Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘photography’

14 DECEMBER, 2011

Alter Ego: Portraits of Gamers Next to Their Avatars

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The real humanity of virtual worlds, or what imaginary public personas reveal about private personhood.

In 2003, British photographer Robbie Cooper was shooting the divorced CEO of a company, who shared that he used virtual world games to play with his children, a meeting them every evening in Everquest, where they would play and chat about mundane things like school and their mother. It was a way for him to connect with his kids, to whom he had little access after the divorce. Cooper recalls:

His description of the banal but emotionally important exchange, taking place in the vivid fantasy of the game, got me thinking about the nature of the game itself; it’s a world of surface appearances and symbols. Within that, their interaction had been reduced to text; it was a technological extension of psychological models — the imaginary, and the symbolic structure of language.” ~ Robbie Cooper

(Cue in yesterday’s fascinating peek at iconic writers’ thoughts on symbolism.)

So Cooper spent the next three years traveling the world, from France and Germany to Korea and China, to photograph virtual world players, placing their portraits next to their avatars. The results — poignant, powerful, remarkably eye-opening — are gathered in Alter Ego, a fascinating and, at its core, profoundly human glimpse of our quest for selfhood, identity, and social belonging. Micro-essays by each gamer offer a layered look at how we assemble our personas in a way that transcends the physicality of our bodies, our genetics, and our circumstances.

Equal parts provocative and humbling, Alter Ego offers a timely meditation on the construction of our social and personal identities in an age when the line between the real and the virtual is, increasingly, not nearly as simple as the distinction between atoms and bits.

via Flavorwire

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08 DECEMBER, 2011

Gay in America: A Photographic Tapestry of Faceted Humanity

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A cultural leap forward, or what Alaskan fishermen, Oregonian fathers, and NYC artists have in common.

From Molly Landredth’s tender vintage portraits of modern queer life to 19-year-old Iowan Zach Wahl’s brave message for marriage equality to Dan Savage’s paradigm-changing It Gets Better project, it’s a time of heartening change for the mainstream’s growing awareness of just how faceted and diverse LGBTQ culture is. It is precisely this faceted humanity that photographer Scott Pasfield, a gay man himself, sought to capture in Gay in America, traveling 54,000 miles across 50 states in 3 years to weave a powerful, profoundly human tapestry of 140 fathers, brothers, sons, and friends from all walks of life, religions, ethnicities, and backgrounds, who happen to be homosexual males. From lawyers to artists to teachers to farmers, his perceptive, deeply personal portraits paint a layered picture of contemporary gay (male) life, the first-ever large-scale photographic survey of gay men in America.

People always tell you to shoot what you love, and that objective led me to this project. I knew I wanted to photograph a subject that I cared deeply about, and to create a body of work that would make a positive difference in people’s lives… I decided that I would find and meet a gay man from every state, listen to their stories, and photograph them in the hope that I could turn that material into a book that would change people’s opinions and educate — the book that I wish had existed when I was a lad. I wanted to produce a profound collection of ordinary, proud, out gay men who would otherwise never find the spotlight.” ~ Scott Pasfield

Alongside each portrait is the subject’s first-hand story — sometimes joyful, sometimes solemn, always earnest.

Alex, Seward, Alaska

Josh & Joseph, Eugene, Oregon

Mudhillin, Newark, Delaware

Michael & Allen, Delta Junction, Alaska

For Pasfield, the project was as much a public service as it was a personal journey. He writes in the preface:

A year before my father’s death [from lung cancer], I started going to a regular group-therapy session for gay men in New York City. That is where I met my partner, Nick. When I was struggling through my father’s illness, he was there for me, calling me in Florida, making sure I was okay. When I came back to New York, we both realized we had fallen in love over the past months and we couldn’t ignore it anymore. The hard part was, Nick was with someone else, and he still wasn’t out to his family. He had two major hurdles to jump before our relationship could begin, and he did so, with grace and with courage. This year we celebrate our thirteenth anniversary together.”

Dallas Voice has a fantastic interview with Pasfield, in which he reflects on the role the Internet played in painting a truly dimensional portrait of gay culture.

The Internet played a big part in how I found people. It would have been much more difficult to find them [10 or 20 years ago]. The thing that surprised me the most is the regularness of all these guys. I think most outspoken gay men and all facets of the LGBT community are those people who defined themselves very much by being gay and they have that issue that they really want to share with the world. They’re very outspoken. I think the type of men I was looking for aren’t as outspoken as a lot of those advocates are. That difficulty in finding them was made so much easier by the Internet. Ten, maybe 20 years ago, I’m not quite sure how I would have found the same men because they’re not going to gay community centers, most of them. They’re not out at a lot of gay bars or clubs in urban areas. I think that that’s one of the major differences doing it now. That I was really able to connect with a lot of gay men that are for the most part under the radar and what most see of the gay community.”

Thoughtful and perspective-shifting, Gay in America reveals the dimensions of humanity well past sexuality, a powerful step towards a culture that no longer conflates sexual orientation with human identity and a worthy addition to the best photography books of 2011.

Images courtesy of Scott Pasfield

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07 DECEMBER, 2011

The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott: 100 Years of Polar Mystery

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What ponies and glaciers have to do with London bars.

In April, these rare photos of the first Australian expedition to Antarctica circa 1911-1914 quickly became one of the most read and circulated photography articles on Brain Pickings all year. This glimpse of early polar exploration, however, was preceded by another, the legend of which endured for over a century. In 1910, Captain Robert Falcon Scott and a small crew of men embarked upon the infamous Terra Nova Expedition to the South Pole, only to arrive there on January 17, 1912, and discover that a Norwegian expedition had beaten them to the feat. To add tragedy to letdown, the crew never made it home — they perished on the way back in the grip of starvation, exhaustion, and extreme cold. Though it was known that Captain Scott documented the ill-fated expedition in a wealth of photos, the location of most of them remained a mystery for nearly a century.

The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott: Unseen Images from the Legendary Antarctic Expedition brings these brave men’s story to light, and does so with an incredible story of its own. Several years ago, as polar historian David M. Wilson was having a drink at a London salon, he was approached by an art collector by the name of Richard Kossow, who claimed that in 2001 he had purchased a portfolio of Antarctic photographs from the early 1900s. Wilson was already intrigued, but when Kossow informed him that the photos were from Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910-13 expedition, whose ill-fated crew featured Wilson’s great-uncle, Edward Wilson, and they were taken by Scott himself, Wilson nearly choked on his gin and tonic. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Self-portrait by professional travel photographer Herbert Ponting, hired by Scott, as he photographs the Terra Nova in pack ice, December, 1910.

The hut at Cape Evans provide, captured by Scott in a photograph used chiefly to practice using lenses, filters, and other photo equipment, yet an invaluable record of the expedition. October, 1910.

Crew members from the Terra Nova expedition, 1910

The ponies rest in the sun, the line of sledges leading the eye out into the great beyond. November 19, 1911.

The ponies straggle in the icy wilderness on a trek from which many of the men and none of the ponies would not return.

Scott's lens looks in the direction of the crew's journey out from the Lower Glacier Depot. December 11, 1911

On December 20, 1911, Scott captured these striking geological features of the mountains around Mount Wild.

Equal parts inspirational and heartbreaking, The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott is as much a rugged lesson in early extreme photography as it is a priceless lens on the history of polar exploration, at last free of the fog of mystery.

All images by Robert Falcon Scott courtesy of Little, Brown and Company via The New York Times

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06 DECEMBER, 2011

The Natural History of Evolution, in Stunning Black-and-White Photographs of Animal Skeletons

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What a flamingo, a capybara, and a guinea pig have to do with the beginnings of recorded time.

When Gunther von Hagens put together his traveling display of half-stripped bodies playing sports, chess, fencing, riding a similarly half-stripped horse, and generally acting like their human counterparts, audiences were horrified and fascinated. Bodyworlds was gross anatomy on parade, and to some it might have felt more like body snatching than an education in muscle mass and movement. But Von Hagens, for all his showmanship, emphasized that these bodies, preserved hopefully forever, were for learning. The entertainment was incidental.

The image that opens the Patrick Gries and Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu’s stunning book Evolution (public library) takes Von Hagens horse and rider and strips it completely, bone against black in a beautiful high-resolution photograph. The result is somehow even more animated, more eternal, and the quote paired with it, from the eighteenth-century naturalist Comte de Buffon, reveals the project at hand:

Take the skeleton of a man. Tilt the pelvis, shorten the femurs, legs, and arms, elongate the feet and hands, fuse the phalanges, elongate the jaws while shortening the frontal bone, and finally elongate the spine, and the skeleton will cease to represent the remains of a man and will be the skeleton of a horse…”

Human being (Homo sapiens) riding a horse (Equus caballus)

For hundreds of years, natural history museums have offered body worlds of their very own, skeletons stripped down for study, sometimes posed in their natural habitats looking about as natural as a pork chop in the jungle.

Evolution, published originally as a large-scale coffee table book in 2007, now in a physically smaller but expanded edition, provides a stark contrast of black and white and bone. Patrick Gries’ photographs against black backgrounds transform animal skeletons into tender and lively creatures, as animated in death as they were in life, while Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu, a professor of natural science, provides a concise summary of each animal’s place in the evolutionary ladder.

Greater flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber, Africa, America, Eurasia

These skeletons are so far beyond death that we can see in them almost a new kind of creature, where the bones are animated without muscle, and skulls manage to look at us without eyes. Gries poses the skeletons provocatively: a leopard pounces mid-air onto its prey, a piranha is about to snap, a black swan preens its missing feathers, a wood pigeon flies off the page.

Cheetah, Acynonyx jubatus, Sub-Saharan Africa

The book is organized according to the principles of, you guessed it, evolution, but de Panafieu prefers to tell the smaller stories of the parts rather than the whole: of predator and prey, of teeth and digits, of specific changes in fish, of brains and their carrying-cases, skulls.

Hermann’s tortoise, Tesudo hermanni, France

Mostly taken from the Museum of Natural History in Paris, the animals represented here are from all over the globe, land and sea, big and small: the flamingo, the guinea pig, the okapi, the capybara, the house mouse, the little owl, stunningly-ribbed snakes, sea sponges, the nurse shark, seahorses, the pilot whale, the common carp. the sacred ibis, Humbolt’s wooly monkey, and of course, the human.

Ring-tailed lemur, Eulemur mongoz, Madagascar

A rare book that is both a complete work of art and a complete work of science, Evolution dismantles the natural history museum into its parts, revealing a stripped-down animal kingdom and the commonalities at its core.

Michelle Legro is an associate editor at Lapham’s Quarterly. You can find her on Twitter.

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