Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

27 MAY, 2011

Frank Sinatra: A Rare Documentary from 1965

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What the evolution of popular music has to do with turbulent love and fostering the art of patience.

I am a big lover of jazz, and have always had a soft spot for Frank Sinatra. (My first iBook, the first computer on which I had iTunes, was promptly named Francis by my college housemates because all I played on it was Sinatra.) Though some may say he diluted “true jazz” and turned it into musical pop candy, there’s something to be said for his incredible talent and charisma, which broadened the audience for music in a way few artists have single-handedly managed in the history of contemporary music. Known by many names — Frankie, Francis, Ol’ Blue Eyes, The Chairman of the Board, The Voice — and often revered as the most popular and enduring singer of the 20th century, he borrowed from jazz, swing, pop, big band and more to weave together a style that was distinctly his own.

In 1965, CBS News spent six months with Sinatra, exploring what it is exactly that made him so special, getting unprecedented access to both his recording career and his private life. The resulting documentary was broadcast on November 16, 1965, and now, thanks to YouTube, we have access to this rare footage, in which Sinatra talks about everything from his childhood in Hoboken to his legendary love affairs to the cultural role of the entertainer across time.

I would like to be remembered as a man who brought an innovation to popular singing. I would like to be remembered as a man who had a wonderful time living his life, and who had good friends, fine family, and I don’t think I could ask for anything more than that, actually.” ~ Frank Sinatra

I’ve always admired people who are gentle and who have great patience and, apparently, what I’ve done without knowing is I’ve aped these people and begun to follow that kind of line.” ~ Frank Sinatra

For another intimate look at Sinatra’s relentlessly fascinating life and career, you won’t go wrong with The Sinatra Treasures: Intimate Photos, Mementos, and Music from the Sinatra Family Collection — a stunning and loving homage to the iconic singer by Sinatra family archivist Charles Pignone, full of over 200 black-and-white and color photographs alongside reproductions of rare memorabilia like radio scripts, telegrams and letters, piano scores and more, as well as a bounty of thoughtful, witty and true to character quotes from The Voice himself.

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27 MAY, 2011

Radioactive: The Incredible Story of Marie Curie Told in Cyanotype

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What the periodic table has to do with obscure photographic techniques and Italian erotic séances.

Marie Curie is one of the most extraordinary figures in the history of science. A pioneer in researching radioactivity, a field the very name for which she coined, she was not only the first woman to win a Nobel Prize but also the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, and in two different sciences at that, chemistry and physics. In Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout, artist Lauren Redniss tells the story of Curie through the two invisible but immensely powerful forces that guided her life: Radioactivity and love. It’s a turbulent story — a passionate romance with Pierre Curie (honeymoon on bicycles!), the epic discovery of radium and polonium, Pierre’s sudden death in a freak accident in 1906, Marie’s affair with physicist Paul Langevin, her coveted second Noble Prize — under which lie poignant reflections on the implications of Curie’s work more than a century later as we face ethically polarized issues like nuclear energy, radiation therapy in medicine, nuclear weapons and more.

Most remarkable of all, however, is the thoughtfulness with which Redniss tailored her medium to her message, turning the book into a work of art in and of itself, every detail meticulously moulded to fit the essence of the narrative.

To stay true to Curie’s spirit and legacy, Redniss rendered her poetic artwork in an early-20th-century image printing process called cyanotype, critical to the discovery of both X-rays and radioactivity itself — a cameraless photographic technique in which paper is coated with light-sensitive chemicals. Once exposed to the sun’s UV rays, this chemically-treated paper turns a deep blue color. The text in the book is a unique typeface Redniss designed using the title pages of 18th- and 19th-century manuscripts from the New York Public Library archive. She named it Eusapia LR, for the croquet-playing, sexually ravenous Italian Spiritualist medium whose séances the Curies used to attend. The book’s cover is printed in glow-in-the-dark ink.

Watch an endearingly nervous Redniss tell the story of her book and her creative process in this talk from the recent TEDxEast:

Stunningly beautiful in both concept and execution, Radioactive is a rare cross-pollination of art and science, the kind of storytelling that makes us care about stories.

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26 MAY, 2011

Cold War Wonderland: Photographing the East/West Divide

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What Soviet babushkas have to do with the fall of the Roman Empire and the Egyptian Revolution.

Jason Eskenazi grew up in Queens during the peak of the Cold War, bombarded by the era’s typical propaganda about “The Evil Empire” on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Convinced that reality must be less black-and-white than what the Reagan administration was making it up to be, Eskenazi took off from his day job as security guard at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and spent a decade documenting life in the former Soviet Union in stunning black-and-white photographs, collected in Wonderland: A Fairy Tale of the Soviet Monolith. The result is an almost surreal, anachronistic, poetic portrait of a culture seemingly frozen in time, exuding an odd yet alluring symmetry between beauty and tragedy.

There were all these things from 50 years ago, and everything looked like the photography that I was brought up on.” ~ Jason Eskenazi

Army Base, Karagandar, Kazakhstan, 1998

Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR

Holiday, Shutilova, Russia, 2000

Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR

Caspian Sea Baku, Azerbaijan, 1997

Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR

Young Sailors Club, Kostrama, Russia, 2000

Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR

Farm Milkmaid, Northern Kazakhstan, 1998

Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR

Space Museum, Moscow, 1998

Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR

Waltz Competition, Moscow, 1996

Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR

Hill of Crosses, Lithuania, 2000

Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR

Images via NPR

This month, Eskenazi, now a Fulbright Scholar, is setting out to create an ambitious companion narrative to WonderlandThe Black Garden, a fascinating look at the East-West divide that seeped into culture long past the end of the Cold War explored through the lens of mythology, from the Trojan War, to the fall of the Roman Empire, to the Ottoman conquest of Europe, to today’s post-9/11 conflicts in the Middle East and the revolutions in Egypt and Libya. And he’s funding it on Kickstarter.

It’s a truly inspired project, equal parts ambitious and needed, so please join me in supporting it.

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