Brain Pickings

Word on the Street: Found Urban Type Timed for Social Commentary

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For the past 30 years, photographer Richard Nagler has been capturing urbanity’s ephemeral moments of existential irony by pairing found typography from the urban landscape with perfectly timed random passersby. His original inspiration for the series came one summer in the late 1970, when he was wandering the streets of Oakland and noticed the word TIME bolted in large letters on the side of an old building. As he looked up, a very old woman gazed out at him from a window near the type sign, and in that micro-moment he founded embedded a powerful visual metaphor for aging and the passage of time.

Word on the Street is a fantastic collection of Nagler’s richest such images from the past three decades, which iconic poet Allen Ginsberg eloquently and accurately described as “visual poetics.” Sometimes shocking, often surprising and invariably compelling, these portraits invite you, with a wink, to complete the barely bespoken narratives and look for those hidden yet staggeringly obvious human truths that interlace with the fabric of mundanity.

Image courtesy of Richard Nagler

Image courtesy of Richard Nagler

Image courtesy of Richard Nagler

Image courtesy of Richard Nagler

Image courtesy of Richard Nagler

Image courtesy of Richard Nagler

Image courtesy of Richard Nagler

Thoughtful, amusing and deeply human, Word on the Street is an absolute treasure trove of meticulously timed serendipity, captured with a keen eye for poetic irony.

via NPR

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Animated Soviet Propaganda

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What warthogs and vultures have to do with the most critical polarization in world politics.

There hardly is a time in world history more politically polarized than the 20th century, which divided the globe in two camps — capitalism and communism — divided at the height of the divergence by the infamous Iron Curtain. The Cold War was very much a war of ideologies and each side relied heavily on the ideological unity of its people, often employing the power of the visual arts — graphic design, animation, illustration — to drive its message home. While the U.S. was producing seminal design work under various WPA programs, the U.S.S.R. was busy churning out its own brand of political propaganda art.

Animated Soviet Propaganda: From the October Revolution to Perestroika chronicles the visual legacy of 60 years of Soviet political history between 1924 and 1984. Forty-one beautifully animated black-and-white and color short films, never before available in the U.S., depict — and exploit — national stereotypes with remarkable visual eloquence that bespeaks the complicated non-relationship between the East and the West during that critical time in political history.

Ideological messaging aside, the films feature some astounding animation techniques that grace today’s trendiest cinematic vocabulary, from stop-motion to paper cutout animation to impressively intricate puppetry

The ambitious collection is divided into four parts, curated not simply by chronology but by recurring themes. American Imperialists features 7 films from the Cold War era, depicting Westerners as money-hungry industrialists who inevitably collapse under the weight of their own greed. Though mocked and derided, it’s interesting to note that Americans nonetheless remain human — which is not the case with other antagonists in Soviet propaganda, as we’ll see in just a second.

Fascist Barbarians is a 17-film reaction to the Nazi invasion in the beginning of WWII. Here, the Nazis are dehumanized and frequently portrayed as undesirable animals — pigs, vultures, warthogs.

Capitalist Sharks is a 6-film assault on the bourgeoisie, weaving sci-fi narratives to envision dystopian scenarios for capitalists’ world domination.

Onward to the Shining Future: Communism features 11 films that romanticize the state and promise a utopian future of universal well-being.

Harvested from Moscow’s iconic Soyuzmultfilm Studios, Animated Soviet Propaganda is an absolute gem of historical insight and a living hallmark of the swaying power of visual communication. With more than 6 hours of rare footage, the collection is not only a priceless political trophy but a prized possession for any design and film history nerd.

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Victorian Women in Crime

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Long before there was Superwoman, Lara Croft or even Mata Hari, there was a dangerous and suspicous character known as the New Woman — a Victorian rebel who rode bikes, spoke with cutting wit, and took orders from no one. In The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime: Forgotten Cops and Private Eyes from the Time of Sherlock Holmes, Penguin editor Michael Sims orchestrates a meet-and-greet with the most notorious crime-fighting females of Victorian literature, from Loveday Brooke to Dorcas Dene to Lady Molly of Scotland Yard. Though rooted in fiction, the book bespeaks the era’s restlessness for the empowerment of women, embodying culture’s tendency to first imagine social shifts, then enact them.

The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime is out this week and highly recommended. It’s the sequel to 2009’s equally excellent The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime: Con Artists, Burglars, Rogues, and Scoundrels from the Time of Sherlock Holmes.

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