Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘photography’

09 JUNE, 2011

Power: Platon’s Portraits of World Leaders

By:

A geopolitical time capsule, or how to get Mahmoud Abbas and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad an inch apart.

World leaders are a curious bunch. Among their traits one might list egotism, empathy, genius, oblivion, and a whole host of other adjectives; which is why looking at their faces makes for such a fascinating study. Power: Portraits of World Leaders, out a few weeks ago from Chronicle Books, is a one-of-a-kind compilation of precisely those inscrutable features. Power collects 150 such beautiful images by photographer Platon of the men and women – well, mostly men – that hold the reigns of regimes and republics across the globe.

With an introduction by New Yorker editor David Remnick, the book captures a singular moment in world history. Indeed, one might argue, an historical inflection point, since the image of President Barack Obama included in Power was taken during his election campaign. Platon took all of the photographs of international leaders within a 12-month period from 2008-09 at the United Nations, and his stunning pictures tell a story of the alliances, rivalries, and subjects of our time.

I wanted to do two things: I wanted to show the human experience of what it’s like to meet someone, up-close and personal. We see all these heads of state and government on podiums making big powerful speeches, but we never see them as human beings. The second thing was I wanted to get a sense of community. I wanted to show what the collective spirit is like. There are strained relationships; there are strong alliances; in some cases there are even conflicts.” ~ Platon

Power stands in especially interesting counterpoint to a book featured on Brain Pickings earlier this year, Bureaucratics. Where that work turned its lens on the lives of mid-level functionaries in our political systems, Power is interested in the very top of the order. Platon’s photos are also compelling when compared to two other favorite projects, The World of 100 and 7 Billion, because of how non-representative his almost entirely male, similarly aged group of subjects is when compared to the actual global population.

My portrait project is not political; it’s human. Every single person has brought something special and unique and, I hope, honest to the pictures. You put all the pictures together and I think it will give us a sense of what it was like to live in these times. This is the global personality of the power system. And as we leave the time that’s recorded in the book, we stand back. We start to analyze it historically. What happened? Who was in control? That’s what this book is about.” ~ Platon

Three years in the making, Power provides a singular opportunity to contemplate the people and predilections of our contemporary age. And for commentary on the photos from Platon, check out his portrait gallery on The New Yorker‘s website.

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.

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.

03 JUNE, 2011

Landscape Permutations: An Experiment in Place and Space

By:

What cross-disciplinary curiosity has to do with impermanence, memory and spatial imagination.

I’m perpetually intrigued by photography projects that use perspective composites and collages to reinterpret the city — examples we’ve previously seen in the form of “urban hackscapes,” “photographic time machines” and Abigail Reynolds’ The Universal Now. So I love artist David Semeniuk‘s Landscape Permutations project — an ongoing exploration of “how spaces and places are experienced, remembered, and represented.” Semeniuk uses images of his hometown, Red Deer, Alberta, and recombines them to imagine a different hypothetical reality of spatial layouts.

In each work of this series, I have brought together separate components of two images, each with a unique interpretant, and forced them to share a single, new meaning. Despite an apparent loss of information within the larger frame of each work, the resulting composite image contains novel, endemic meaning which transcends either image used in its creation.” ~ David Semeniuk

What makes Semeniuk particularly fantastic — at least for me, as an avid proponent of cross-disciplinary curiosity — is that he describes himself as a “formally trained scientist, and an autodidactic artist”: His academic training is in marine biogeochemistry, and he considers his photographic experiments and artistic expression of his scientific exploration.

I am also very much interested in the representational capacity of photographs, and am motivated by questions such as: in what ways is a photograph a transparent view of the world (i.e. akin to looking through a pair of binoculars)? In what ways and to what degree does a photograph truthfully depict reality, and how is this influenced by the naturalistic qualities of photography? Despite the causal origin of a photograph, can a photograph become a more truthful depiction of a particular place?” ~ David Semeniuk

Full of simple poeticism,Landscape Permutations feels like a gentle reminder that our experience of the world is a highly subjective function of our memory, our imagination and our sense of presence. Cue in BBC’s What Is Reality?.

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.

27 MAY, 2011

The Cloud Collector’s Handbook: Cloudy Images to Clear the Mind

By:

Why cirrus, cumulus, and stratus are only the tiny tip of a floating iceberg. Or wait, I think I see a dinosaur!

From childhood on, we look to the clouds for inspiration, believing we can see the entire world in their protean shapes. This early sense of dreaminess is why I immediately fell in love with The Cloud Collector’s Handbook, a beautiful guide by author (and cloud-lover) Gavin Pretor-Pinney. A virtual catalog of air, the almanac provides classifications of the billows, masses, and wisps that provoke our awe and wonder, as well as descriptions of the meteorological conditions that lead to their creation.

Even better, though, The Cloud Collector’s Handbook turns cloudspotting into a game by challenging the reader to chase specific formations and mark down their sightings. Throughout the guidebook each species comes with a corresponding point value, with higher scores for infrequently seen varietals (like the incredibly rare horseshoe vortex).

Flipping through the book, I found myself dreaming of a cross-country roadtrip with a hawk-eyed companion and windows all the way down…

Founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society, a global organization that fights “blue-sky thinking,” Pretor-Pinney published a manifesto explaining the inspiration behind his project.

Clouds are so commonplace that their beauty is often overlooked. They are for dreamers and their contemplation benefits the soul. Indeed, all who consider the shapes they see in them will save on psychoanalysis bills.” ~ Gavin Pretor-Pinney

The Society’s 26,000-plus members have amassed a gorgeous gallery of images, from which it was remarkably hard to choose only a handful.

Storm rolling in at sunset, Lino Lakes, Minnesota, U.S.

Image courtesy of Jackie Zeleznikar

Above the Streets, taken passing over the south coast of England, on a flight from France to the U.K.

Image courtesy of Daniel Melconian

Mount Ranier could mix, Washington, U.S.

Image courtesy of Lori Cannon

Spotted over Pleasant Hill, Iowa. U.S.

Image courtesy of Tim McLean

Mouse in a sunset, Ojo Caliente, New Mexico, U.S.

Image courtesy of Maggi Rankin

And in case looking up makes you think of the skies’ aqueous mirror, Pretor-Pinney also authored The Wave Watcher’s Companion, an equally whimsical guide to waves of all kinds: audio, brain, light, traffic, and, of course, water.

via Cohabitaire

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.

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.

27 MAY, 2011

Radioactive: The Incredible Story of Marie Curie Told in Cyanotype

By:

What the periodic table has to do with obscure photographic techniques and Italian erotic séances.

Marie Curie (November 7, 1867–July 4, 1934) is one of the most extraordinary figures in the history of science. A pioneer in researching radioactivity, a field the very name for which she coined, she was not only the first woman to win a Nobel Prize but also the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, and in two different sciences at that, chemistry and physics. In Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout (public library), artist Lauren Redniss tells the story of Curie through the two invisible but immensely powerful forces that guided her life: Radioactivity and love. It’s a turbulent story — a passionate romance with Pierre Curie (honeymoon on bicycles!), the epic discovery of radium and polonium, Pierre’s sudden death in a freak accident in 1906, Marie’s affair with physicist Paul Langevin, her coveted second Noble Prize — under which lie poignant reflections on the implications of Curie’s work more than a century later as we face ethically polarized issues like nuclear energy, radiation therapy in medicine, nuclear weapons and more.

Most remarkable of all, however, is the thoughtfulness with which Redniss tailored her medium to her message, turning the book into a work of art in and of itself, every detail meticulously moulded to fit the essence of the narrative.

To stay true to Curie’s spirit and legacy, Redniss rendered her poetic artwork in an early-20th-century image printing process called cyanotype, critical to the discovery of both X-rays and radioactivity itself — a cameraless photographic technique in which paper is coated with light-sensitive chemicals. Once exposed to the sun’s UV rays, this chemically-treated paper turns a deep blue color. The text in the book is a unique typeface Redniss designed using the title pages of 18th- and 19th-century manuscripts from the New York Public Library archive. She named it Eusapia LR, for the croquet-playing, sexually ravenous Italian Spiritualist medium whose séances the Curies used to attend. The book’s cover is printed in glow-in-the-dark ink.

Watch an endearingly nervous Redniss tell the story of her book and her creative process in this talk from the recent TEDxEast:

Stunningly beautiful in both concept and execution, Radioactive is a rare cross-pollination of art and science, the kind of storytelling that makes us care about stories. Complement it with the illustrated story of how Jane Goodall turned her childhood dream into reality.

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.