Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘photography’

04 JUNE, 2010

Historypin: Past Meets Present in Street View


What urban storytelling has to do with the end of WWII and Google Maps mashups.

Photographic Time Machine is one of our all-time most popular articles, but it spotlights projects that, while fascinating, are one-off art experiments. How fantastic would it be if there were a broader, more expansive platform for intersecting past and present through historical photography, a digital time machine of sorts? Well, now there is. Enter Historypin — a mashup of modern mapping and archival photos that offers a new way to explore and share history.

Developed by We Are What We Do, the social movement behind Anya Hindmarch’s now-iconic I’m Not a Plastic Bag bag, in partnership with Google, the project pulls photos from various national archives and private-sector collections, and “pins” them over Google Maps Street View to create a fascinating fold in the space/time continuum.

Archival photos can both be dated and geotagged, painting a precise portrait of how specific locations have changed. Users can even submit their own and write stories about them, adding a wonderful urban storytelling component akin to Hitotoki.

From 19th-century views of Baltimore and Potomac Railway Station to London’s iconic High Street on Victory in Europe Day in 1945, Historypin features nearly 2,000 photos and stories pinned just a couple of days after the official launch and has the potential to become the largest user-generated archive of historical images and stories, documenting not only how the physicality of our world is changing but also how our experience of it is responding to those changes — a priceless timecapsule of cultural change.

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27 MAY, 2010

From Back Home: Photo- Parallels from Sweden


What the fringes of Sweden have to do with a scavenger hunt for creative influences.

Anders Petersen and JH Engström are two of Sweden’s best-known photographers, equally iconic yet with creative styles that couldn’t be more dramatically dissimilar. What they do have in common, though, is that both hail from the remote and sparsely populated Värmland region in western Sweden, a place where man and land develop a rich understanding and an intimate relationship.

In 2001, the two photographers embarked upon a seven-year collaboration to capture their own connection to the people and landscapes of Värmland. The result was From Back Home, a fascinating photobook split in two parts, each containing one photographer’s unique interpretation of the subject matter.

Book excerpt, From Back Home © JH Engström

Book excerpt, From Back Home © Anders Petersen

What’s particularly intriguing about the project is that Engström, 25 years Petersen’s junior, worked as his assistant in his creatively formative years — so the book almost becomes a game of trying to spot the older photographer’s influence over the style of the younger, making it all the more interesting and challenging to find the subtle common undercurrents in the vastly divergent visual styles.

Book excerpt, From Back Home © JH Engström

Book excerpt, From Back Home © Anders Petersen

The two offer a curious counterbalance to one another’s propensities, at the same time making the distinct style of each all the more palpable in the face of the other. Against Petersen’s blend of romanticism and gravity lies Engström’s irreverence and diffusive playfulness, offering both an antidote and a taste-enhancer to each other.

Book excerpt, From Back Home © JH Engström

Book excerpt, From Back Home © Anders Petersen

Though the book won the 2009 Author Book Award at Rencontres d’Arles, it is now, tragically, out of print. But you can steal a rich glimpse of it in this excellent LensCulture spotlight slideshow, complete with an insightful review by curator Marc Feustel.

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30 APRIL, 2010

Urban Hackscapes: Augmented Reality 1.0


iPhone vs. pencil, or what the Library of Congress has to do with cartoon dinosaurs.

If you think augmented reality is a recent fascination woven from the fabric of the camera phone age, think again — artists, photographers and casual creative pranksters have long been using camera tricks to hack urban landscape by layering additional fascination over the naked eye’s view of the city. Here are three of our favorite photographic hackscapes.


You recall Michael Hughes‘ wonderful Souvenirs collection from pickings past. The British photographer travels the world and “replaces” some of its most iconic landmarks with their cheap touristy souvenir replicas — miniatures, snow globes, plates, postcards — by holding them in front of the camera at just the right angle.

The result is a playful take on tourism which, depending on how philosophically inclined you are, even exudes subtle commentary on the artificiality of souvenir collecting in the context of the actual experience and our often excessive propensity for sentimentality.

Prints from the project are available on Hughes’ website.


Because we love the cross-pollination of ideas and the transference of creative inspiration, we love Jason Powell‘s Looking Into The Past project (which you may remember from one of our most popular features of all time, Photographic Time Machine), inspired by Hughes’ Souvenirs.

Powell prints out historical photographs from The Library of Congress digital archive (remember that, too?) and holds them up against the physical locations depicted in them, offering an absolutely fascinating glimpse of how urban landscape, dress and transportation have evolved over the past couple of centuries.

To contribute to this fold in the space-time continuum, submit your own photographic time capsules to the eponymous Flickr pool Powell set up for the project.


After object-in-photo and photo-in-photo, it’s only fitting that someone comes up with drawing-in-photo. Artist Benjamin Heine did — his series Pencil vs. Camera adds an element of playful fantasy to the already innovative cross-medium technique.

We imagine being trampled by cartoon Godzilla while staring at a four-eyed cat is among the eeriest yet most amusing of deaths.

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