Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘history’

23 FEBRUARY, 2012

The Dawn of the Color Photograph: Albert Kahn’s Catalog of Humanity

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How an early-twentieth-century French banker shaped your favorite Instagram filters.

In 1909, millionaire French banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn decided to enlist the era’s burgeoning photographic technology in a mission far greater than aesthetic fetishism, and set out to use the new autochrome — the world’s first true color photographic process, invented by the Lumière brothers in 1903 and marketed in 1907 — to produce a color photographic record of human life on Earth as a way of promoting peace and fostering cross-cultural understanding. For Kahn, photography was a way of cataloging the human “tribes” of the world and constructing a vibrant, colorful quilt of our shared humanity.

Over the next two decades, until he was ruined by The Great Depression, Kahn dispatched a crew of photographers to more than 50 countries around the world, shooting over 100 hours of film footage and 72,000 images in what became the most important and influential collection of early color photographs of all time. Yet, for decades, the collection — which spanned everything from religious rituals to cultural customs to watershed political events — remained virtually unknown, until it was rediscovered in the 1980s.

In The Dawn of the Color Photograph: Albert Kahn’s Archives of the Planet, BBC tells the story of Kahn’s ambitious project and its monumental legacy, exploring how his collection and vision came to shape everything from the visual vocabulary of photojournalism to your favorite Instagram filters.

Marne, France

Paris, France

Finistère, France

Norway

Sweden

Greece

Macedonia

Switzerland

Turkey

Serbia

Greece

Montenegro

India

India

India

Mongolia

Mongolia

India

Vietnam

Syria

Djibouti

Republic of Benin (formerly Dahomey)

Vietnam

This excerpt from the BBC program on Kahn, on which The Dawn of the Color Photograph is based, takes a fascinating look at how Kahn’s photographs helped frame the Balkans — my homeland — as the layered, multifaceted set of cultures they were, rather than the lump-sum caricature the world had seen them as after the fall of the Ottoman Empire:

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22 FEBRUARY, 2012

Stunning Vintage Photos of Early 1900s Australian Bike Culture

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What a handlebar koala has to do with skipping 1000 miles from Melbourne to Adelaide.

As a sworn bike lover, I remain fascinated by the evolution of bike culture and the bicycle as a cultural agent, from its design and engineering history to its beauty to its role in the emancipation of women (only after telling them not to cultivate ‘bicycle face’). While digging through the archive of the State Library of New South Wales, I came across these stunning public domain images of early 20th century bike culture in Australia, equal parts sweet (all those tandems!), inspirational (a record-breaking ride from Sydney to Melbourne in 3 days and 7 hours!), and scandalous (NB: Annie is wearing trousers!)

Brownie (Muriel Long) with bicycle decorated for street procession - Deniliquin, New South Wales

Man on a penny-farthing bicycle being chased by his sister (Maggie & Bob Spiers) - West Wyalong, New South Wales, c. 1900

Billie Samuels leaving to ride from Sydney to Melbourne, in hopes of breaking the women's record in 3 days and 7 hours, on a Malvern Star bicycle, 4 July 1934, by Sam Hood

Close-up of Billie Samuels on the Malvern Star bike showing her koala bear mascot before leaving for Melbourne, 4 July 1934, by Sam Hood

Studio photograph of Annie Dawson Wallace seated on a bicycle - Sydney, New South Wales, 1899

Man on bicycle pillioning boy - Bunaloo, New South Wales

Annie Dawson Wallace with her bicycle. NB: Annie is wearing trousers - Sydney, New South Wales, 1899

Man and woman on a Malvern Star abreast tandem bicycle, c. 1930s, by Sam Hood

Alfred Lee and penny farthing, Glen Street, North Sydney

School teacher (Miss Marley) at Narraburra School - Narraburra, New South Wales, no date, by Eden Photo Studios

Palace Emporium Bicycle Club. Century riders - Sydney area, New South Wales, July 1899

Cyclist Joyce Barry, celebrated throughout the 1930s for her many record-breaking time and distances rides, advertising for Milk Board, September 1939

A. H. Sheppard, Australian Champion, c. 1913

Champion Australian cyclist Reggie 'Iron Man' McNamara (1887-1971), no date

Line up of competitors at Goulburn, Goulburn to Sydney, Dunlop Road Race, c. 1930s

Hubert Opperman eating an ice cream next to a Peter's Ice Cream Reo truck,1936, by Sam Hood

Oppy (Hubert Opperman) and woman, possibly Edna Sayers, on tandem bicycle, by Sam Hood

Four cyclists on speed bicycles on rollers time trials to promote Malvern Star, by Sam Hood

Two men in plus-fours on a tandem, by Sam Hood

Boys of Hoyts Clovelly Theatre 'Spider's Web' Club ride their bikes while 'Spiderman' looks on, by Sam Hood

Skipping champion Tom Morris attempts to skip from Sydney to Brisbane via the Pacific Highway, 28 June 1937, by Sam Hood. He had already skipped from Melbourne to Adelaide and back (1000 miles) and from Melbourne to Sydney in 28 days.

Mr. Waterhouse had the first motorcycle that came to Singleton and he built the front carrier for passenger - Singleton, New South Wales, no date

For a related vintage bike culture treat, see this fantastic short documentary on how the Dutch got their bicycle paths (so they can have royalty ride in them), as well as the excellent Wheels of Change, one of the 11 best history books of 2011.

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21 FEBRUARY, 2012

From Philip Glass to Patti Smith, How 1970s New York Shaped Music for Decades to Come

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On “people taking the lousy hands they’d been dealt and dreaming them into music of great consequence.”

“If you know what the ’70s are, or have any inkling where they’re going,” announced The Village Voice upon launching their “Invent the ’70s” contest in 1973, “write to [us] and any feasible answers will be printed.” This notion of the 1970s as having an identity crisis permeated all aspects of culture, from politics to fashion, but something extraordinary was afoot in New York City, a kind of parallel universe of invention and reinvention that not only defined the identity of the decade but also laid the foundation for cultural eras to follow. In Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever, NPR and Rolling Stone music and pop culture journalist Will Hermes takes a fascinating “telescopic, panoramic, superhero” lens to what happened in the period between 1973 and 1978 that shaped the course of contemporary culture and popular music.

An excerpt to give you pause:

Much has been written about New York City in the ’70s, how bleak and desperate things were. The city had careened into bankruptcy, crime was out of control, the visionary idealism of the ’60s was mostly kaput. For a kid growing up then, it was pretty dispiriting. The ’60s was an awesome party that we had missed, and we were left to drink its backwash.

[…]

Even the music was failing, it seemed. Jimi, Janis, and Jim were dead; the Beatles and the Velvet Underground had split. Sly and the Family Stone were unraveling amid mounds of cocaine. The Grateful Dead buried Pigpen. Dylan grew a beard and moved to Los Angles. R&B was losing power as slick soul and featherweight funk took over. Jazz and classical music seemed irrelevant — the former groping fusion or post-Coltrane caterwauls, and the latter dead-ended in sexless serialist cul-de-sacs.

There remains a myth that early- to mid-’70s — post-Aquarian revolution, before punk and hip-hop begot the new age — was a cultural dead zone.

And yet, amid the skyscrapers…down on the streets, artists were breaking music apart and rebuilding it for a new era. Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataaa, and Grandmaster Flash hot-wired street parties with collaged shards of vinyl LPs. The New York Dolls stripped rock ‘n’ roll to its frame and wrapped it in gender-fuck drag, taking a cue from Warhol’s transvestite glamour queens. Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith, both bussed in from Jersey, took a cue from the elusive Dylan, combining rock and poetry into new shapes.

Downtown, David Mancuso and Nicky Siano were inventing the modern disco and the art of club mixing. Uptown, Eddie Palmieri, Willie Colón, and the Fania All-Stars were hot-rodding Cuban music into multiculti salsa, making East Harlem and the South Bronx the global center of forward-looking Spanish-language music. In the wake of Miles Davis’s funk fusions, jazz players were setting up shop in lofts and other repurposed spaces, exploding the music in all directions, synthesizing free-jazz passion with all that came before and after. Just blocks away, Philip Glass and Steve Reich were imagining a new sort of classical music, pulling an end run on European tradition using jazz, rock, African an dIndian sources, and some New York Hustle.

All this activity — largely DIY moves by young iconoclasts on the edge of the mainstream — would grow into movements that continue to shape music around the world.”

Though historically fascinating and an absolute treat for music geeks and New York lovers alike, Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever is at its heart about creative entrepreneurship, about “people taking the lousy hands they’d been dealt and dreaming them into music of great consequence” — the same spirit of possibility and clarity of purpose that once reverberated through innovation meccas as diverse as the Renaissance and early Silicon Valley.

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