Brain Pickings

As Seen On Earth: The Infinite Photograph

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A portrait of Earth painted with 300,000 brushes, or why editorial curation and user-generated content can be friends.

There’s no question National Geographic is a photographic force to be reckoned with. And now they’re on a mission to inspire people to care about the planet through a gigantic collaborative photo-mosaic of the Earth.

Infinite Photograph is a global project building a portrait of Earth seen through the eyes of ordinary people, a promotional effort for NG’s MyShot initiative. Think of it as crowdsourcing meets collage meets environmental sensibility.

Currently, the mosaic is composed of over 300,000 photos of the natural world, pulled from archived images by MyShot users. But the project is also an ongoing invitation for new submissions — the more images are indexed, the richer the the color sampling will be and the closer to infinity the mosaic can get.

The team at National Geographic envisions various future extensions of the project as the image catalog grows, breaking it down into mosaic representations of sub-categories like water, trees, and animals.

Besides being the socially-smartest marketing effort we’ve seen in a while, we have to respect NG’s fierce editorial curation — even user-submitted images have to live up to the same editorial standards as those in the actual publication in order to make it to MyShot, which ensures all the photographs that do make the cut for Infinite Photograph are absolutely stunning.

But be not discouraged — go ahead and submit some of your own nature-loving shots. It’s not every day you get a chance to feel closer to the planet and to your global cohabitants at the same time.

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Lynching Moby

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The antidote to selling out, or what a 6-year-old has to do with a Beatles reunion.

Despite a certain eponymous equation, we like Moby. The man is a solid live performer, a smart businessman, and just a nice guy who, like us, likes tea and lowercase. And his is new video, Shot In The Back of The Head, makes us like him even more — because it was directed by none other than David Lynch, and done so brilliantly.

Somehow, in 3 minutes and 15 seconds, Lynch manages to unleash all his neo-Renaissance personas — film director, screenwriter, producer, painter, cartoonist, composer, and sound designer. The video is part Mulholland Drive, part German Expressionism, part reckless 6-year-old on the run with a black crayon.

The song itself, a dreamy instrumental departure from Moby’s usual commercially licensable fare, is a free download on Moby’s website. It comes from the forthcoming album Wait For Me, out June 30th.

As unlikely as the Lynch-Moby pair may be, the two already crossed paths at Lynch’s Change Begins Within benefit earlier this month. (Yep, same one where the closes thing to a Beatles reunion took place.)

And given Lynch’s history of casting musicians in his films (Sting in Dune, David Bowie and Chris Isaak in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Billy Ray Cyrus in Mulholland Drive), we won’t be too surprised to see a Moby cameo in Lynch’s forthcoming My Son, My Son, What Have You Done, or maybe even a surprise one in the already-in-pre-production King Shot, out later this year.

Plus, there does seem to be a running theme there with all the shooting.

Exactitudes: Cross-Cultural Photo-Anthropology Explores the Myth of Unique Identity

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Why we aren’t nearly as unique as we think, or what twelve Japanese school children have to do with twelve homeless people in Rotterdam.

Since 1994, Dutch photographer Ari Versluis and anthropologist Ellie Uyttenbroek have been trekking the globe together, recording “exactitudes” (public library) — “exact attitudes” captured in people’s peculiar dress code as an attempt to differentiate themselves from others or identify with a group. The decades-long project is now condensed in the glorious coffee table Exactitudes, which features a selection of 60 hand-curated exactitudes. The project is a deliberate collage of contradictions — between individuality and conformity, between street style and studio setting, between self and group — that serve as invitations to question our cultural givens and our identity as unique personas.

Each “exactitude” consists of twelve distinct portraits structured in a grid. Think of it as street fashion meets cultural anthropology meets data visualization — a visceral exploration of subcultures, group identity and individualism.

French Touch - Bordeaux 2006

Pin-ups - London 2008

Backpackers - Rotterdam 2008

The series is also an ethnographic and temporal portrait of our collectively individual identity across time and space — the big bags of 2008, New York’s yupster girls, the tracksuits of Japanese schoolkids, the soccer jersey fetish of European teenage boys, even “street style” at its rawest in the face of the homeless.

Gabberbitches - Rotterdam 1996

Miss Shapes - London 2008

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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.

Creative Pause: Todd St. John & HunterGatherer

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What preschoolers have to do with a dancing robot and Jack Johnson.

They had us at the brilliant Buckminster Fuller portrait for Mined Magazine.

In 2000, NYC-based designer, animator and filmmaker Todd St. John founded HunterGatherer — a bleeding-edge design, illustration, animation and production studio. Their shtick is combining experimental and hand-built techniques with more complex methods. And they do it brilliantly.

From a phenomenal stop-motion music video for preschoolers, to an incredible visual interpretation of Nike’s “Considered” manifesto of sustainability, to a delightful poster for Jack Johnson’s music label, their work is nothing short of stride-stopping.

They even collaborated with our favorite magazine in the educational Transparency series.

Take a look at the entirety of HunterGatherer‘s portoflio or quick-sample their showreel, and be sure to check out Todd St. John‘s personal site for some compellint experimental and noncommercial work.

You’re bound to find radically new ways of doing — of combining materials and techniques, of animating, of visualizing the expected in unexpected ways.

Monday Music Muse: Anathallo

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What a flugelhor has to do with the existential quest of twentysomethings.

We’ve had our eye on Anathallo ever since their fantastic Coachella 2007 performance. Their brand of chamber indie-pop is simply unlike anything else out there — vocals that blend the lightness of youth with the intensity of life and lyrics that speak to the troubled enlightenment of the quintessential twentysomething, all wrapped in superb multi-instrumentalist percussion.

This year, we were delighted to find Anathallo equally fantastic at SXSW — be your own judge with this free copy of The River.

Taken from Greek, anathallo means “bloom again” — a fitting allegory for the band, which was conceived in 2000 only to live through several line-up changes over the next six years, until it was finally reborn in 2006 as the current 7-member neo-orchestra.

Anathallo‘s latest album, Canopy Glow, is a captivating cascade of vocal harmonies, chamber magic, and lyrical sensibility that makes you want to go out and just live. It’s part Vampire Weekend, part Kings of Convenience, part Fleet Foxes, part something else entirely.

So give Canopy Glow a listen — if for no other reason, then just because it’s not every day you hear a trombone, a flugelhor AND an autoharp in an indie band.