(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘photography

“What is mathematics? It is only a systematic effort of solving puzzles posed by nature.”*…

 

unicorn-tapestry

 

In 1998, the Cloisters—the museum of medieval art in upper Manhattan—began a renovation of the room where the seven tapestries known as “The Hunt of the Unicorn” hang. The Unicorn tapestries are considered by many to be the most beautiful tapestries in existence. They are also among the great works of art of any kind. In the tapestries, richly dressed noblemen, accompanied by hunters and hounds, pursue a unicorn through forested landscapes. They find the animal, appear to kill it, and bring it back to a castle; in the last and most famous panel, “The Unicorn in Captivity,” the unicorn is shown bloody but alive, chained to a tree surrounded by a circular fence, in a field of flowers. The tapestries are twelve feet tall and up to fourteen feet wide (except for one, which is in fragments). They were woven from threads of dyed wool and silk, some of them gilded or wrapped in silver, around 1500, probably in Brussels or Liège, for an unknown person or persons, and for an unknown reason—possibly to honor a wedding. A monogram made from the letters “A” and “E” is woven into the scenery in many places; no one knows what it stands for. The tapestries’ meaning is mysterious: the unicorn was a symbol of many things in the Middle Ages, including Christianity, immortality, wisdom, lovers, marriage. For centuries, the tapestries were in the possession of the La Rochefoucauld family of France. In 1922, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., bought them for just over a million dollars, and in 1937 he gave them to the Cloisters. Their monetary value today is incalculable…

As the construction work got under way, the tapestries were rolled up and moved, in an unmarked vehicle and under conditions of high security, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which owns the Cloisters. They ended up in a windowless room in the museum’s textile department for cleaning and repair. The room has white walls and a white tiled floor with a drain running along one side. It is exceedingly clean, and looks like an operating room. It is known as the wet lab, and is situated on a basement level below the museum’s central staircase.

In the wet lab, a team of textile conservators led by a woman named Kathrin Colburn unpacked the tapestries and spread them out face down on a large table, one by one. At some point, the backs of the tapestries had been covered with linen. The backings, which protect the tapestries and help to support them when they hang on a wall, were turning brown and brittle, and had to be replaced. Using tweezers and magnifying lenses, Colburn and her team delicately removed the threads that held each backing in place. As the conservators lifted the backing away, inch by inch, they felt a growing sense of awe. The backs were almost perfect mirror images of the fronts, but the colors were different. Compared with the fronts, they were unfaded: incredibly bright, rich, and deep, more subtle and natural-looking. The backs of the tapestries had, after all, been exposed to very little sunlight in five hundred years. Nobody alive at the Met, it seems, had seen them this way…

Philippe de Montebello, the director of the museum, declared that the Unicorn tapestries must be photographed on both sides, to preserve a record of the colors and the mirror images. Colburn and her associates would soon put new backing material on them, made of cotton sateen. Once they were rehung at the Cloisters, it might be a century or more before the true colors of the tapestries would be seen again.

The manager of the photography studio at the Met is a pleasant, lively woman named Barbara Bridgers. Her goal is to make a high-resolution digital image of every work of art in the Met’s collections. The job will take at least twenty-five years; there are between two and two and a half million catalogued objects in the Met—nobody knows the exact number. (One difficulty is that there seems to be an endless quantity of scarab beetles from Egypt.) But, when it’s done and backup files are stored in an image repository somewhere else, then if an asteroid hits New York the Metropolitan Museum may survive in a digital copy.

To make a digital image of the Unicorn tapestries was one of the most difficult assignments that Bridgers had ever had. She put together a team to do it, bringing in two consultants, Scott Geffert and Howard Goldstein, and two of the Met’s photographers, Joseph Coscia, Jr., and Oi-Cheong Lee. They built a giant metal scaffolding inside the wet lab, and mounted on it a Leica digital camera, which looked down at the floor. The photographers were forbidden to touch the tapestries; Kathrin Colburn and her team laid each one down, underneath the scaffold, on a plastic sheet. Then the photographers began shooting. The camera had a narrow view; it could photograph only one three-by-three-foot section of tapestry at a time. The photographers took overlapping pictures, moving the camera on skateboard wheels on the scaffolding. Each photograph was a tile that would be used to make a complete, seamless mosaic of each tapestry…

It took two weeks to photograph the tapestries. When the job was done, every thread in every tile was crystal-clear, and the individual twisted strands that made up individual threads were often visible, too. The data for the digital images, which consisted entirely of numbers, filled more than two hundred CDs. With other, smaller works of art, Bridgers and her team had been able to load digital tiles into a computer’s hard drives and memory, and then manipulate them into a complete mosaic—into a seamless image—using Adobe Photoshop software. But with the tapestries that simply wouldn’t work. When they tried to assemble the tiles, they found that the files were too large and too complex to manage. “We had to lower the resolution of the images in order to fit them into the computers we had, and it degraded the images so much that we just didn’t think it was worth doing,” Bridgers said. Finally, they gave up. Bridgers stored the CDs on a shelf and filed the project away as an unsolved problem…

Enter Gregory and David Chudnovsky, brothers whose work was so intertwined that they considered themselves a single mathematician.  Over four months– and after 30 hours of continuous running– their self-designed supercomputer successfully performed the 7.7 quadrillion calculations needed to produce the image for the Met.

Richard Preston tells the genuinely-fascinating story: “Capturing the Unicorn.”

It was a return of sorts for Preston, who, thirteen years earlier, had profiled the brothers and their successful quest to resolve pi to a record number of decimal places: “The Mountains of Pi.”

More on the Chudnovskys here.

* Shakuntala Devi

###

As we muse of the merger of art and science, we might recall that it was on this date in 1886 that Coca Cola was concocted in an Atlanta, Georgia backyard as a “brain tonic” that could cure hangovers, stomach aches and headaches.  The original formula included caffeine and five ounces of coca leaf (from which cocaine is derived) per gallon.  The creator, pharmacist John Pemberton, took his syrup a few doors down to Jacobs’ Pharmacy, where he mixed it with carbonated water and shared it with customers.  The pharmacy began marketing it on May 8 as a patent medicine for 5¢ a glass.  It spread first through the other Jacobs outlets in Atlanta, and then around the world.

“The valuable tonic and nerve stimulant properties of the coca plant and cola nuts …”

– John Pemberton

 source

Pemberton

 source

 

“I was always a sucker for anything in miniature”*…

 

Lin

 

Seattle-based photographer Derrick Lin constructs miniature worlds that serve as a direct contrast to the stacks of books and other office staples like paperclips and pencils they’re surrounded by. Often showing life’s more relaxing and sublime moments, each scene is complete with tiny figures and their possessions as they pass along a sidewalk lined with cherry blossom trees, occupy a packed airport terminal, and sit on the floor of a messy living room. Because Lin assembles his little scenarios on his tabletop, some of his shots even feature a coffee mug in the background…

“In addition to humor and whimsy, I started to pay more attention to topics around loneliness, mental health, and kindness. I strive to depict and spotlight on the kind of thoughts we typically reserve for ourselves. My photography loosely reflects what I personally experience and what I see around me. What continues to amaze me is the messages I receive from my followers about how my little project resonates with them and brings them joy and calmness.”…

lin-2-624x781@2x

More at : “Derrick Lin’s Dioramas Contrast the Bustle of Agency Life with Peaceful Office-Supply Scenes.”  To keep up with Lin’s dioramas, follow him on Instagram,

* Lionel Shriver

###

As we get small, we might recall that it was on this date in 1915 that Mary Mallon, “Typhoid Mary,” was put in quarantine on North Brother Island, in New York City, where she was isolated until she died in 1938.  She was the first person in the United States identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the pathogen associated with typhoid fever… before which, she inadvertently spread typhus for years while working as a cook in the New York area.

source

 

Written by LW

March 27, 2020 at 1:01 am

“There is a sociology of horses, as well as a psychology”*…

 

ClubhouseTurn_CluhouseMezzMutal-1-700x500

Clubhouse Mezzanine

 

On a cool and sunny Wednesday afternoon in December 2013, I pulled into a massive parking lot in Inglewood, California. My plan was to photograph Hollywood Park Racetrack before it closed forever. At the time, I was a portrait photographer and had spent many years capturing the subtleties of facial expressions, watching carefully how happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and surprise unfold in the muscles of the face. The work of portraiture is exhilarating but also profoundly exhausting, and I was interested in shifting my attention to buildings, particularly buildings that had been lived in and well worn. I liked the idea of working with less, and also working alone, and I was curious, too. What does a building reveal? How is a building like a face?

Growing up in Los Angeles I had spent many evenings right next door to Hollywood Park. I watched Lakers games, basketball at the summer Olympics, and countless rock concerts at The Forum. Although the neighboring track was enormous — 300 acres, a capacity of 80,000 guests — I had never paid any attention until now…

Photographer Michele Asselin spent the next several days intensively documenting Hollywood Park…

It was almost impossible to stop taking photos, but finally, on December 22, 2013, at 11:00 p.m., my hand was forced. The crowd filed out for the last time as the loudspeakers played “At Last” and “Happy Trails.” Some people were crying, some were singing, some were nonchalant. Those trying to filch a little piece of history — a sign or a doorknob — were stopped by a security guard. When the last person exited the grounds, the gates were locked. The horses were loaded into trailers in the coming weeks and moved across town or to Oklahoma, New Jersey, or Kentucky. The auctioneers sifted through what was left, and then, in 2014, Hollywood Park was razed.

After 15 days of circling the grounds, hauling my equipment from place to place, I was 12 pounds thinner and had hardly seen my kids. I had taken 25,000 photos. It would be a year before I finished sorting through them. I wondered what I had fixed in time. The end of something? Evidence of its existence? The traces of time? I tried to keep in mind what an arborist had once told me — that it’s okay to cut down a struggling tree as long as another is planted in its place. I hope that the same is true of buildings…

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 2.20.35 PM

Jay Cohen. Bugler.

From Asselin’s introduction to her new book, Clubhouse Turn- The Twilight of Hollywood Park Race Track.  For the full intro and more of her photos: “Say Goodbye to Hollywood Park: Photographing the Twilight of a Racetrack” and her website.

* Jane Smiley (Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and horse owner/breeder)

###

As we place our bets, we might recall that it was on this date in 1931 that the state legislature in Nevada legalized casino gambling in the state.  In fact, gambling had been legal in Nevada until 1909 (by which time it was the only state with legal gambling), when an earlier instantiation of the legislature outlawed it.

(Coincidentally, it was on this date in 1942 that Alfred G. Vanderbilt and number of horse racing luminaries established the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America.)

gambling source

 

“Here, are the stiffening hills”*…

 

Mason Street

 

The San Francisco street grid dates to the 1839 plan of Swiss ship captain and surveyor Jean-Jacques Vioget, who laid out the city on a north–south, east–west grid without regard to its topography. Subsequent plans extended the grid, except for its inflection south of Market Street…. and continued the practice of honoring geometry over topography, resulting in some of the steeper streets in the world.

porta-potty

Photographer Dan Ng explored…

What would San Francisco be without its steep hills?

Well for one, if would be much easier to walk around and without much effort. It would be easier to park a car and not have to curb the wheels. We would not have runaway vehicles and tennis balls.

On the other hand, we would not have cable cars, beautiful views and quaint neighborhoods. We would not have the many movies and postcard images to view. In fact, San Francisco would not be San Francisco.

By tilting the camera, I attempted to “level” the hills. These images whimsically portray the streets of San Francisco…flat. But thank goodness it isn’t!

See his more of “leveling” photos: “The Streets of San Francisco… but Flat?

And on the subject of city streets: using OpenStreetMap, Andrei Kashcha’s City Roads project lets you enter any town or city in the world and generates a map of all the streets within its city limits.

* Mervyn Peake, “Rhondda Valley,Collected Poems

###

As we seek balance, we might spare a thought for Paul Lorin Kantner; he died on this date in 2016.  A musician, he’s best known as co-founder, rhythm guitarist, and occasional vocalist of Jefferson Airplane, a seminal San Francisco psychedelic rock band of the counterculture era.  He continued these roles as a member of Jefferson Starship, Jefferson Airplane’s successor band.

Coincidentally, one of his his Airplane co-founders, Signe Toly Anderson, died on the same day.

200px-Paul_Kantner_Jefferson_Starship_1975 source

 

“I’m still learning”*…

 

learned

 

1)  Each year humanity produces 1,000 times more transistors than grains of rice and wheat combined. [Mark P Mills]…

24)  “Mushrooms and truffles are fungi, more closely related to humans than they are to plants.” [Lynne Peskoe-Yang]…

51)  Fast fashion is hitting the wiping rags businesses, because some clothing is just too badly made to be sold as rags. [Adam Minter]…

From Tom Whitwell (@TomWhitwell) of Fluxx, the sixth of his annual lists: “52 things I learned in 2019.”

[image above: source]

* “Ancora imparo,” Michelangelo

###

As we continue our educations, we might recall that it was on this date in 1839 that John William Draper took a daguerreotype of the moon, the first celestial photograph (or astrophotograph) made in the U.S.  (He exposed the plate for 20 minutes using a 5-inch telescope and produced an image one inch in diameter.)   Draper’s picture of his sister, taken the following year, is the oldest surviving photographic portrait.

An 1840 shot of the moon by Draper– the oldest surviving “astrophotograph,” as his first is lost

 source

 

Written by LW

December 18, 2019 at 1:01 am

“When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all”*…

 

tree2

 

In fact, you may not have seen them– really seen them– at all…

Photographs of trees whose trunk and all visible branches have been removed by computer. Only the explosive power of the leaves remains, like fireworks in broad daylight. Through the process of retouching images, I sought to extract by subtraction this explosiveness, this will of life which participates in the majestuousness of the plant world but which is sometimes veiled by our habits of perception...

tree1

tree3

 

Visual artist and photographer Hugo Livet on his series “Fireworks” (“Feu d’artifice”).  More at his site.

* E. O. Wilson

###

As we commune with Kilmer, we might recall that it was on this date in 1307 that Wilhelm Tell (or we Anglos tend to know him, William Tell) shot an apple off his son’s head.

Tell, originally from Bürglen, was a resident of the Canton of Uri (in what is now Switzerland), well known as an expert marksman with the crossbow. At the time, the Habsburg emperors of Austria were seeking to dominate Uri.  Hermann Gessler, the newly appointed Austrian Vogt (the Holy Roman Empire’s title for “overlord”) of Altdorf, raised a pole in the village’s central square, hung his hat on top of it, and demanded that all the local townsfolk bow before the hat.  When Tell passed by the hat without bowing, he was arrested; his punishment was being forced to shoot an apple off the head of his son, Walter– or else both would be executed. Tell was promised freedom if he succeeded.

As the legend has it, Tell split the fruit with a single bolt from his crossbow.  When Gessler queried him about the purpose of a second bolt in his quiver, Tell answered that if he had killed his son, he would have turned the crossbow on Gessler himself.  Gessler became enraged at that comment, and had Tell bound and brought to his ship to be taken to his castle at Küssnacht.  But when a storm broke on Lake Lucerne, Tell managed to escape.  On land, he went to Küssnacht, and when Gessler arrived, Tell shot him with his crossbow.

Tell’s defiance of Gessler sparked a rebellion, in which Tell himself played a major part, leading to the formation of the Swiss Confederation.

Tell and his son

 

 

Written by LW

November 18, 2019 at 1:01 am

“I think if human beings had genuine courage, they’d wear their costumes every day of the year, not just on Halloween”*…

 

ghosts

 

With an eye to Thursday’s festivities, a collection of photos, circa 1897-1918, of children (from the Bronx) dressed as ghosts: “Costume.”

* Douglas Coupland

###

As we give face to our fears, we might recall that it was on this date in 1966 that CBS premiered It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  it was the third Peanuts special (and second holiday-themed special, following A Charlie Brown Christmas) to be produced and animated by Bill Melendez.  It was also the first Peanuts special to use the titular pattern of a short phrase, followed by “Charlie Brown”, a pattern which would remain the norm for almost all subsequent Peanuts specials.  And it was one of 17 Peanuts specials (plus a feature film) to feature the music of Vince Guaraldi.

250px-Great_pumpkin_charlie_brown_title_card source

 

Written by LW

October 27, 2019 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: