” as insurance against a intellectual property suit– and subsequently paid Ms. Magie $500 for her patent to avoid a (completely justified) claim from her that “Monopoly” was, in effect, stolen. It is estimated that over a billion people have played “Monopoly” over the years.
The Soviet Union was a nation of bus stops. Cars were hard to come by, so a vast public transport network took up the slack. Buses not only bore workers to their labors, but also breathed life into the ‘union’ itself by taking travelers from town to taiga to desert to seaside. In remoter parts of the country, bus shelters mattered even more than buses, providing convenient places for people to gather, drink and socialize. They were caravanserai for the motor age, and while the empire they served no longer exists, most of them stand right where it left them…
If they are in various stages of ruin now, they are all the more attractive for it. ‘Bus pavilions’, as they were known, were the experimental territory, and ultimately the legacy, of architects who might otherwise have been thwarted by central planning. Many reflect local cultures, and make memorable landmarks. Christopher Herwig [bio here], a Canadian photographer, started documenting them when he cycled through the Baltic states in 2002, and kept going after he moved to Almaty a year later. He has since shot varying numbers of them in all the former Soviet republics except (to judge by this book) Russia and Azerbaijan, a labour of 12 years and more than 18,000 miles.
* The Hollies, “Bus Stop”
As we quietly queue, we might recall that it was on this date in 1908 that Orville Wright demonstrated the Wright Flyer for the US Army Signal Corps division at Fort Myer, Virginia. Wright circled the base at 150 feet; on his fourth circuit, his propeller broke. The plane crashed. Orville suffered a broken left thigh, several broken ribs, and a damaged hip, and was hospitalized for seven weeks. His passenger, Lt. Thomas Selfridge, suffered a fractured skull, and died– the first person to die in a crash of a powered airplane.
“Photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event”*…
One of the founding figures of photojournalism, Erich Salomon pioneered the use of hidden cameras—the phrase “candid camera” was first applied to him. A 1924 Ermanox equipped with glass plates and a relatively fast shutter speed, concealed in bowler hats and briefcases—and, in one memorable occasion, in bagpipes—allowed him to take photographs in places where they were strictly prohibited: in the casinos at Monte Carlo or at criminal trials. With a camera hidden in a sling, Salomon was the first photographer to take pictures of the United States Supreme Court in session.
Salomon was best known for his photographs of diplomatic gatherings at the highest level. Employing various subterfuges, he followed three statesmen across Europe—Aristide Briand, Joseph Chamberlain, and Gustav Stresemann—as they fecklessly tried, over champagne and cigars, to preserve peace in Europe. When he couldn’t gain admission to the inner sanctum, Salomon photographed the hat-check man asleep under the ministers’ hats, or members of the diplomatic entourage. One particularly brilliant photograph, rife with irony, shows Maurice Privat, Pierre Laval’s astrologer, perched on a sofa under Rubens’ painting The Conclusion of Peace, consulting a star chart as he waits for his daily session with the prime minister. The most famous of Salomon’s cat-and-mouse photographs records the moment when Briand, who dubbed him “the king of the indiscreet,” recognizes him across the room and points a friendly accusatory finger at him, just as Salomon snaps the image…
More at “The Unguarded Moment.”
* Henri Cartier-Bresson
As we “smile,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1954 that the iconic sequence of Marilyn Monroe, laughing as her skirt is blown up by the blast from a subway vent, was shot, during the filming of Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch. One can imagine Salomon– or those he inspired (e.g., Cartier-Bresson, Eisenstadt, Walker) snapping at the same time…
Doug Battenhausen thinks all our advances in cell-phone cameras and photo-sharing technology haven’t made our pictures better, but rather more sterile. We all know how to get the perfect selfie now, with just the right filter — but to him, that’s boring.
What Battenhausen is interested in, and has been collecting since 2010 on his blog “Internet History,” are photos that are beautifully amateurish and capture strange moments.
To find these types of photos, Battenhausen mines the forgotten reaches of the internet, particularly defunct photo accounts on sites like the (now deleted) Webshots, Flickr, or Photobucket…
Read more, and see a selection of Battenhausen’s picks at “A photographer looked through people’s forgotten, dead photo accounts for 5 years — here are the beautiful and eerie pictures he found.”
And see them all at Battenhausen’s blog.
* Eudora Welty
As we reaffirm our commitment to sort through those digital shoe boxes, we might send aggressively-laid-out birthday greetings to David Carson; he was born on this date in 1954. A successful professional surfer through much of the 80s, he turned to design, working on a series of skateboard and surfing magazines until 1992, when he became design director of Ray Gun, the seminal alternative music/lifestyle magazine.
At Ray Gun Carson used Dingbat, a font containing only symbols, for what he considered a rather dull interview with Bryan Ferry (though the whole text was published in a legible font at the back of the same issue)– one of the moves that earned him the honorific “Father of Grunge Typology.”
When the magazine Graphic Design USA listed the “most influential graphic designers of the [modern] era” Carson was listed as one of the all time 5 most influential designers, with Milton Glaser, Paul Rand, Saul Bass and Massimo Vignelli.
Everything looks cooler when you blast it with X-rays. The photography of Roy Livingston makes electromagnetic radiation his muse; in his colorful series, X-Ray Visions, the skins of alarm clocks, toy robots, old Crosley radios, and more bubble away to reveal their candy-colored X-Ray cross-sections.
Based in Louisville, Kentucky, Livingston… didn’t always take such colorful X-ray photographs, but after experimenting with digitally adding color to his work as part of a study called “36 Robots,” “the flood gates opened.” Each of his photos begins on the analogue side by taking an X-ray and developing it. He then scans it into his computer in ultra high-resolution, manually cleaning the image as he goes. After cleaning, he creates hundreds of color variations in Photoshop—”I learned about saving large documents in Photoshop the hard way,” Livingston notes—then, after giving the project a few weeks to simmer, goes back to figure out which color paths he likes best.
When it comes to deciding what to X-ray, Livingston says its all about design. “I’m a big fan of all kinds of industrial design whether it’s new or old,” Livingston tells me. “It’s incredible when you see the thinking, craftsmanship and machining that goes into creating some of these objects. They are works of art by themselves.” If there’s anything he’s trying to get across with his work, Livingston says, “it’s that the simplest things can be beautiful.”…
* Buckminster Fuller (the inspiration for the title of Roman Mars’ wonderful design podcast, 99% Invisible)
As we delight in design, we might recall that it was on this date in 1617 that the first one-way streets were established in London. An Act of Common Council was passed to regulate the “disorder and rude behaviour of Carmen, Draymen and others using Cartes,” specifying seventeen narrow and congested lanes running into Thames Street, including Pudding Lane (where the Great Fire of London began in 1667).
Starting in the 1990s, artist Zoe Leonard began photographing the shops in New York City’s Lower East Side. As the New York Times reported [last week], small neighborhood stores like local bodegas are declining in the city as rents steadily rise and chain stores strong-arm their way in.
Leonard witnessed the start of the decline as mom-and-pop shops — with their hand-lettered signs and strange window displays — started vanishing throughout the decade. She photographed them with something equally obsolete: celluloid film. The artist captured the changing landscape with a vintage 1940’s Rolleiflex camera, using gelatin silver, chromogenic, and dye-transfer printing processes. She didn’t crop the black frame of the negative from the final image, either.
”The embrace of photography as an analog medium is reinforced in the work’s recurrent references to Kodak, photo studios, and graffiti,” the Museum of Modern Art writes. Leonard’s photos from the decade are currently on display at MoMA in the exhibition Zoe Leonard: Analogue, presenting 412 images together in a grid-like installation. “Analogue is a testament to the loss of both locally owned shops and straight photography,” MoMA’s press release states. The show is on display through August 30…
Read and see more (and larger, zoomable) versions of the images at “Remembering the Lost Mom-and-Pop Shops of New York City’s Lower East Side in the ’90s.”
As we ruminate on retailing, we might recall that it was on this date in 1992 that the Mall of America opened in Bloomington, Minnesota, becoming the largest shopping mall both in total area and in total store vendors in the U.S. It receives over 40 million visitors annually (the most of any mall in the world), and generates nearly $2 Billion in economic impact. The Mall has 7,900,000 square feet of space and 11,000 employees (13,000 in Holiday season). Its 12,000+ parking spaces are relatively few given the store and employee count; but as the Mall is on Minneapolis’ light rail system, and many shoppers arrive by shuttle from nearby hotels or the airport, they suffice.
Back in the 18th and 19th century, recreational swimming kickstarted a service industry of aids for decent beach life etiquette. These tools of maintaining dignity were perhaps unsurprisingly mostly aimed at women. Among innovations of this time was the Bathing Machine, or the Bathing Van, which helped bathers change into to their bathing attire right next to the water.
Bathing machines became a thing around all of Great Britain’s empire starting ca. 1750 and spread to the United States, France, Germany and Mexico to serve the greater goal of common decency at beaches…
The passenger enters a horse or human drawn carriage, which is transported some distance out into the water. The van’s human cargo changes into whatever shapeless sack was deemed suitable at the time. The mechanics of it all are unsurprisingly not that glamorous and worth exploring in further detail…
* Isak Dinesen
As we dive in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1871 that the foundation stone was laid for the Tay Railway Bridge to be built across the Firth of Tay on the east Scottish coast. It’s designer, Sir Thomas Bouch, a railway engineer and executive, was knighted for engineering and overseeing the building of the two-mile-long bridge— on which an estimated 75 people died when the bridge collapsed. An enquiry found Bouch to be liable, by virtue of bad design and construction; he died four months after the verdict.
Bouch and his creation are thus also indirectly responsible for the best-known poem, “The Tay Bridge Disaster,” by the gentleman widely-regarded to have been the the worst published poet in British history, William Topaz McGonagall.