Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Abrams’

25 MARCH, 2014

Toy Stories: Photos of Children from Around the World with Their Favorite Things

By:

A visual catalog of the culturally-conditioned imagination.

“Children help us to mediate between the ideal and the real,” MoMA curator Juliet Kinchin wrote in her fantastic design history of childhood. Largely responsible for this singular capacity are children’s remarkably metaphor-ready minds which transform toys into triggers for imaginative play, imbuing those seemingly simple plastic artifacts and synthetic-furred beings with life and meaning — a hallmark of childhood that cuts across cultural differences, geographies, and socioeconomic status. That’s precisely what photojournalist Gabriele Galimberti explores in Toy Stories: Photos of Children from Around the World and Their Favorite Things (public library) — a visual record of his two-and-a-half-year-long quest to document what boys and girls in 58 countries, from India to Iceland to China to Malawi, consider their most prized earthly possessions.

For each photograph he took, Galimberti spent the entire day with the families. In many cases, what the children did with their toys reflected the needs and realities of their culture. For instance, when the kids in a poor village in Zambia with no electricity, running water, or toy shop found a box of sunglasses that had fallen out of a truck, not only did the plastic eyewear immediately become their favorite — their only — toys, but they also quickly came to play “market,” “buying” and “selling” the prized toys to each other.

Henry, 5 (Berkeley, California)

Maudy, 3 (Kalulushi, Zambia)

Somewhere between Peter Maisel’s Material World series, James Mollison’s poignant photographs of where children sleep, and Rania Matar’s portraits of teenage girls through their bedroom interiors, the series touches on something beyond the sheer visual curiosity of this global atlas of childhood. What emerges is a poignant living testament to the nature-and-nurture model of human nature: The children’s choices, far from pure personal preference, are deeply rooted in social norms and gender conditioning, as in the dominant pink color in many of the girls’ possessions (the subject of another photographer’s fascinating project) or the extensive car collections of little boys, economic reality, as a Kenyan boy’s single stuffed monkey, and cultural climate and priorities, as in a Swiss boy’s minimalist, design-minded LEGO blocks or the toy-firearm artillery of a little boy in the Ukraine.

Julia, 3 (Tirana, Albania)

Abel, 4 (Nopaltepec, Mexico)

Talia, 5 (Timimoun, Algeria)

Pavel, 5 (Kiev, Ukraine)

Reania, 3 (Kuala Lampur, Malaysia)

Shotaro, 5 (Tokyo, Japan)

Chiwa, 4 (Mchinji, Malawi)

Enea, 3 (Boulder, Colorado)

Complement Toy Stories with an equally fascinating look at children’s classrooms, bedrooms, and family possessions, then revisit this pause-giving visual study of gender and color.

All photographs © Gabriele Galimberti/INSTITUTE courtesy of Abrams Image

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23 JANUARY, 2014

Much Loved: Portraits of Beloved Childhood Teddies

By:

What a forty-something bear might know about the meaning of life.

Most of us grew up with a beloved stuffed animal, to which we pressed our tiny noses as our tiny hearts swelled with adoration. Mine was Laika, a white bear semi-explicably named after the famed Soviet space dog that became the first animal to orbit Earth. Psychologists call this a “transitional object” — an attachment bridge that helps us separate from our mothers without feeling an overwhelming sense of lonesome insecurity. What’s both perplexing and endearing, however, is that many kids continue to love their “transitional objects” well past the toddler stage, many even into young adulthood, bringing said teddy along to the college dorm room or even setting it in a sacred place in their grown-up bedroom. That’s precisely what Dublin-based photographer Mark Nixon explores with equal parts fascination and tenderness in his project Much Loved (public library) — a moving portrait gallery of people’s beloved bears and the occasional rabbit, monkey, or giraffe, many hugged and kissed down to bare threads to emerge as affection-ravaged amputees and bittersweet survivors of the immortal combat of growing up.

Peter Rabbit

Age: 10

Height: 16 inches

Belongs to: Callum Nixon

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

It all began when Nixon witnessed the complete adoration with which his own baby son enveloped his Peter Rabbit, a gift from his 99-year-old grandmother — “the way he squeezed it with delight when he was excited, the way he buried his nose in it while sucking his thumb, and how he just had to sleep with Peter every night.” Inspired by his newfound insight into the emotional world of childhood teddies and fueled by his admiration for legendary photographer Irving Penn’s ability to illuminate the dull and familiar in new and entrancing light, Nixon put out a call for people to bring their own beloved bears and other beings to be photographed for an exhibition at his studio space.

But what had begun as merely a fun creative project soon took Nixon by surprise as a psychological experiment with far more depth and dimension: He had expected mostly children, but the people who showed up were primarily grownups, and they brought with them not only their stuffed animals but also an outpouring of highly emotional memories and stories. Nixon writes:

It was as though they had been keeping a long-held secret and could finally tell someone what their teddies really meant to them. Their strength of feeling took me by surprise. They would tell some usually funny story about their teddy … or would speak emotionally about what it meant to them. So the stories and memories became integral to the photographs, adding significance to them and bringing them to life.

Teddy Moore

Age: 43

Height: 14 inches

Belongs to: Daragh O'Shea

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Daragh’s father was given a pound from his parents for his birthday and he bought Teddy Moore for her. Under his hat and clothes, Teddy Moore is held together with nylons.

Although he looks like he was in a fire, in Daragh’s own words, she kissed the fur off him.

He lives in the locker beside her bed; she doesn’t like him sleeping in the bed in case she smothers him.

What makes the project most compelling, however, is that as we look at these inanimate creatures, we can’t help but peer into the souls of their soulless fabric bodies and imbue them with human feelings, confer upon their manufactured mugs human expressions: How joyful some look, happy to have been loved this hard, and how sad others, confused and devastated by their inevitable replacement with a child, a husband, a dog, or some other token of what Tolkien called “grownupishness.”

Ted

Age: 3.5

Height: 13 inches

Belongs to: Anne Marie Lents

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Ted lost his eye defending me from a terrier at day care. (That’s the short version of the story.) He also keeps all my secrets in the compartment created by his flattened nose.

Joey

Age: 44

Height: 11 inches

Belongs to: Jean Cherwaiko

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Samuel

Age: Unknown

Height: 12 inches

Belongs to: Maria Hurley

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Pedro

Age: 47

Height: 9 inches

Belongs to: Maria Hurley

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Giovanni

Age: 40

Height: 17 inches

Belongs to: Maria Hurley

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

I knitted Giovanni (formerly Joe) in primary school when I was about eight years old. When Joe was completed, he had a misshapen head and a too-large nose, and I didn’t like him very much.

Many years later when I was in medical school, I took pity on him and performed some cosmetic surgery, giving him a new nose and a better head. My mum made him some new clothes (as he had been attacked by a moth.)

To celebrate his new look, I have him his new name, Giovanni. He is best friends with Pedro.

Teddy Tingley

Age: 45

Height: 5 inches

Belongs to: Nicky Griffin

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Teddy Tingley belonged to my oldest brother, who gave him to me the day I was born.

I remember when I was three years old and we were heading off on holiday by train. I had just settled down in the carriage with my brothers for the journey and as the train started moving, I glanced out the window to see, to my horror, Teddy sitting on a bundle of my comics left on the station platform. Thanks to my mum roaring like a madwoman out the window, “The teddy! The teddy! I just want the teddy!” some kind person picked up Teddy and ran with him as the train picked up speed, reaching up to the window just in time for Mum to grab him. She then had to sit down and face the other passengers for the rest of the journey…

George

Age: 44

Height: 17 inches

Belongs to: Audrey McDonnell

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Among the private stories are also little-known fragments of popular culture, like the story of the bear U2’s Bono and his wife Ali inherited.

Greg’s Bear

Age: Unknown

Height: 4 inches

Belongs to: Bono and Ali Hewson

(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

Ali Hewson writes:

This little bear is a memory of one of the most incredible men in my life. Greg Carroll became a great friend to me and Bono in the early 1980s. In 1986 he died at the age of twenty-six in a motor accident in Dublin, and he left a giant hole in our lives. Greg was a Maori, and at his tanti, the traditional Maori funeral rite, a mate of his handed us this one-eared teddy bear. It was Greg’s, and it has been with us ever since… a fragment of Greg’s reality, gone but never forgotten.

U2’s “One Tree Hill” was written for Greg and all the great men and women whose river reaches the sea too quickly. Greg’s teddy smiles when his good ear hears it played.

Much Loved is impossibly endearing in its entirety.

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04 DECEMBER, 2013

The Art of Rube Goldberg

By:

“An artist who followed the logic of the machine to its comic climax.”

Among history’s people who became nouns is American cartoonist Rube Goldberg (July 4, 1883 – December 7, 1970), legendary inventor of the eponymous chain reaction machines that now bear the status of pop culture tropes. But like a number of other celebrated creators with lesser-known talents in a medium other than what they are primarily known for, Goldberg was also a prolific humorist, political cartoonist, sculptor, writer, and illustrator. In the lavish coffee-table tome The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius (public library), writer and designer Jennifer George, Goldberg’s granddaughter, cracks open the treasure chest of her grandfather’s diverse creative contributions, ranging from his first published drawings in his high school newspaper to his Pulitzer-Prize-winning political cartoons, by way of his iconic machines, his nearly fifty-thousand cartoons published in daily newspapers, his sculptures, and his advertising work. Alongside the 700 color illustrations are never-before-revealed memorabilia, letters, patents, and other ephemera, as well as contextualizing essays by notable comics historians, that capture the spirit and singular mind of this extraordinary mid-century Renaissance man.

In the introductory essay, cleverly titled “The Goldberg Variations,” The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik writes:

Two very different pillars mark the edges of the Goldbergian experience. On the one hand, his work delights children, and always will, with the excess and overcharge of his inventions — the simple thing done with absurd yet plausible complexity. on the other, there seems, to adult eyes, to be in his work some fatal, almost unconscious, commentary on the madness of science and the insanity of modern invention.

[…]

Yet much of the additional charm of Goldberg’s machines, more than might be apparent on initial inspection, rises from their observational precision, their period detail, their lovely inventory of a now-vanished time — one that saw itself as perfectly modern but now looks, inevitably, touchingly past.

Among Goldberg’s best creations was his weekly comic strip, “The Inventions of Professor Lucifer G. Butts, A.K.,” which ran exclusively in Collier’s magazine between 1929 and 1931.

At its most engaging, the Goldberg machine, just as its comic-strip counterpart, is an interactive wonderbox of show-and-tell, embodied storytelling that pulls you in as you pull on its tabs and levers. And though Goldberg, whom Gopnik describes as “an artist who followed the logic of the machine to its comic climax,” famously said of his inventions that they exercised “man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to accomplish minimum results,” surely beneath this self-deprecation he must have known — taken pride in, appreciated — that the ultimate result was maximum wonder, even as Goldberg devised elaborate ways of accomplishing the simplest of tasks, from cooling a plate of soup to opening a bottle of wine. More than that, his ultimate message was that process is infinitely more interesting than product — a notion that has taken even greater cultural decline since his day, as we plow ahead in the era of personal productivity at the expense of presence.

Goldberg, indeed, was a cartoonist at heart — and with that came the necessary faculty of snark and parodic cultural commentary. Alongside the whimsy of his machines and the humor of his drawings was a darker narrative about the dangers of mechanization and the perilous automation of even the simplest human actions. What is the line, he implicitly asked, between becoming fascinated by machines and becoming machines? Goldberg was also a keen observer of the human condition, his elaborate chain reactions for accomplishing simple tasks speaking to our shared tendency to do things the hard way.

Like Dr. Seuss, Goldberg produced a number of political cartoons and PSAs:

Of those, he said:

A political cartoon is a pictorial metaphor. You must take a drawing that is like the thought you want to express. And this drawing must not be merely an illustration but a symbol or group of symbols.

Two decades after Alex Steinweiss pioneered the album cover and a generation before R. Crumb brought comics to it, Goldberg’s cartoons appeared on records, such as this 1959 Play-Tonics album:

Goldberg created one of his earliest drawings, “The Old Violinist,” in 1895, with detail and artistic precision remarkable for a twelve-year-old boy:

He even illustrated for kids — here’s a page from his 1946 children’s book, Music in the Zoo:

While The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius is an absolute treat from cover to cover, one of the book’s most charming touches is the cover itself, which houses a miniature pull-tab-operated Rube Goldberg machine based on Goldberg’s 1939 Side Show cartoon, “Simple Ways to Get Fresh Orange Juice Upon Awakening.” It is the nature of our modern mechanization that the screen robs this analog masterpiece of all its whimsy, but I’ve adapted it into an animated GIF nonetheless, to give even a tiny taste of the real thing:

Images courtesy of Abrams ComicArts © Heirs of Rube Goldberg; animated GIF by Maria Popova

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02 APRIL, 2013

Mapping Manhattan: A Love Letter in Subjective Cartography by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Malcolm Gladwell, Yoko Ono & 72 Other New Yorkers

By:

“Maps are the places where memories go not to die but to live forever.”

“New York blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation … so that every event is, in a sense, optional, and the inhabitant is in the happy position of being able to choose his spectacle and so conserve his soul,” E. B. White memorably wrote in his 1949 masterpiece Here Is New York. And indeed what a canvas of glorious shared eclecticism Gotham is — city of cats and city of dogs, city of beloved public spaces and beloved secret places, of meticulous order and sparkling chaos, but above all a city of private memories woven together into one shared tapestry of belonging.

Maps, meanwhile, have long held unparalleled storytelling power as tools of propaganda, imagination, obsession, and timekeeping. From Denis Wood’s narrative atlas to Paula Scher’s stunning typo-cartographic subjectivity maps impel us to overlay the static landscape with our dynamic lived experience, our impressions, our selves.

The convergence of these two — New York’s extraordinary multiplicity and the emotive storytelling power of maps — is precisely what Becky Cooper set out to explore in an ongoing collaborative art project that began in an appropriately personal manner: The summer after her freshman year of college in 2008, Cooper became an accidental cartographer when she was hired to help map all of Manhattan’s public art. As she learned about mapping and obsessively color-coded the locations, she considered what it took to make “a map that told an honest story of a place” and was faced with the inevitable subjectivity of the endeavor, realizing that an assemblage of many little subjective portraits revealed more about a place than any attempt at a “complete” map.

And so the idea was born — to assemble a collaborative portrait of the city based on numerous individual experiences, memories, and subjective impressions. She painstakingly hand-printed a few hundred schematic maps of Manhattan on the letterpress in the basement of her college dorm, then walked all over the island, handing them to strangers and asking them to draw “their Manhattan,” then mail the maps back to her — which, in a heartening antidote to Gotham’s rumored curmudgeonly cynicism, they readily did. Dozens of intimate narratives soon filled her inbox — first loves, last goodbyes, childhood favorites, unexpected delights. In short, lives lived.

Off The Grid (©Becky Cooper courtesy Abrams Image)

The finest of them are now collected Mapping Manhattan: A Love (And Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers (public library) — a tender cartographic love letter to this timeless city of multiple dimensions, parallel realities, and perpendicular views, featuring contributions from both strangers and famous New Yorkers alike, including Brain Pickings favorites like cosmic sage Neil deGrasse Tyson, artist-philosopher Yoko Ono, wire-walked Philippe Petit, The Map as Art author Katharine Harmon and Paris vs. New York creator Vahram Muratyan, as well as prominent New Yorkers like writer Malcolm Gladwell and chef David Chang.

Malcolm Gladwell, writer (©Becky Cooper courtesy Abrams Image)

Yoko Ono, visual artist, musician, and activist (©Becky Cooper courtesy Abrams Image)

Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History (©Becky Cooper courtesy Abrams Image)

Cooper writes of the project:

The maps were like passports into strangers’ worlds. … I talked to gas station workers, MTA employees, artists, tourists, and veterans; to Columbia med students, Mister Softee drivers, city planners, San Francisco quilters, bakery owners, street cart vendors, Central park portraitists, jazz musicians, Watchtower distributors, undergrads, can collectors, and mail carriers. … These are their maps. Their ghosts. Their past loves. Their secret spots. Their favorite restaurants. These are their accidental autobiographies: when people don’t realize they’re revealing themselves, they’re apt to lay themselves much more bare.

[…]

I hope to show Manhattan as a cabinet of curiosities, a container of portals to hundreds of worlds; if I’ve succeeded, this portrait of the city will be as true as any of the seventy-five others.

Vahram Muratyan, French graphic artist (©Becky Cooper courtesy Abrams Image)

Katharine Harmon, author of The Map as Art and You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination (©Becky Cooper courtesy Abrams Image)

The inimitable Adam Gopnik — a New Yorker’s New Yorker — writes in the foreword:

Maps and memories are bound together, a little as songs and love affairs are. The artifact envelops the emotion, and then the emotion stores away in the artifact: We hear ‘All the Things You Are’ or ‘Hey There Delilah’ just by chance while we’re in love, and then the love is forever after stored in the song. … This attachment requires no particular creative energy. It just happens. … Maps, especially schematic ones, are the places where memories go not to die, or be pinned, but to live forever.

Sea-Attle (©Becky Cooper courtesy Abrams Image)

Gopnik pads the metaphorical with the scientific, echoing Richard Dawkins, who famously speculated that drawing maps may have “boosted our ancestors beyond the critical threshold which the other apes just failed to cross,” and turns to the brain:

Cognitive science now insists that our minds make maps before they take snapshots, storing in schematic form the information we need to navigate and make sense of the world. Maps are our first mental language, not our latest. The photographic sketch, with its optical hesitations, is a thing we force from history; the map, with its neat certainties and foggy edges, looks like the way we think.

Matt Green, former civil engineer and champion of walking (©Becky Cooper courtesy Abrams Image)

“A poem compresses much in a small space and adds music, thus heightening its meaning,” E. B. White wrote. “The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines.” It is this poetry of the internal engine — the emotional excess necessary for creativity, the compressed feeling bursting out of the poet’s soul like a rocket — that Gopnik, too, observes in reverence:

A remembered relation of spaces, a hole, a circle, a shaded area — and a whole life comes alive. The real appeal of the map, perhaps, is not so much that it stores our past as that it forces our emotions to be pressed into their most parsimonious essence — and, as every poet knows, it is emotion under the force of limits, emotion pressed down and held down to strict formal constraints, that makes for the purest expression. These maps are street haiku, whose emotions, whether made by the well known or the anonymous, are more moving for being so stylized.

[…]

Each map in this book diagrams the one thing we most want a map to show us, and that is a way home.

Becky Cooper (©Becky Cooper courtesy Abrams Image)

In this lovely short film, which the fine folks at Abrams have offered Brain Pickings exclusively, Cooper tells the story of the project’s genesis:

The final page of Mapping Manhattan contains a blank map, inviting you to draw your Manhattan and mail it to Cooper. This is mine:

Complement Mapping Manhattan with Teresa Carpenter’s indispensable New York Diaries, one of the best history books of 2012.

Donating = Loving

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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