Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘history’

02 JUNE, 2011

The Modernist: Graphic Design’s Mid-Century Muse

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Celebrating the hot-and-heavy love affair between classical modern and contemporary graphics.

Designers and illustrators have been mining the motherlode of mid-20th-century graphics for years, and now there’s a beautiful record of their inspired explorations. The Modernist, the latest exquisite anthology by Gestalten, draws the genealogical lines of graphic design from the bold images of the 1960s and ’70s to their post-millennial progeny — what we see on album and book covers, posters, and websites today.

It’s easy to see why work by masters such as Gerd Arntz and Otto Neurath provide inspiration to contemporary artists, designers, and illustrators. Especially as web design has matured, younger generations turned to the striking work of classical modernism, transforming its deliberately minimalist colors and geometry with new vector graphics tools. (And, lest we forget, the basic language of this now iconic composition itself drew on previous artistic movements like Russian Constructivism and the Bauhaus school.)

The Modernist puts all of these pictorial relationships in perspective, with gorgeous spreads of top-notch design from both eras.

Fifty years in the making, The Modernist‘s gorgeous artwork will delight your senses, and its smart connect-the-dots visual storytelling will satisfy even your most voracious inner design geek.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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27 MAY, 2011

Frank Sinatra: A Rare Documentary from 1965

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What the evolution of popular music has to do with turbulent love and fostering the art of patience.

I am a big lover of jazz, and have always had a soft spot for Frank Sinatra. (My first iBook, the first computer on which I had iTunes, was promptly named Francis by my college housemates because all I played on it was Sinatra.) Though some may say he diluted “true jazz” and turned it into musical pop candy, there’s something to be said for his incredible talent and charisma, which broadened the audience for music in a way few artists have single-handedly managed in the history of contemporary music. Known by many names — Frankie, Francis, Ol’ Blue Eyes, The Chairman of the Board, The Voice — and often revered as the most popular and enduring singer of the 20th century, he borrowed from jazz, swing, pop, big band and more to weave together a style that was distinctly his own.

In 1965, CBS News spent six months with Sinatra, exploring what it is exactly that made him so special, getting unprecedented access to both his recording career and his private life. The resulting documentary was broadcast on November 16, 1965, and now, thanks to YouTube, we have access to this rare footage, in which Sinatra talks about everything from his childhood in Hoboken to his legendary love affairs to the cultural role of the entertainer across time.

I would like to be remembered as a man who brought an innovation to popular singing. I would like to be remembered as a man who had a wonderful time living his life, and who had good friends, fine family, and I don’t think I could ask for anything more than that, actually.” ~ Frank Sinatra

I’ve always admired people who are gentle and who have great patience and, apparently, what I’ve done without knowing is I’ve aped these people and begun to follow that kind of line.” ~ Frank Sinatra

For another intimate look at Sinatra’s relentlessly fascinating life and career, you won’t go wrong with The Sinatra Treasures: Intimate Photos, Mementos, and Music from the Sinatra Family Collection — a stunning and loving homage to the iconic singer by Sinatra family archivist Charles Pignone, full of over 200 black-and-white and color photographs alongside reproductions of rare memorabilia like radio scripts, telegrams and letters, piano scores and more, as well as a bounty of thoughtful, witty and true to character quotes from The Voice himself.

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26 MAY, 2011

Cold War Wonderland: Photographing the East/West Divide

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What Soviet babushkas have to do with the fall of the Roman Empire and the Egyptian Revolution.

Jason Eskenazi grew up in Queens during the peak of the Cold War, bombarded by the era’s typical propaganda about “The Evil Empire” on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Convinced that reality must be less black-and-white than what the Reagan administration was making it up to be, Eskenazi took off from his day job as security guard at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and spent a decade documenting life in the former Soviet Union in stunning black-and-white photographs, collected in Wonderland: A Fairy Tale of the Soviet Monolith. The result is an almost surreal, anachronistic, poetic portrait of a culture seemingly frozen in time, exuding an odd yet alluring symmetry between beauty and tragedy.

There were all these things from 50 years ago, and everything looked like the photography that I was brought up on.” ~ Jason Eskenazi

Army Base, Karagandar, Kazakhstan, 1998

Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR

Holiday, Shutilova, Russia, 2000

Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR

Caspian Sea Baku, Azerbaijan, 1997

Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR

Young Sailors Club, Kostrama, Russia, 2000

Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR

Farm Milkmaid, Northern Kazakhstan, 1998

Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR

Space Museum, Moscow, 1998

Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR

Waltz Competition, Moscow, 1996

Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR

Hill of Crosses, Lithuania, 2000

Image courtesy of Jason Eskenazi via NPR

Images via NPR

This month, Eskenazi, now a Fulbright Scholar, is setting out to create an ambitious companion narrative to WonderlandThe Black Garden, a fascinating look at the East-West divide that seeped into culture long past the end of the Cold War explored through the lens of mythology, from the Trojan War, to the fall of the Roman Empire, to the Ottoman conquest of Europe, to today’s post-9/11 conflicts in the Middle East and the revolutions in Egypt and Libya. And he’s funding it on Kickstarter.

It’s a truly inspired project, equal parts ambitious and needed, so please join me in supporting it.

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25 MAY, 2011

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

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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.

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