Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘video’

08 JUNE, 2011

The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels: A Brief History of the Bike

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What British artisans have to do with geometry, women’s liberation and the local economy.

I’m a big proponent of bike culture and an obsessive cyclist myself. On a cultural level, we’ve seen the incredible effects the bike has had on everything from emancipating women to catalyzing subcultures to revitalizing the local economy. And while the bicycle, since its earliest incarnation, has remained a rather remarkable machine, the never-ending quest for its perfection is a relentless conduit of creativity, imagination and artisanal innovation. That’s exactly what Robert Penn documents in It’s All About the Bike: The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels — a fantastic new chronicle of the bike’s story, from its cultural history to its technical innovation to the fascinating, colorful stories of the people who ride it.

At the heart of [the capstone of the Victorian era] was the bicycle. In 1890, there were an estimated 150,000 cyclists in the USA: a bicycle cost roughly half the annual salary of a factory worker. By 1895, the cost was a few weeks’ wages and there were a million new cyclists each year.” ~ Robert Penn

Penn, a Condé Nast Traveler writer who has traveled more than 25,000 miles on a bicycle, approaches his subject with equal parts humor, humility and authoritative intelligence as he sets out to find himself a new bike. In the process, he dabbles across industrial archeology, economic theory, design and much more, profiles bike culture pioneers, talks to artisan frame builders from the world’s most arcane bike workshops, and even entertains the conceits of Victorian society, where a fear that the bicycle might be sexually stimulating to women became a real concern.

Illustration by Tamara Shopsin and Jason Fulford for The New York Times

Penn cites novelist John Galsworthy, who eloquently captures the bicycle’s momentous impact:

The bicycle…has been responsible for more movement in manners and morals than anything since Charles the Second … Under its influence, wholly or in part, have blossomed weekends, strong nerves, strong legs, strong language … equality of sex, good digestion and professional occupation — in four words, the emancipation of women.”

Entertaining, illuminating and beautifully illustrated, It’s All About the Bike is a rare and precious portal to the heart and soul of bike culture and its surprising footprint — tireprint? — on all of culture.

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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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10 MAY, 2011

Justin Gignac on Idea Envy and Embracing Imperfection

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What the garbage of New York City has to do with monetizing the starving artist archetype.

We’re longtime fans of artist Justin Gignac. (It’s jee-nak, if you just mentally tongue-twisted there.) In this wonderful, albeit tech-glitch-ridden, talk from this year’s PSFK Conference, he reveals the creative process behind some of most acclaimed projects, including Wants for Sale, NYC Garbage and QRapping paper, and shares his merit litmus test for what constitutes a great idea.

I get motivated by idea envy. I get super insanely jealous of great ideas that I see of others, I get jealous of that moment where I know they had that idea, and I want that, I want to feel that. So I set out to emulate that, and compete with that, and find that in myself.” ~ Justin Gignac

You can’t wait for perfection. You can always wait for the perfect moment, the perfect this, the perfect that. But you really just gotta start doing. And it makes all the difference. Making excuses takes the same time as making progress.” ~ Justin Gignac

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06 MAY, 2011

A World Without Moms

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What going to school without underwear has to do with ruling the world.

A few months ago, our friends from Acumen Fund launched the Search for the Obvious initiative — a quest to find everyday objects and ideas that dramatically improve quality of life. In its latest iteration, SFTO challenged people to imagine a world without moms in an effort to raise awareness about the 7 million women who are injured and 350,000 women who die from complications due to childbirth every year — yet of the world’s 1,000 childbirth deaths per day, 800 are preventable by providing simple, basic maternal health care.

The challenge received dozens of submissions from all over the world across a variety of categories, from video to tweet to guerrilla. This poignant entry by the Jubilee Project, reminiscent of the beautiful Fifty People One Question, won the video category with its candid, deeply human journey into the richness and multiplicity of mothers’ impact on who we are and how we go through the world.

This video was inspired by our desire to help moms around the world because of the love and care we received from our own moms. We wanted to capture a genuine and raw spectrum of voices that spoke to just how much moms mean to all of us.”

See the other category winners and find out about ways to help save moms around the world on the official challenge page. For more on Acumen Fund’s work for maternity hospitals, don’t miss this excellent ABC News interview with founder Jacqueline Novogratz, whose TED talk on the life of immersion remains an all-time favorite.

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