Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘history’

25 MAY, 2011

Past Objects: Excavated Curiosities from New York’s Forgotten Past

By:

What landfills have to do with ivory craftsmanship and existential questions of impermanence.

Since 1969, Scott Jordan has been digging around New York City for buried treasures. More than four decades later, Jordan has turned the childhood hobby into a curious career as a self-trained historian and restorer at the intersection of history, archeology and urban scavenger hunting. In Past Objects, Jordan offers a fascinating look at the most interesting objects from his massive collection, which he has excavated using shovels, mesh sieves, canvas rucksacks, and sheer ingenuity from across New York’s five boroughs.

Jordan’s passion for strange and wonderful collectible remnants dates back to his childhood, when he and his brother used to roam the woods of Connecticut in search of fossils. When he was five, his family moved to NYC, which made him adamant not to become a “city kid.” So he simply repurposed his unusual hobby to his new urban surrounding and began his forty-year search for New York City’s past.

I daydream about what our present time will seem like to people in the future. How our landfills will be a great source of well-preserved materials forty, fifty, sixty feet down in the bread-loaf shaped mounds that we create. Its’ a strange thing to think that everything we know and see will come to pass, that our lives and everything we do and use every day will one day be old-fashioned and outdated.” ~ Scott Jordan

At once haunting and relentlessly fascinating, Past Objects is as much a journey into the past as it is an invitation to consider the footprint of the present, both for us as individuals and our culture as a civilization.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

23 MAY, 2011

Egypt in the Early 1900s: Rare Vintage Lantern Slides

By:

What sunset on the Nile has to do with landmark innovation in photographic imaging.

The lantern slide — a transparent image on glass that was magnified and projected onto a surface using a sciopticon “magic lantern” — came of age shortly after it was first introduced by Philadelphia daguerreotypists William and Frederick Langenheim in 1849. The lantern slide greatly broadened the audience for photography, then still a young art, introducing it into academia and the cultural institutions of the day by allowing teachers and museum curators to illustrate their lectures and presentations with projected images.

We’ve seen an heard a lot about Egypt this year, in light of the recent political turmoil. We’ve even had some remix fun with it. (In a no-laughing-matter kind of way, of course.) But beneath what has turned into a highly politicized media talking point lies a remarkable, dignified country full of beauty and tradition. Much like last week’s rare and fascinating look at vintage Japan aimed to rekindle the respect for and fascination with a culture consumed by the recent tragedy and subsequent media coverage, today’s look at these breathtaking vintage lantern slides from Egypt is very much an invitation to take a look beyond the veil of immediacy and revel in the inherent beauty of this land, courtesy of Brooklyn Museum’s fantastic archival lantern slide collection.

Egypt: Partly submerged palms above Nile dam, Upper Egypt

Copyright, 1908, by Stereo-Travel Co. Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Arab water-carrier girls

Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Policeman, Cairo

Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival Collection

Egypt: Camels, desert.

Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Donkey and Cart, Kasr-en-Nil

T. H. McAllister, Manufacturing Optician. 49 Nassau Street, New York. Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Arab porters, Alexandria

Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Donkey Boy, Cairo

This slide colored by Joseph Hawkes. Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Buffalo Market, Gizeh

T. H. McAllister, Manufacturing Optician. 49 Nassau Street, New York. Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Arabian Horse and Sais, Cairo

This slide colored by Joseph Hawkes. Hooper. Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Pyramids of Dashur from Sakkara

T. H. McAllister, Manufacturing Optician. 49 Nassau Street. Hooper. Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Arabic Window and Native Bazaar, Cair

T. H. McAllister, Manufacturing Optician. 49 Nassau Street. Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Pompey's Pillar, Alexandria

T. H. McAllister, Manufacturing Optician. 49 Nassau Street. Brooklyn Museum Archives

Egypt: Sunset on the Nile

Brooklyn Museum Archives

For another perspective-shift on this fascinating culture, don’t forget last week’s Cultural Connectives — an inspired effort to better understand Arab culture through typography.

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.





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount.





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.

20 MAY, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dieter Rams: Revisiting Less & More

By:

What your favorite coffeemaker has to do with the cultural value of the unspectacular.

I love the elegant, minimalist yet eloquent visual language of iconic designer Dieter Rams (who doesn’t?), whose principles of good design I’ve previously covered, and I have a soft spot for the lavish design books of German publishing house Gestalten. (Previously: The Story of Eames Furniture and Papercraft 2: Design and Art With Paper).

Today, as Dieter Rams turns 79, there’s no better time to revisit Gestalten’s fantastic Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams — an ambitious look at Rams’ seminal work at Braun, which established him as one of the most influential designers of the 20th century, shaping both the aesthetic norms of design for decades to come as well as society’s most fundamental understanding of what design is, does and should be. The lush bilingual volume explores the underbelly of Rams’ design philosophy in 800 pages of archival photos, original sketches and models, alongside thoughtful essays by international design experts that examine Rams’ work and legacy in a contemporary context.

Design should not dominate things, should not dominate people. It should help people. That’s its role.” ~ Dieter Rams

Not the spectacular things are the important things — the unspectacular things are the important things, especially in the future.” ~ Dieter Rams

Don’t miss last week’s The New York Times interview with Rams, in which he talks about everything from what an average day is like for him to why he started a foundation to help young designers get an education — an excellent companion read to Less and More.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

19 MAY, 2011

Vintage Ballet: Rare Photos of Dancers from the 1930s-1950s

By:

Drama, glamor and elegance converge in amazing archival images of ballet dancers from the early 20th century.

Since its origins in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century, ballet has been considered one of humanity’s most graceful and beautiful forms of creative expression. These fantastic archival images from the State Library of New South Wales collection capture the elegance of ballet alongside the classic, dramatic glamor of vintage photography from the early 20th century.

Valentina Blinova in L'Oiseau de feu (The Firebird), Ballets Russes, Sydney, 1936-1937 / photographed by Max Dupain

Paul Petrov in L'Oiseau de feu (The Firebird), Ballets Russes, Sydney, 1936-1937 / photographed by Max Dupain

Tamara Toumanova & Serge Lifar, Swan Lake, Sydney, 1939-1940 / photographed by Max Dupain

Emmy Towsey (Taussig) and Evelyn Ippen, Bodenwieser Ballet in Centennial Park, Sydney, ca. 1939 / photographed by Max Dupain

Tatiana Riabouchinska and Roman Jasinsky in Les Dieux mendiants (The Gods go a-begging), between Nov 1938-Aug 1940 / photographed by Max Dupain

Tatiana Riabouchinska, ballerina, ca. 1938 / photographed by Maurice Seymour

Margaret Barr's 'Strange Children' (ballet), 1955 / photographer unknown

Valentina Blinova in L'Oiseau de feu (The Firebird), Ballets Russes, Sydney, 1936-1937 / photographed by Max Dupain

Unidentified dancer (Yura Lazovsky?) as Petrouchka, Sydney, March 1940 / photographed by Sam Hood

For more on this fascinating and endlessly inspiring piece of cultural history, I highly recommend Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet by New Republic dance critic Jennifer Homans, which offers not only breathtaking eye candy but also traces many of today’s cultural values back to ballet’s legacy of discipline and virtuosity.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.