Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘photography’

30 NOVEMBER, 2007

Eye Wonder


Hold on to your belt, hotel room “presents” that rock, visions from another world, a YouTube David, why we’re buying our own hyperboles, how 10,000 books will take over Cannes, and what a python and a kitchen appliance have in common.


befuddlr.pngIf you were ever the kid who begged mom for a box of cereal solely because of the plastic scramble puzzle inside, then you’ll get a kick out of Befuddlr: a place for hyper-customized time-killing that lets you create a digital photo scrambler out of any photo you upload, send it to your friends, and even time your quest to break the world photo unscrambling record.

Once you get the “befuddle it!” bookmarklet on your bookmark bar (just drag it off the website onto your bar), you can befuddle any Flikr photo or upload your own album and do an original.

We managed this one…


…in an impressive 36.1 seconds.

Do we have a new challenge for the belt-holder? Give it a shot if you dare.


We never thought it possible to find a little something from a past guest in a hotel room and actually enjoy it, but we were wrong. Turns out, there’s a new underground movement afoot where the artistically inclined and mischievous leave “secret wall tattoos” — artwork done in spaces normally covered by hotel furniture that is only revealed when said furniture is moved.


Rumor has it, Queens of the Stone Age vocalist Josh Homme started it all. He’s been quoted to compare the concept to a box of Cracker Jacks, in which you find a hidden toy. Turns out, artists are actually getting paid by (smart) hoteliers to do this kinda thing, which is okay since it’s still cool as hell in the context of the bland, visionless herd of mainstream hotel interiors.

Check out the photo collection so far, or watch this video tour of the secret world. And pack a Sharpie for that skiing getaway next month.


So while we’re bemusing the eye, why not amuse it.

Bulgarian English teacher and multi-talented artist Denitsa Boyadzhieva has a blog so humble yet visually compelling you’ll come to appreciate it without ever needing to understand the text: it’s artwork that truly speaks.


We love the phenomenal play of color and light in her photographs, and the childlike simplicity intertwined with complex adult emotion oozing from her illustrations.

Plus, we’re all for exposing people to culturally different art visions. Go, get exposed.


Weighty YouTube hasn’t stopped the proliferation of other video- sharing sites. Granted, most of them range from poor-man’s ripoffs of the Goliath to portfolio vaults for porn school drop-outs. But one newcomer,, is taking the video-sharing experience to a new, highly interactive level: one they dubbed “reactive video.”

The basic concept: not only can you search, share, comment and vote on video, but you can also use the proprietary Video Activator Tool to specify and tag different parts of a video, making various elements of it (people, objects, whatever) clickable. This results in a fully searchable vid, allowing other users to rate and comment on just specific parts of it.

The service is pretty new, so we’ll cut them some slack for the unclickable tags and other glitches we experienced. (Plus, we saw from the screenshots on their about page they seem to be pulling a John Hodgman — whose popular incarnation is, by the way, unsurprisingly absent from their collection of videos.)

But we see great potential: imagine being able to click an object in a video and instantly access a multimedia library of information available on it across the web, from news articles, to blog mentions, to Wikipedia entries, to music, to related social network groups, to images and more. In the great words of Tim Gunn, “Make it work!”


And while we’re on the topic of great video, let’s take it up a notch and consider great film, the notion of which should now be in the Endangered Species book in light of the devastating blockbuster attempts, cheap comedies, corny horror flicks and other mainstream horrors flooding pop culture in recent years.

juno.png So we’re ecstatic to hear about Juno, a new Fox Searchlight film by director Jason Reitman (remember Thank You For Smoking?), sporting the most brilliant cast we’ve ever seen (really) and a promising Garden-Statesque soundtrack. And given that all this comes with our usual utmost aversion to hyperbole, take our word: it’s just that good.

On to said brilliant cast: excuse the bias, but we can’t help mentioning the talent behind our all-time favorite TV character, C. J. Cregg of The West Wing: Allison Janney. Then there are Arrested Development co-stars Michael Cera, fresh out of Superbad, and Jason Bateman, fresh out of The Kingdom. (Fox, thanks to your indie arm, you’ve made a small chip at redeeming yourselves from eternal damnation on grounds of canceling the cult primetime hilarity.)

Also in the posse: prolific Hollywooders J. K. Simmons and Jennifer Garner, whose obvious effort to step away from mainstream cheese we can’t help applauding. (Or, they got enough of the big bucks to carry them through years of indiesque income in pursuit of critical acclaim.)

Finally, we have off-to-an-impressive start debutante Ellen Page, who just won the Hollywood Film Festival award for Breakthrough Actress (Don’t we say “actor” for both genders these days?) of the Year and the Gotham Award for Breakthrough Actor. (See, the East Coast is rocking the PC thang.) And, speaking of awards, the Palm Springs International Film festival and the SAG Foundation honored Juno with the Chairman’s Vanguard award, which Little Miss Sunshine snagged last year. Shortcut to the Oscars?

Be your own judge:

The film opens next week, but still no word on when/whether it’ll be showing in Philly. Well, if not, it’s looking so good we may even suck up the wonderful experience that is the Chinatown Bus to New York.


Okay, so it’s clear we can’t keep our hands off the visual media this week. Might as well embrace it: 2007 certainly has. At least when it comes to commercial work, we can safely call this year the year of gargantuan productions. After the Sony Bravia Play-Doh spot from Fallon London, we got the Guinness “Tipping Point” from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, London — which, if you haven’t already, you should absolutely see. For the laggards:

This sort of work is certain to give some the “Okay, but will it sell beer?” furrows, but we can’t deny it steals the word “awesome” back from gum-chewing teens and brings it to its roots of awe-inspiring marvel.

And, to be sure, this sort of awe doesn’t come easily. Genius MJZ director Nicolai Fuglsig admits it was the toughest shoot of his life. (And, yep, he’s the one that directed the Sony Bravia “Balls” spot.)

Not hard to believe: it all took place in a small Argentinian village at 3,000 feet altitude. To get there, the crew had to drive 30 miles on dirt roads and cross 12 rivers. Then they took over the 1000-person village for 2 months with 140 crew and 130 extras. Speaking of extras, these were all completely untrained and non-English-speaking locals, so casting took 18 days. When all was finally ready to go, 26 trucks rolled into the tiny village carrying 6 cars, 50 fridges, 70 wardrobes, 400 truck tires and 10,000 books.

See the $20-million magic happen:

Awesome, no?


And, finally, let’s sign off with our good friend from Will It Blend. This time, the Blendtec beast takes on a Guitar Hero III guitar. Reminds us of those Discovery-Channel-style “snake swallows something 10 times its intestinal width” scenarios.

Ooh! Ooh! Can we do an elevator next?

We’ve got 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.

30 AUGUST, 2007



Invisible furniture, molecular ad cuisine, pricing out the art of living, 1406 ways a photo lens can change your outlook, why the world is 774% friendlier than this time last year, and what Regis Kelly has to do with iTunes’ impending demise.


itunes.gif No question the iTunes empire is one to be reckoned with. And many have. Last year, Microsoft released Windows Media Player 11 jukebox software, which included Urge, MTV’s digital music store. At that point, the Microsoft/MTV partnership had been around for a few months, so the new player/store platform sent bloggers and business analysts alike on a rave spree.

Well, all that stuff went down the crapper.

Take 2: Viacom is dumping the PC guys tribe for RealNetworks, whose struggling Rhapsody music service could use a symbiotic partnership with MTV, a brand so digitally challenged its iconic status pedestal is shaking like a polaroid picture.

And while the corporate powerhouses are busy forging all sots of anti-iTunes alliances, a grassroots army of boycotters is afoot. Remember how years ago non-profit Mozilla‘s free, open-source Firefox made Microsoft’s Internet Explorer obsolete even for hardcore PC-ers? Goliath iTunes may be headed down that same road thanks to Songbird, a fresh new David born out of open source king Mozilla. It’s a piece of web/desktop mash-up genius that lets you find and organize music, on and offline, in a beautifully integrated way, far beyond what iTunes can offer.


Besides the neat design, Songbird has infinite, mind-blowing capacities: it’s cross-platform (so Mac Guy, PC Guy and, um, Linux Guy can play nice and share), comes in 39 languages (so you can finally get original song titles for that Zimbabwean album there), and will play any music file format, including mp3, OGG, AAC, FLAC, WMV and more (suck that, MPEG-4). And that’s just the beginning. Best part? Songbird will pull all media files from a web page you’re viewing (say, Bitter:Sweet‘s band website) into a playlist you can, well, play on your desktop. Plus, it’s got all sorts of community features like blogs, forums, website buttons and super-cool merchandise (profits, of course, go to funding the project). Overall, that birdie is getting the Brain Pickings seal of approval right smack in the middle of its birdie forehead.

But the bigger point is, all these developments show one thing: the whole iTunes monopoly, with its proprietary bullshit and various usage limitations (how many computers have you authorized to listen to your library?) is quickly turning into Regis Kelly — old, pompous and annoying. We say time for change.


The trouble with the whole digital thing is that it makes it super easy for everyone and their mother to take pictures and splatter them all over the web. They do it, too. And we can only take so many photoblogs and albums of people’s chubby kids playing with other people’s chubby kids. Good thing there are folks out there claiming photography back from the overexposed and the cliche. Folks like those at FILE Magazine, a “collection of unexpected photography.”


FILE mag aims to reinterpret our way of looking at imagery and the world at large. They also make a point of what they’re not: a photoblog, a photography contest, a home for family albums, a source of glossy fashion spreads. It’s an actual magazine in that involves actual editors curating unconventional photography wherever they spot it, then contact the authors and ask to include it in The Collection, currently 1406 photos wonderful.

We were pretty taken with all projects we looked at, but a couple of favorites did emerge:


Back of the House explores the culinary world behind the scenes, zooming in on the human element in the fine dining subculture. Endless Summer takes on the postcardish, touristy, aging-boomer-stereotype side of Florida and counters it by delving into its opposite. In Misspent Youth, photographer Andrew Newson takes a trip to his childhood school some 16 years later, looking at simple memory triggers with the complex eyes of a life-worn adult. The aptly titled Untitled steals glimpses of scenes, places and objects that no one seems to notice, letting their static, geometric qualities take on a hypnotic, haunting vibe.

Pick your own favorite projects or submit your own off-center photography.


A fundamental rule of art is that it’s not to be taken at face value. Another fundamental rule of art is that there are no rules. So a 20-something couple from New York, originally propelled by creative vision and starvation, has rolled with the latter and turned the former on its head.

Wants For Sale is a strikingly how-come-no-one-thought-of-this- earlier concept that challenges the starving-artist stereotype head-on.

Here’s how it works: Artist wants iPhone. Artist paints iPhone in acrylic on 2″-deep gallery canvas. Aritst posts painting for sale at $649.17, the exact price of iPhone. Art enthusiast sees painting, loves it and buys it. Artist gets iPhone. Genius.

Once a painting is bought, its online status changes from “Want” to “Have” so you can see the kind of stuff that people buy. Wants range from daily cravings like a buffalo wings (have; $12.70) and beer (have; $7.00) to nitty-gritty living stuff like one month’s rent (want; 1,056.07) to intangibles like financial security (want; $1,000,000) and a night of booze-induced amnesia (have; $100.00). So much for the whole artists-can’t-do-business-to-save-their-life notion. Although we do have to wonder why only beer snob beer would do and what kind of superhuman workouts are involved in getting a six-pack in just a month. (While having buffalo wings and beer.)

The folks even offer to paint anything you want, with the fair disclaimer that it has nothing to do with the Yankees. Yep, Christine and Justin seem like quite the characters, which is also evident in their minimalist, sweetly quirky self-intro.


Earlier this month, Australian ad-personalization-solutions pioneer Qmecom unveiled a platform truly revolutionary, a much-needed marriage of today’s two biggest marketing trends: customization and that whole 2.0 experience thing. No, it’s not your grandmother’s behavioral targeting. It’s a beautiful system of complex algorithms that goes by the (not-so-catchy) name of Personalized Video Advertising Platform and does just what the name implies: allows advertisers to personalize a video ad to the individual viewer. Their explanation of the platform is a bit wordy and confusing, so we’ll digest it for you and spit it out.

Here’s how it works:

The algorithm engine takes your regular Flash file and breaks it down into molecular-level creative components. (These can be any video and static elements, including colors, text, sounds, images, calls to action, offers, message tags and more.) The system then uses these to generate a library of possible creative templates. Next, the templates are matched against the viewer’s site visit patterns, any CRM and data profiles, or historical and/or real-time behavioral data. The template that best matches the viewer’s personal patterns is delivered, resulting in the most engaging creative possible.


So say you’re doing a shoe campaign for adidas. You decide to run a Flash banner on Amazon. Frequent shopper John Doe stumbles upon it after having just looked at desks and messenger bags. You know from his Amazon profile that he’s 19. And his user history tells you he always buys stuff eligible for Amazon’s “free super saver” shipping option. Oh, and he’s recently bought a couple of kelly-green shirts. A-ha, you say to yourself (if you’re a Qmecom algorithm, that is) and figure he’s a college student shopping for back-to-school stuff who likes green and is a sucker for price-related promotions. So you deliver that neat stop-motion animation of the green Campus sneaker and throw in your “free overnight shipping” promotion for J.D.’s all “oooh, check thiiiis out…” and you’re all “sweeeeet.”

If you’re still not buying/getting/fully appreciating it, check out some samples of campaigns they did. We were particularly impressed with the BMW 3 Series email campaign and Virgin Blue Airlines web stuff. We just can’t wait to see what Qmecom can do with ad delivery on social network platforms where info on personal preferences is rich and aplenty, supplied eagerly and willingly straight from the source.


brainiac.gif And speaking of social networks, anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock knows they’re on fire. But 774% on fire? That’s how much worldwide traffic to newcomer Tagged grew between June 06 and June 07 according to comScore. Boy-hee.

So while this may be standard fare for a newly launched net as it garners its first members, the major social networks (MySpace, Facebook, Hi5, Friendster, Orkut and Bebo) have also been rolling in the traffic dough. MySpace is keeping at its steady climb with 72% growth and development beast Facebook is soaring with 270%, probably largely due to the recent addition of numerous widgets, mini-platforms and other developer fare.

And just in case you’re suspecting traffic stats are driven by “samplers” who rarely visit the websites, rest assured daily visits are also growing like the number of celebrihoes making trips to jail: MySpace is up 72%, Facebook 299%, Hi5 65%, Friendster 96%, Orkut 75%, and Bebo 307%.

This leaves us wondering how much time and engagement all the online dwelling displaces from good ol’ face-to-face conversations, hanging out with friends and other such pre-2.0 social activities. But oh how much easier it is to befriend someone by clicking a shared music interest link than by, you know, learning actual social skills and getting out there. And who cares if your new buddy happens to be one of those 29,000 registered sex offenders, you both dig High School Musical. (Although probably for very different reasons.)


If you happen to share our love of minimalist design and our disdain for applied physics, then you’ll also happen to dig the Self Shelf.

It’s pretty much what it sounds like: a shelf that looks like a book. It attaches to the wall invisibly thanks to a back bracket and holds up to 8.5 lbs. (That’s almost 3 War and Peaces, or almost 23 US Weeklys. Your choice.)

Get it for $29.95 from Firebox or pass it on to your friend who, you know, actually has something display-worthy to put on it. (Nope, Harry Potter doesn’t cut it.)