(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘photography

“The things you used to own, now they own you”*…

 

things

 

Photographic artist Barbara Iweins practice has always dealt with the boundaries of intimacy and vulnerability, and how these can be pushed to their very limits. Her relationship with the medium began 11 years ago, when she was suddenly compelled to buy a camera and photograph strangers she met in the street.

“Ever since I was young, whenever I was in a public space, my eyes would be drawn to certain people and I wondered what they were thinking or doing at that exact moment, or even what their fears were, or their joys,” she explains. So, one day, she decided to act on that impulse, asking strangers if she could enter their personal lives. “Like a voyeur, I revisited them year after year with a new project. By the end of those five years, we were so close, that I could even make a picture of them at one of their most vulnerable moments: when they just opened their eyes in the morning. This project was called 7AM/7PM.”

Having spent so long focusing on the vulnerability of others, recently, Barbara decided to turn inwards, using her own private life as a case study for the first time. “It was time for me to lay myself bare a little as well,” she adds. The result is Katalog, a project she began in 2018 which she describes as “a radical confrontation with my possessions through my photographic lens. The exposure of oneself, pushed to its paroxysm.” In a mammoth project, for two years and 15 hours a week, Barbara isolated herself and photographed all 10,532 objects in her house. “In order to rigorously confront myself with everything I own, I then classified everything by material, colour, their frequency of use and their emotional value.”

You’d assume that this would be a somewhat performative gesture, that the majority but perhaps not all of Barbara’s possessions would make it into the series but, she tells us, “to be totally honest with myself, I needed to capture them all. No book, no piece of clothing, no kitchen utensil, no Lego was going to escape my lens.”…

The photographer undertook this mammoth task in an attempt assess the value she places on objects: “Artist Barbara Iweins on spending two years photographing all 10,532 objects in her house.”

* Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

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As we take on taxonomy, we might spare a thought for Jean-Jacques Rousseau; he died on this date in 1778.  A central figure in the European Enlightenment, he was a novelist (Emile, or On Education illustrated the importance of the education of the whole person for citizenship; Julie, or the New Heloise was seminal in the development of romanticism in fiction), a composer (perhaps most notably of several operas), and an autobiographer (his Confessions initiated the modern autobiography; his Reveries of a Solitary Walker exemplified the late 18th-century movement known as the Age of Sensibility, and featured an heightened subjectivity and introspection that later characterized modern writing).

But it is as a philosopher that Rousseau was best known in his time and is best remembered.  His Discourse on Inequality and The Social Contract are cornerstones of modern political and social thought.  He was deeply controversial in his time: he was condemned from the pulpit by the Archbishop of Paris, his books were burned and warrants were issued for his arrest.  But during the period of the French Revolution, Rousseau was the most popular of the philosophes among members of the Jacobin Club. He was interred as a national hero in the Panthéon in Paris, in 1794, 16 years after his death.

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“Wherever I found a library, I immediately felt at home”*…

 

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The nation’s smallest library (now closed), Hartland Four Corners, Vt., 1994. “At the time I made this photograph, its entire collection of 70 boxes of books had been sold to a local used-book dealer for $125.”

 

In celebration of National Library Week, (Roughly) Daily is revisiting photographer Robert Dawson

There are over 17,000 public libraries in this country. Since I began the project in 1994, I have photographed hundreds of libraries in 48 states. From Alaska to Florida, New England to the West Coast, the photographs reveal a vibrant, essential, yet threatened system.

A public library can mean different things to different people. For me, the library offers our best example of the public commons. For many, the library upholds the 19th-century belief that the future of democracy is contingent upon an educated citizenry. For others, the library simply means free access to the Internet, or a warm place to take shelter, a chance for an education, or the endless possibilities that jump to life in your imagination the moment you open the cover of a book…

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Library, Death Valley National Park, Calif., 2009. “This remote library in a trailer is the only library for hundreds of miles.”

See more at American Library, peruse Dawson’s The Public Library: A Photographic Essay, and visit his site.

And while physical libraries are closed for the time being, don’t forget “7 digital libraries you can visit from your couch“– and the mother of all online library resources, the Internet Archive.

* Charles Simic

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As we check it out, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to Immanuel Kant; he was born on this date in 1724.  One of the central figures of modern philosophy, Kant is remembered primarily for his efforts to unite reason with experience (e.g., Critique of Pure Reason [Kritik der reinen Vernunft], 1781), and for his work on ethics (e.g., Metaphysics of Morals [Die Metaphysik der Sitten], 1797) and aesthetics (e.g., Critique of Judgment [Kritik der Urteilskraft], 1790).  But he made important contributions to mathematics and astronomy as well; for example: Kant’s argument that mathematical truths are a form of synthetic a priori knowledge was cited by Einstein as an important early influence on his work.  And his description of the Milky Way as a lens-shaped collection of stars that represented only one of many “island universes,” was later shown to be accurate by Herschel.

There is … only a single categorical imperative and it is this: Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

– Chapter 11, Metaphysics of Morals

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Written by LW

April 22, 2020 at 1:01 am

“An ordinary life isn’t ordinary when you put a frame around a moment”*…

 

meyerowitz

 

Joel Meyerowitz is a pioneer of street photography. He started in the early 1960s in New York City, using color film when most other photographers were shooting in black-and-white. He’s had exhibitions of his work all over the world, and has published more than 30 books. A retrospective of his work is scheduled to be shown in Berlin later this year, and he’s working on a new project of self-portraits. At age 82, he’s continuing to explore the medium of photography every day…

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An interview with Meyerowitz, including his thoughts on street photography in the time of coronavirus (with memories of 9/11): “Ready for Surprise.”

* Joel Meyerowitz

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As we capture the moment, we might spare a thought for another extraordinary street photographer, Vivian Dorothy Maier; she died on this date in 2009.  A nanny, mostly in Chicago’s North Shore, she took more than 150,000 photographs during her lifetime, primarily of the people and architecture of Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles– photographs that weren’t recognized until after her death.

A Chicago collector, John Maloof, acquired some of Maier’s photos in 2007, while two other Chicago-based collectors, Ron Slattery and Randy Prow, also found some of Maier’s prints and negatives in her boxes and suitcases around the same time.  Maier’s photographs were first published by Slattery on the Internet in July 2008; but the work received little response.  In October 2009, Maloof linked his blog to a selection of Maier’s photographs on Flickr [now collected on this site], and the results went viral, with thousands of people expressing interest.  Maier’s work subsequently attracted critical acclaim, and since then, has been exhibited around the world. Her life and work have been the subject of books and documentary films, including the Academy Award-nominated Finding Vivian Maier.

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Vivian_Maier

Self-portrait

 

Written by LW

April 21, 2020 at 1:01 am

“I used to work in a fire hydrant factory. You couldn’t park anywhere near the place.”*…

 

industrial photography

In 1966, German photographers Hilla and Bernd Becher set out in a Volkswagen for six months to photograph the monolithic architecture of coal mines in England and South Wales. In tow was their toddler, Max; their 8×10 camera; and a darkroom housed in a caravan. The couple had married five years earlier, beginning a four-decade-long partnership from which an entire school of photography would develop, hallmarked by its deadpan, studious view of the world and often rigorous sets of rules…

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More of Hilla and Bernd Becher’s work, and a consideration of its impact, at “The Photographer Couple Who Turned Industrial Architecture into Fine Art.”

See also the Tate’s appreciation.

* Steven Wright

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As we try to find art in commerce, we might recall that it was on this date in 1908 that Harvard University established the Harvard Business School.  Originally created by the humanities faculty, it received independent status in 1910, and became a separate administrative unit in 1913.

This school of business and public administration was originally conceived as a school for diplomacy and government service on the model of the French Ecole des Sciences Politiques. The goal was an institution of higher learning that would offer a master of arts degree in the humanities field, with a major in business. In discussions about the curriculum, the suggestion was made to concentrate on specific business topics such as banking, railroads, and so on… the school would train qualified public administrators whom the government would have no choice but to employ, thereby building a better public administration…    [source: Esther Yogev, “Corporate Hand in Academic Glove: The New Management’s Struggle for Academic Recognition—The Case of the Harvard Group in the 1920s,” American Studies International (2001)]

But in the event, things took a different turn: just as Harvard’s medical school trained doctors and its law faculty trained lawyers, its new business school blazed a new trail by educating young people for a career in commerce.  Indeed, from the start, HBS enjoyed a close relationship with the corporate world.  Within a few years of its founding, many of its alumni became business leaders and began hiring graduates and other alumni for positions in their firms… a practice that has continued– and grown– to this day.

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Baker Library at HBS

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“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

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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

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Pemberton

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