Brain Pickings

Rare Book Feast: Celebrating the Timeless Character of Books

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What vintage design and half a million dollars has to do with Earth’s future.

I love books. Especially obscure ones that brim with vintage design goodness, not to mention my obsession with creative cartography and map books. So I’m exhilarated about the launch of Rare Book Feast — an ongoing video project by Nate Burgos, endearingly self-described “designer for the fortune 5,000,000,” celebrating the timeless beauty of books in the age of digital ephemera. Burgos shares my deep belief in the remarkable intellectual and creative enrichment available to us from early design history and the creative problem-solving of eras past.

This series is about the timeless character of books. Their message and what they look like are what is celebrated here. As our culture becomes digital in a lot of ways, it is all the more important (not to mention inviting) to revisit and learn from the early design challenges, creative solutions and general lessons that the ‘old’ print world keeps relevant.” ~ Nate Burgos

The series launches with a look at World Geo-Graphic Atlas — a stunning 1953 book envisioned by designer, photographer, painter and architect Herbert Bayer and co-designed with Martin Rosenzweig, Henry Gardiner and Masato Nakagawa, featuring over 2,200 diagrams, graphs, charts and symbols about the Earth in 368 gorgeous pages, with a profound underlying message of appeal to protect and preserve our planet. The Container Corporation of America commissioned the project and spent over half a million dollars on it — an unthinkable fortune in the 1940s and 50s. It was as much a feat of design as it was one of curation — in addition to the stunning original artwork, it also culled the best maps from previous published atlases. The book was given away for free to customers and colleges, ironic in the context of its collector’s-item status today: You can score a copy on Amazon starting at $800.

Each part of the world the atlas covers is a world of itself.” ~ Nate Burgos

The series is a part of design webliography project Design Feast and was directed and produced by Joe Giovenco.

via Swiss Miss

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La Figa: Visions of Food and Form

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Humanity’s greatest appetites together at last, or what the farmer’s market has to do with the boudoir.

Food is fundamental. It’s sustenance, it’s comunity, it’s a global economy. But for Italian artist Tiberio Simone it’s all that and much more: It’s a medium of creative expression, a sensory portal to truth, beauty and sensuality. His La Figa: Visions of Food and Form is nothing short of a feast for the senses, celebrating two of the most primal human hungers and pleasures while elevating both through the artistic lens of a true creative visionary using the human body as his canvas and food as his paintbrush. Simone’s edible masterpieces, which remained ephemeral until he collaborated with photographer Matt Freedman, spring to life from the page, extending an alluring come-hither invitation to reconnect with our own understanding of food, sexuality, and how the two feed one another.

Alongside the luscious and playful images are imaginative essays and delicious, uncommon recipes that amplify the experiential delight of Simone’s work.

‘Only those who will risk going too far can possibly know how far one can go,’ wrote T. S. Eliot. In La Figa, Tiberio and Matt transport us with their provocative and mesmerizing photographs to a place where a simple fruit, combined with the basic human form, explodes our senses – from a pomegranate bikini to rolling hills of ingredientcovered hips. I, for one, will never think of seaweed or avocado in the same way. La Figa invites us to pierce through mundane living and savor the basic ingredients of life.” ~ Nassim Nassefi, M.D.

Filmmaker Dan McComb has created a handful of wonderful, artful, poetic segments on Simone and the La Figa project that bespeak the incredible passion with which Simone approaches his work.

But what makes Simone all the more interesting as a creator and someone filled with such exuberant positivity is the grim story that led him there. After a childhood of abuse and grueling work on his father’s farm, he became a prostitute, until he finally found solace in the kitchen and eventually discovered food art as his true calling and his salvation. Watch him tell his remarkable story in this excellent talk from TEDxRainier:

With over 160 lavish full-color images, 20 mouth-watering recipes and 40 essays on food, love and life, La Figa is a genuine treat for the senses and an invitation to approach something that’s been overly functionalized and commodified with a little bit more playfulness, poignancy and poetry.

Thanks, Nassim

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The Internet Is My Religion: Jim Gilliam on the Divinity of the Web

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Startups, spirituality and why connectedness is next to godliness.

A lot has been said recently about the future of the internet and how it’s changing our lives. Meanwhile, the age-old debate about science and religion rages on. These two worlds, of technology and of faith, hardly ever seem to converge, but perhaps there’s more at this intersection than we dare admit.

At Personal Democracy Forum 2011, which took place earlier this week, Jim Gilliam — bona fide geek, founder of an ambitious startup building tools to disrupt a broken political system — gave a deeply personal and immensely moving talk titled The Internet Is My Religion, in which he shared the incredible true story of how the interconnectedness of the social web gave him, quite literally, his life back.

These are the best 10 minutes you’ll spend this week, guaranteed.

God is what happens when humanity is connected. Humanity connected is God. [E]ach one of us is a creator but, together, we are THE creator.” ~ Jim Gilliam

Thanks, Juliette

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Power: Platon’s Portraits of World Leaders

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A geopolitical time capsule, or how to get Mahmoud Abbas and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad an inch apart.

World leaders are a curious bunch. Among their traits one might list egotism, empathy, genius, oblivion, and a whole host of other adjectives; which is why looking at their faces makes for such a fascinating study. Power: Portraits of World Leaders, out a few weeks ago from Chronicle Books, is a one-of-a-kind compilation of precisely those inscrutable features. Power collects 150 such beautiful images by photographer Platon of the men and women – well, mostly men – that hold the reigns of regimes and republics across the globe.

With an introduction by New Yorker editor David Remnick, the book captures a singular moment in world history. Indeed, one might argue, an historical inflection point, since the image of President Barack Obama included in Power was taken during his election campaign. Platon took all of the photographs of international leaders within a 12-month period from 2008-09 at the United Nations, and his stunning pictures tell a story of the alliances, rivalries, and subjects of our time.

I wanted to do two things: I wanted to show the human experience of what it’s like to meet someone, up-close and personal. We see all these heads of state and government on podiums making big powerful speeches, but we never see them as human beings. The second thing was I wanted to get a sense of community. I wanted to show what the collective spirit is like. There are strained relationships; there are strong alliances; in some cases there are even conflicts.” ~ Platon

Power stands in especially interesting counterpoint to a book featured on Brain Pickings earlier this year, Bureaucratics. Where that work turned its lens on the lives of mid-level functionaries in our political systems, Power is interested in the very top of the order. Platon’s photos are also compelling when compared to two other favorite projects, The World of 100 and 7 Billion, because of how non-representative his almost entirely male, similarly aged group of subjects is when compared to the actual global population.

My portrait project is not political; it’s human. Every single person has brought something special and unique and, I hope, honest to the pictures. You put all the pictures together and I think it will give us a sense of what it was like to live in these times. This is the global personality of the power system. And as we leave the time that’s recorded in the book, we stand back. We start to analyze it historically. What happened? Who was in control? That’s what this book is about.” ~ Platon

Three years in the making, Power provides a singular opportunity to contemplate the people and predilections of our contemporary age. And for commentary on the photos from Platon, check out his portrait gallery on The New Yorker‘s website.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





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Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.