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14 NOVEMBER, 2011

Onward to the Edge: Another Symphony of Science Remix Gem

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A mashup ballad for the mystery of the universe.

As a general believer in remix culture and a particular fan of John Boswell‘s Symphony of Science mashup series, I’m all over Onward to the Edge — his latest brilliant installment, featuring the auto-tuned voices of rockstar particle physicist Brian Cox, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and planetary scientist Carolyn Porco, mashing up material from Tyson’s My Favorite Universe video course, Cox’s BBC series Wonders of the Solar System, Porco’s TED talk, and scenes from National Geographic‘s A Traveler’s Guide to the Planets. It’s exquisite — enjoy:

Grab a download of the audio here, free or for a pay-what-you-will price, in which I too am a believer.

via Open Culture

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14 NOVEMBER, 2011

Animals Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before

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From armadillos to zebras, or what championship chickens have to do with a giant octopus.

It’s easy to take this amazing planet we inhabit for granted. While National Geographic‘s school of nature photography may have its place, there’s something remarkable and whimsical that happens when a fine art photographer takes her lens to Earth’s creatures — they become poetry. Today, we turn to five such photographers, whose portraits of animals — unusual, otherworldly, kooky, tender, charismatic — make the eye swoon and the heart sing.

ANDREW ZUCKERMAN: CREATURE

Andrew Zuckerman is one of my absolute favorite photographers working today, his Wisdom and Music projects priceless time-capsules of contemporary culture and his thoughts on curiosity and rigor as the key to creativity a beautiful articulation of my own credo. In Creature, Zuckerman brings his exquisite signature style, crisp yet tender, to Earth’s beings. With equal parts detail and delight, he captures the spirt of these diverse creatures, from panthers to fruit bats to bald eagles, in a way makes them seem familiar and fresh at once, and altogether breathtaking.

Asian Elephant

Image courtesy of Andrew Zuckerman

Six banded armadillo

Image courtesy of Andrew Zuckerman

Mandrill Monkey

Image courtesy of Andrew Zuckerman

Grant's Zebra

Image courtesy of Andrew Zuckerman

Common Dove

Image courtesy of Andrew Zuckerman

Canary

Image courtesy of Andrew Zuckerman

African Crested Porcupine

Image courtesy of Andrew Zuckerman

Blue and Yellow Macaw

Image courtesy of Andrew Zuckerman

Reticulated Giraffe

Image courtesy of Andrew Zuckerman

The project also features a companion children’s alphabet book (and we know how much I love those) titled Creature ABC. In 2008, Zuckerman followed up with the equally exquisite Bird.

TIM FLACH: DOGS

From photographer Tim Flach and Creative Review editor Lewis Blackwell comes Dogs — a series of incredibly artful, soulful portraits of man’s best friend, first featured here several months ago.

With a potent blend of playfulness and profound respect, Flach captures the remarkable diversity of dogs, both of appearance and of character, and our complex, 150-century-old relationship with them in a poetic and spellbinding visual narrative.

From shelter dogs to show-winners to dogs who sniff out explosives, the book spans an incredible range of personalities, portrayed in beautiful images generously stretched across full-bleed double-page spreads and lined with insightful commentary on everything from dog racism (did you know that there are more black dogs in shelters than any other fur color?) to historical background on how different breeds came to be and curious facts about them.

They can entertain us, protect us, teach us how to love, do what they are told, and tell us what is going to happen next. They can even extend our lives. We think we train them to do the work, but they have in turn found a way for us to provide for them. This great form that has forged so many different kinds of dog is the inspiration for this book. The result is an unprecedented insight and visualization of what dogs are and can be.”

TAMARA STAPLES: FAIREST FOWL

Humans have the beauty pageants. Dogs have the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. But who knew chickens, too, had their own line of competitive narcissism? In The Fairest Fowl: Portraits of Championship Chickens, which you might recall, photographer Tamara Staples documents the fascinating and glamorous world of poultry fanciers and their prized barnyard beauties, from the surprisingly elaborate judging process to the distinct personalities of individual birds. Printed on appropriately lavish paper and garnished with a delicious essay by NPR’s Ira Glass illuminating the intricacies of chicken portraiture, the book is equal parts rich anthropology of a curious subculture and remarkable feat of photographic brilliance.

Chickens this amazing don’t just happen. People help them along — breed them, nurture them, take them from the humble coop to the top of the poultry world. In what’s left of rural America, there is a poultry world. And it’s bigger than you think. At a recent national competition, 12,000 birds showed up.”

In the world of championship chickens, there’s a 100-point scale, and every feature counts. […] The American Standard of Perfection is regularly linked to the Bible. Almost every breeder or judge speaks of the book in such exalted terms. The Standard exhaustively discusses every possible nuance of a show chicken, and there is little to no ambiguity between its covers.”

All images copyright Tamara Staples

SHARON MONTROSE: MENAGERIE

Fresh off the press just last week, Menagerie by photographer Sharon Montrose is a stunning collection of her most evocative images that will make you see at even the most familiar animals with equal parts astonishment, awe, and endearment.

From lambs to baby porcupines to giraffes, these tender, minimalist portraits exude a certain nakedness that makes the creatures in them appear at once more vulnerable and more relatable.

MARK LAITA: SEA

From photographer Mark Laita, whose superb “parallel portraits” of subcultures you might recall, comes Sea — a masterful piece of visual poetry that captures the creatures of the deep with equal parts cutting-edge photographic technique and imaginative whimsy to explore the extraordinary wonderland that lives beneath the surface of the world’s water. From iridescent jellyfish to playful sea horses to prepossessing but deadly puffer fish, the 104 images in the collection reveal the astounding grace, colors, and personalities of these marine characters with unprecedented artistry and passion.

North Pacific Giant Octopus

Blue Blubber Jellyfish

Golden Butterfly

Green Chromis

Humpback Anglerfish

Red Feather Starfish

Blue Spot Stingray

Miniatus Grouper

Full review, along with more images, here.

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11 NOVEMBER, 2011

How Darwin’s Photos of Human Emotions Changed Visual Culture

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What disdain and devotion have to do with the dawn of photography, evolution, and Lewis Carroll.

In 1872, some thirteen years after The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin published The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, one of the first scientific texts to use photographic illustrations. Though the work itself was hardly groundbreaking — it was based on the research of French neurologist Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne, who ten years prior used electrodes to explore the human face as a map of inner states and published Mécanisme de la Physionomie Humaine (The Mechanisms of Human Physiognomy) — Darwin’s book is regarded not only as his main contribution to psychology, but also as a pivotal turning point in the history of book illustration, right up there with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

(More than a century later, psychologist Paul Ekman used Darwin and Duchenne’s research as the basis for his Facial Actions Coding System, or FACS — a codified approach to reading human emotion based on facial micro-expressions — on which I happened to do a decent portion of my undergraduate work and which went on to aid everyone from the CIA to animators. You may also recall the subject from our recent look at the science of smiles.)

Darwin’s contribution to many fields of science, from evolution to geology to botany, are well-known — but it turns out he was also a seminal figure in the history of visual culture. In Darwin’s Camera: Art and Photography in the Theory of Evolution, photography curator Phillip Prodger tells the remarkable story of Darwin shaped not only the course of science but also forever changed how images are seen and made.

Prodger traces Darwin’s tireless quest to capture human emotion at its most visually expressive — not an easy task in an age when photography was both slow and painfully awkward. After scouring countless galleries, bookstores, and photographic studios, Darwin finally found the eccentric art photographer Oscar Rejlander, a titan of creative history in his own right, and recruited him to capture the emotional expressions Darwin intended to study.

A page of photographs by Oscar Rejlander from the Darwin Archive, 1871-1872. Albumen prints.

Infants: Suffering and Weeping. Heliotype print.

At first, photographs were judged in exactly the same way as prints and drawings. The same standards that applied to them — plausibility, authority, skill, and convincingness — applied equally to photographs. But photographic technology improved rapidly… It took approximately fifty years, but during the latter half of the 1800s photography moved into territory traditional drawing and printmaking could not. Once it became capable of taking pictures faster than what the naked eye could see, it began to affect measures of scientific integrity.” ~ Phillip Prodger

Joy, High Spirits, Love, Tender Feelings, and Devotion. Heliotype print.

Low Spirits, Anxiety, Grief, Dejection, and Despair. Heliotype print..

Indignation and Helplessness. Heliotype print.

But what’s perhaps most interesting is Darwin’s remarkable cross-disciplinary curiosity, a quality I believe is the key to combinatorial creativity. Though he never studied art formally, he had an active interest in art, read art history books, visited art museums, and mingled with the artists on his HMS Beagle voyage. Eventually, the sensibilities of art seeped into his work. Prodger takes a closer look at many of Darwin’s curated friendships — Lewis Carroll, iconic photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, celebrated animal painters Joseph Wolf and Briton Riviere, sculptor Thomas Woolner, and many more.

Disdain, Contempt, and Disgust. Heliotype print.

Hatred and Anger. Heliotype print.

Surprise and Astonishment, Fear and Horror. Heliotype print.

Photographic illustration was an inexact process. Because there were no present rules for using photographs in books, Darwin attempted to create them. Working at a time when printmaking still dominated scientific illustration, he internalized prevailing notions about authority and authenticity in picture making. In this regard, he was a transitional figure, with one foot firmly in the past — lessons learned from the books he knew and admired — and one foot in the future, with the enormous potential he recognized in photography.” ~ Phillip Prodger

Researchers at The Darwin Project, an ambitious initiative to digitize Darwin’s legacy and a fine addition to these 7 important digital humanities projects, are currently crowdsourcing Darwin’s experiment on emotions by asking you to name which core emotion each of Darwin’s images conveyed. The experiment features 11 images and can be completed in under a minute — give it a try.

Rigorously researched and eloquently narrated, Darwin’s Camera is an essential missing link in the evolution of visual culture at the intersection of history, psychology, and art.

HT How To Be a Retronaut; images courtesy of Oxford University Press

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