Brain Pickings

Andrew Bush’s Drive-By Portraits: A Meditation on Character

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What a vintage Beetle has to do with speeding grannies and the challenges of family travel.

Many years ago — okay, maybe three — I came across Andrew Bush’s fantastic photos of everyday people cruising the freeways of Los Angeles, thanks to Very Short List, one of my 5 favorite newsletters for a better, more interesting life. This week, Public School reminded me of the Vector Portraits series, immortalized in the excellent coffeetable book Drive — a selection of Bush’s best photographs, exploring the often uncomfortable intersection of the public and the private through his peculiar drive-by portraits.

Man heading south at 73 mph on Interstate 5 near Buttonwillow Drive outside of Bakersfield, California, at 5:36 p.m. on a Tuesday in March 1992

Woman pausing at a Beverly Hills intersection at 2:22 p.m. on September 12, 1990

Man drifting northwest at approximately 68 mph on U.S. Route 101 somewhere near Camarillo, California, one evening in 1989

Each image of car and driver captures the personality of the person behind the wheel with surprising simplicity, candid yet unabashedly creative, resulting in what Cathleen Medwick eloquently calls “a meditation on character, class, [and] the human condition, precarious at any speed.”

Man drifting near the shoulder at 61 mph on Interstate 405 around the Getty Drive exit at 4:01 p.m. on a Tuesday in September 1992

Someone's son traveling northbound at 60 mph on U.S. Route 101 near Santa Barbara at 1:55 p.m. in August 1993

Family traveling northwest at 63 mph on Interstate 244 near Yale Avenue in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at approximately 4:15 p.m. on the last day of 1991

Bush takes his portraits by driving alongside his subjects, often at 60mph, with a camera attached to his passenger window. The captions on each photograph, frequently imbued with subtle humor, include notes on the speed and direction he was going. An essay by cultural critic Patt Morrison contextualizes the series and an interview with Bush offers a peek inside the mind and creative process of one of today’s most remarkable photographic artists.

Women racing southwest at 41 mph along 26th Street near the Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades, California, at 1:14 p.m. on a Tuesday in February 1997

Woman waiting to proceed south at Sunset and Highland boulevards, Los Angeles, at approximately 11:59 a.m. one day in February 1997

High school students facing north at 0 mph on Sepulveda Boulevard in Westwood, California, at 3:01 p.m. on a Saturday in February 1997

With images spanning nearly 15 years, Drive is as much a time-capsule of techno-anthropology, with its evolving car models and hairstyles, as it is a rich and peculiar collective portrait of car culture and the myriad vehicles of human character that fuel it.

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Project Earth: A Resource-Based Economy Explained

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What collaborative consumption has to do with life after Earth and the ego of science.

In this excerpt from his Zeitgeist film series, titled Project Earth: A Resource Based Economy Explained, Peter Joseph explores our planet’s resources from a considered systems standpoint, rather than the disjointed campaign talking points typical of much of today’s environmental activism, policy and media coverage — part Whole Earth Discipline, part Worldchanging, part evolved vision for collaborative consumption.

Science is unique in that its methods demand not only that the ideas proposed be tested and replicated, but everything science comes up with is also inherently falsifiable. In other words, unlike religion and politics, science has no ego, and everything it suggests accepts the possibility of being proven wrong eventually. It holds on to nothing and evolves constantly.”

Each of the three feature-length films is available online in its entirety, starting with Part 1, Zeitgeist: The Movie, released in 2007.

Part 2, Zeitgeist: Addendum, came in 2008.

Part 3, Zeitgeist: Moving Forward, was released earlier this year.

The fourth and latest installment in the series, Zeitgeist: Beyond the Pale, will be released in 2012.

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Ai Weiwei: Without Fear or Favour, a BBC Documentary

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Exploring the role of art as an agent of change, or what 100 million porcelain seeds have to do with Twitter.

Creative visionary, political activist and post-modern Renaissance man Ai Weiwei is China’s most widely known and politically vocal contemporary artist. His now-legendary Sunflower Seeds installation for the Tate Modern in October 2010, which took 2.5 years and 1,600 Chinese artisans to produce 100 million hand-crafted sunflower seeds from the finest Chinese porcelain, offered powerful commentary on consumerism, Chinese industry, human rights and collective labor. In February 2011, a 220-pound pile of the seeds sold for $559,394 at Sotheby’s in London. On 3 April, 2011, Ai Weiwei was detained under harsh conditions for over two months without any official charges being filed, on allegations of “economic crimes.”

On June 22 2011, following a large and sustained outcry by international human rights organizations and prolific Western media coverage, the Chinese government released Ai Weiwei on bail, under a number of conditions. But the controversy surrounding his work and the provocative political questions raised by his arrest remain an important part of the global dialogue on art, activism and freedom of speech.

He uses the publicity he gets in a very knowing way, and he uses exhibitions and projects, like the Bird’s Nest stadium, as a platform to be visible and to be able to turn them against themselves. And that’s extremely interesting, and a very sophisticated way of being an artist.”

This fascinating hour-long documentary titled Ai Weiwei: Without Fear or Favour, released by BBC One’s Imagine program earlier this year and recorded shortly prior to Ai Weiwei’s arrest, helps contextualize his work, its cultural significance and its implicit political tensions. Ironically, the film — which deals with issues of openness, censorship and accessibility — is not viewable outside the U.K. thanks to BBC’s restrictive digital media policies, but it’s available on YouTube in its entirety, at least for the time being, thanks to what seems to be Ai Weiwei’s own Chinese YouTube account. Enjoy.

Ai Weiwei is, to my mind, the most significant Chinese artist we are aware of in the West. He’s articulate, he’s passionate, he goes to the edge, he’s unafraid of criticizing the politics and the situation in his own country, nor indeed is he afraid of criticizing Western capitalism.”

For more on Ai Weiwei, his work and convictions, look no further than the excellent Ai Weiwei’s Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants, 2006-2009, culled from the salvaged archive of the artist’s blog, which was taken down by the Chinese authorities in 2009. Courageous, honest and effusively eloquent, Ai Weiwei’s writing offers a rare lens on the mental and physical state of present-day China, the role of contemporary art in politics, and the role of the artist as an agent of change.

via +Mel Exon

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Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.