Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘photography’

25 MARCH, 2010

Love Me: The Cross-Cultural Manufacturing of Beauty

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What Chinese noses and hairy Brazilians have to do with the Moore’s law of breast.

The “beauty industry.” The glaring oxymoron of this very term — standardizing and industrializing something that’s supposed to be abstract and subjective and “in the eye of the beholder” — aptly reflects its status as one of the most controversial yet ubiquitous facets of culture. We’ve all read about, heard of or seen first-hand the various disjointed manifestations and consequences of humanity’s unhealthy obsession with “beauty” — eating disorders, plastic surgery addiction, plain old nacrissism and social discrimination — but capturing the complete, wide-angle story of this cultural idée fixe is an incredibly ambitious task.

That’s exactly what photographer Zed Nelson explores in Love Me — a gripping, powerful series of images that capture the conflicting social, psychological and economic rewards and penalties of appearance obsessions.

Beauty is a $160 billion-a-year global industry. The worldwide pursuit of body improvement has become a new religion.

Elham, 19, and her mother, 55. Rhinoplasty 'nose job' operation.

Tehran, Iran.

The idea that blonde is best began as early as the eighteenth century when ethnologists, sociologists and English anthropologists such as Englishman Charles White began drawing up hierarchical gradations for mankind, starting with what were believed to be the lowliest — the negroes, bushmen and aborigines — to the yellow races and Slavs, until they reached the white race, thought to be the supreme species.” ~ The Observer

'I'm competing with men 20 years younger than me.' - Anthony Mascolo, 46. Liposuction to chin and abdomen.

New Jersey, USA

The book reveals the frightening commodification of beauty, both industrially and culturally, (did you know that ten years ago, reconstructing a woman’s breasts cost $12,000, compared to $600 today?), exposing the intricate network of transactions and businesses that govern it — the fashion, cosmetics, diet, medical and entertainment industries, with their powerful propaganda mechanisms and meticulous marketing plans.

‘Westernising’ the human body has become a new form of globalisation, with ‘Beauty’ becoming a homogenous brand. The more rigorously our vision is trained to appreciate the artificial, the more industries benefit.

Nose bridge prosthetic implants, to increase size of nose.

Beijing, China

Like it or not, we are judged, and judge, by appearance. Perhaps we are obsessed with the way our own bodies look because we know how instinctively judgemental we are of the bodies that we look at.

'I want to be thin. I was always very sporty at school. Now I am a skeleton.' - Fiona Harris, 44. Anorexic. 6.5 stone.

Winchester, UK

The body has, in a sense, become just another consumer purchase. Everyone can, in the spirit of our age, go shopping for bodily transformation. Banks now offer loans for plastic surgery. American families with annual incomes under $25,000 account for 30 per cent of all cosmetic surgery patients. Americans spend more each year on beauty than they do on education.

'Men's Health magazine (USA) hasn't had a hairy chest on its cover since 1995.' - Wall Street Journal

Copacabana Beach. Rio, Brazil.

From sexed up teenage club-hoppers to prison beauty queens to a brilliantly curated Alain de Botton quote, the book is a cover-to-cover gem that explores, with superb creative direction and a merciless confrontation with superficiality, the most uncomfortable fringes of cultural anthropology.

Ox and Angela, plastic surgeon and wife.

Rio, Brazil

Nelson’s introductory statement about the project is very much worth a read. Explore the collection online, or grab a copy of Love Me for the real deal of glossy-paged coffeetable indulgence.

On a tangential design-pet-peeve aside, it’s worth noting that Nelson’s site exemplifies everything that a well-designed, slick, navigable, share-friendly photographer website should be, combining the seamlessness of Flash with the link shareability of HTML, all delivered in a brilliantly architectured and user-friendly interface — a welcome break from the unshareable, nightmarish to navigate flashturbation dominating today’s photographer portfolios. Hat tip to you, Sir Zed.

Nelson is represented by INSTITUTE for Artist Management, where you can find out more about his work.

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16 MARCH, 2010

Bruce Gilden on the Other Side of The Camera

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What Coney Island mobsters have to do with Haiti and the smell of New York City streets.

Bruce Gilden is easily the most iconic street photographer of our time, particularly notorious for his merciless and indiscriminate use of the flash. Rich and raw at the same time, his portraits live inhabit the strange and mesmerizing world of orchestrated spontaneity.

This short WNYC documentary about Gilden and his approach to street photography reveals as much about his creative angle as it does about his delightfully prickly and irreverent personality as the tables take a rare turn and put the master of urban voyeurism in front of rather than behind the camera.

I use flash a lot because flash helps me visualize the feelings of the city — the energy, the stress, the anxiety that you find here.” ~ Bruce Gilden

Gilden’s photographic bluntness is beautifully balanced by his more subtle but no less meticulous eye for the intricate character of the city, its nooks and subcultures and wonderfully awkward idiosyncrasies.

If you can smell the street by looking at the photo, then it’s a street photograph. You feel like you’re really there.” ~ Bruce Gilden

Gilden’s photoessays and portfolio on the Magnum Archive (the recent sale of which is another fascinating story) are also a treasure worth ogling.

And while all of his books are an absolute must-read for photography and cultural anthropology enthusiasts alike, we find the 2002 Haiti particularly powerful in light of the recent tragedy — a graphic portrait of all that was and a surreal prophet of all that was to be.

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01 MARCH, 2010

Beyond Burton: Art Inspired by Alice In Wonderland

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Floating children, the rabbit hole of the social web, and what Dali has to do with manga.

We’re all about the cross-pollination of disciplines and creative domains. So we love seeing one kind of art inspire another inspire another. Take Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, on the lips — and eyeballs — of the world with this week’s much- anticipated release. The film was, of course, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s 1865 children’s classic of the same name (which also sprouted two other excellent films, one in 1933, starring a trippy Cary Grant, and one in 1966 for the BBC), and has in turn inspired a variety of artwork in its own right. Today, we focus on three such examples of art inspired by Alice.

NAOTO HATTORI

Japanese-born, New-York-based artist Naoto Hattori has a very distinct, Salvador-Dali-meets-manga aesthetic. This illustration inspired by Alice In Wonderland is one of the most stunning pieces of digital artwork we’ve seen in months.

Hattori’s work is part of the Curiouser and Curiouser exhibition at Gallery Nucleus, which opened this weekend and features interpretations of the iconic story by artists who worked on Burton’s feature film and beyond.

via Wicked Halo

ELENA KALIS

From Moscow-born, Bahamas-based artist-turned-underwater-photographer Elena Kalis comes Alice In Waterland, a surreal and whimsical underwater series that blends the alternate-reality feel of Carroll’s world with a wink at the wicked innocence of Burton’s representations.

We love Kalis’ incredible play of light and color, amplified by the water’s reflective properties in a way that combines softness with intensity to a stunning effect.

CHRISTINA TSEVIS

You may recall Greek illustrator Christina Tsevis, whom we interviewed a few months ago. Much to our delight, Christina recently got in touch with us to let us know that Glamour Greece discovered her via our interview and asked her to create a series of Alice In Wonderland illustrations for the magazine, some of which were reprinted as t-shirts.

Brimming with Christina’s signature style of 2D/3D haunting innocence, the work is a beautiful journey into texture, color and pure whimsy.

Here’s to the power of the social web, the ultimate ride down the rabbit hole.

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