Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘photography’

06 MAY, 2009

Running The Numbers: Oceanographic Visualization

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What 20,500 tuna have to do with your old toothbrush, or how a plastic comb ended up on top of Japan’s most iconic volcano.

We love TED. We love data visualization. We hate environmental demise.

Naturally, we love artist Chris Jordan‘s (remember him?) response to the overlooked but tremendously concerning issue exposed by legendary ocean researcher Sylvia Earle in her TED Prize wish — overfishing and the rapid decline of oceans’ natural vitality.


In Running The Numbers II, the second installment of his Portraits of Global Mass Culture series, Jordan looks at mass phenomena on a global scale. Again, each image portrays concrete data about a specific issue.

Depicts 270,000 fossilized shark teeth, equal to the estimated number of sharks of all species killed around the world every day for their fins.

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Finding meaning in global mass phenomena can be difficult because the phenomena themselves are invisible, spread across the earth in millions of separate places. There is no Mount Everest of waste that we can make a pilgrimage to and behold the sobering aggregate of our discarded stuff, seeing and feeling it viscerally with our senses.

Depicts 2.4 million pieces of plastic, equal to the estimated number of pounds of plastic pollution that enter the world's oceans every hour.

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Detail of the top of Mt. Fuji

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Jordan’s work is both a reminder of and an antidote to our individual sense of insignificance as we face these disturbing global issues with an increasing sense of urgency — we love the idea of juxtaposing the effect of our collective actions with the tiny individual contributions that make them up. It’s a new kind of call for personal responsibility — could that be your old toothbrush at the foot of Mt. Fuji?

We are stuck with trying to comprehend the gravity of these phenomena through the anaesthetizing and emotionally barren language of statistics. Sociologists tell us that the human mind cannot meaningfully grasp numbers higher than a few thousand; yet every day we read of mass phenomena characterized by numbers in the millions, billions, even trillions.

Depicts 20,500 tuna, the average number of tuna fished from the world

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For a deeper look at our collective individualism in its cultural context, be sure to check out Jordan’s absolutely brilliant book, Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait — it comes with our highest stamp of recommendation.

via @TEDchris

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30 APRIL, 2009

Photographic Time Machine

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How to tear the space-time continuum with your bare hands and a camera lens.

The transformative power of photography is unquestionable — powerful images can move us emotionally, intellectually and morally. Now, it can also move us across space and time — here are three fascinating photographic projects that do just that.

SIEGE OF LENINGRAD COMPOSITES

Thanks to Google Translate, we understand this project has to do with the 65th anniversary of the Siege of Leningrad — perhaps the biggest military operation fiasco for the Axis powers in WWII. To commemorate the occasion, Russian artist Sergey Larenkov created phenomenal composite images of Leningrad, today’s Saint Petersburg, placing the dramatic events of the Siege in their contemporary context.

The images are a stride-stopping revelation of the scars WWII left, both physical and cultural, reminding us just how much more than architectural restoration it has taken for a healing process to begin.

LOOKING INTO THE PAST

We love seeing one creative project inspire another that plays off of it — a testament to the infectious power of ideas. And that’s why we love Jason Powell’s Looking Into The Past project, inspired by something you may remember from issues past: Michael Hughes’ Souvenirs.

Powell takes historical photographs from The Library of Congress digital archive (another innovative effort we love), prints them out, and holds them up against their respective modern-day location.

From the capital’s architectural icons to the quiet streets of small-town America, the project invites us into a fascinating cultural time machine.

If you find yourself infectiously inspired to tear the space-time continuum, you can contribute your own photographic time capsules to the Flickr group Powell created for the project.

NYC GRID 1961 VS. 2009

A strong city ages so gracefully that despite the colossal changes in the context of its era, the city’s own character remains an unchanged cultural pillar. That’s exactly the kind of vibe you’ll get glimpsing through images of the world’s biggest cosmopolitan icon — New York City — taken in 1961 and 2009.

This time capsule captures our technological and cultural evolution — from cars to fashion to outdoor advertising — yet there’s something oddly comforting in knowing that no matter how all these elements change, the city remains this unchanging force that keeps us centered.

Explore the full collection over at NYC Grid.

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17 APRIL, 2009

As Seen On Earth: The Infinite Photograph

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A portrait of Earth painted with 300,000 brushes, or why editorial curation and user-generated content can be friends.

There’s no question National Geographic is a photographic force to be reckoned with. And now they’re on a mission to inspire people to care about the planet through a gigantic collaborative photo-mosaic of the Earth.

Infinite Photograph is a global project building a portrait of Earth seen through the eyes of ordinary people, a promotional effort for NG’s MyShot initiative. Think of it as crowdsourcing meets collage meets environmental sensibility.

Currently, the mosaic is composed of over 300,000 photos of the natural world, pulled from archived images by MyShot users. But the project is also an ongoing invitation for new submissions — the more images are indexed, the richer the the color sampling will be and the closer to infinity the mosaic can get.

The team at National Geographic envisions various future extensions of the project as the image catalog grows, breaking it down into mosaic representations of sub-categories like water, trees, and animals.

Besides being the socially-smartest marketing effort we’ve seen in a while, we have to respect NG’s fierce editorial curation — even user-submitted images have to live up to the same editorial standards as those in the actual publication in order to make it to MyShot, which ensures all the photographs that do make the cut for Infinite Photograph are absolutely stunning.

But be not discouraged — go ahead and submit some of your own nature-loving shots. It’s not every day you get a chance to feel closer to the planet and to your global cohabitants at the same time.

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