Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

28 MARCH, 2012

The Last Journey of a Genius: Richard Feynman’s Quest to Visit the Remote Lost Land of Tuva

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“I’m an explorer, okay? I get curious about everything, and I want to investigate all kinds of stuff.”

Richard Feynman — Nobel-winning physics icon, curiosity champion, graphic novel hero, no ordinary genius. In the last years of his life, Feynman — an explorer above all else — set out visit the remote lost land of Tannu Tuva, a satellite state of the former USSR. But Cold War bureaucracy got in the way and fate played a cruel joke — the day after Feynman died, a letter finally arrived from the Soviet government, authorizing him to travel to Tuva. The Last Journey of a Genius, originally aired in 1988 mere months after Feynman’s death, captures his dedicated and, in the process, delves into various aspects of Feynman’s character and life, including his conflicted relationship with the Nobel Prize, his problem-solving patterns, his passion for stamps and bongo drums, his philosophy on the heart of science, and a wealth more.

I’m an explorer, okay? I get curious about everything, and I want to investigate all kinds of stuff.

Feynman’s enthusiastic quest gave rise to the phrase “Tuva or Bust,” which later became the title of a book documenting his tireless efforts to reach Tuva.

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27 MARCH, 2012

William Gottlieb’s Iconic Photos of Jazz Greats, 1938-1948

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Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gilespie, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, and Mister, Billie Holiday’s dog, too.

In the 1930s, a young reporter by the name of William Gottlieb set out to cover the boom of the jazz scene for the Washington Post, only to find the paper didn’t care to dispatch an official staff photographer. So Gottlieb, a self-taught photographer armed with his Speed Graphic and an ample supply of flashbulbs, took it upon himself to photograph the subjects of his interviews. Between 1938 and 1948, he documented the jazz scene in New York City and Washington, D.C., and created what eventually became some of history’s most iconic portraits of jazz greats. The Golden Age of Jazz gathers 219 of those, including Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan (who would have been 88 today), Billie Holiday, and Thelonious Monk, along with original text from the photographer contextualizing the images and their subjects.

On February 16, 2010, Gottlieb’s photographs entered the public domain and are now available online, courtesy of The Library of Congress, who also have rare footage of Gottlieb speaking about his photos.

Sarah Vaughan, Café Society (Downtown)(?), New York, N.Y., ca. Aug. 1946

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Thelonious Monk, Minton's Playhouse, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Billie Holiday, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. Feb. 1947

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Joe Thomas, Pied Piper, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Ella Fitzgerald, New York, N.Y., ca. Nov. 1946

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Nina Simone performing, Town Hall, N.Y., 1959

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Lennie Tristano, New York, N.Y., ca. Aug. 1947

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Ernest Tubb, Carnegie Hall, New York, N.Y., Sept. 1947

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Charlie Ventura, William P. Gottlieb's home (table tennis room), N.Y., ca. Apr. 1947

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Henry Wells, Aquarium, New York, N.Y., ca. Jan. 1947

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Josh White and Mary Lou Williams, WMCA, New York, N.Y., ca. Oct. 1947

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Cootie Williams, New York, N.Y.(?), between 1938 and 1948

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Louis Armstrong, between 1938 and 1948

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Tex Beneke, ca. Jan. 1947

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Gracie Barry and Dick Stabile, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Sy Synclair

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Joan Brooks and Duke Niles, New York, N.Y., ca. Apr. 1947

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Vivien Garry, New York, N.Y., Dixon's, ca. May 1947

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Mary Lou Williams, New York, N.Y., ca. 1946

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Dizzy Gillespie, New York, N.Y., ca. May 1947

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Buddy Rich, Arcadia Ballroom, New York, N.Y., ca. May 1947

Photograph by William Gottlieb

June Christy, 1947 or 1948

Photograph by William Gottlieb

Louis Jordan, between 1938 and 1948

Photograph by William Gottlieb

William P. Gottlieb, WINX, Washington, D.C., ca. 1940

Photograph by Delia Potofsky

Mister (Billie Holiday's dog), New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948

Photograph by William Gottlieb

At once a time-capsule of cultural history and a stunning treasure chest of visual micro-narratives, The Golden Age of Jazz is a fine addition to other rare glimpses of the jazz scene at its peak, including W. Eugene Smith’s Jazz Loft Project and Herman Leonard’s photos of jazz icons.

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27 MARCH, 2012

The Magic of Seeds and the Science of Insuring Earth’s Future

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What tiny parachutes and a man named Wolfgang have to do with the future of all living species.

All life — including human life — depends on plants. All the genetic information the biodiversity of our planet, as well as the sustenance of our species and others’, is held in the seeds that survive from generation to generation. Since 2000, the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership at the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens has been working with hundreds of partners in 54 countries to provide an “insurance policy” against the extinction of plants in the wild by storing seeds for future use. In 2007, it banked its billionth seed. By 2010, they had collected seeds from 24,000 different species of plants, representing 10% of the world’s plant diversity. By 2020, the project will have collected 25%. The underground seed vault, if filled wall-to-wall, could hold 100,000,000,000 rice grains or 30 tightly packed double-decker buses.

This superb short film, featuring breathtaking photomicroscopy of seeds by Rob Kesseler of Pollen fame, takes us behind the scenes of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, where the scientists of Kew Gardens are hard at work preserving wild plants and habitats for our future.

There’s no technological reason why any plant species should become extinct. We have every opportunity to pass on entire botanical heritage intact to future generations.

See more of Kesseler’s work on his site.

For a related treat, revisit the book about the project, accompanied by Jonathan Drori’s TEDx talk on seed preservation and some gorgeous vintage seed catalog illustrations.

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Images from Seeds: Time Capsules of Life, by Rob Kesseler and Wolfgang Stuppy, published by Papadakis Publisher

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