Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘photography’

10 MARCH, 2009

Hungry Planet: How The World Eats, or Doesn’t

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What $376.45 and $1.23 have in common, or why we should be embarrassed to even worry about “the recession.”

Data visualization may hold its mesmerism as a tool of illumination, but but even the most original ways of presenting data can fail to make that eye-opening, visceral impact on us — what usually remains in the heart are not scientific analyses and cold facts but emblematic events (Woodstock), inspiring words (Martin Luther King, Jr.) or riveting photographs (D-day bombing).

Which is what makes Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio’s Hungry Planet: What the World Eats so powerful — a photographic journey to 24 countries, where the authors stayed with 30 different families for a week each, documenting on paper and film what these families ate and how much it cost.

Each photograph depicts all the family members in their home environment, surrounded by a week’s worth of groceries.

United States: The Revis family of North Carolina

Food expenditure for one week: $341.98

Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

Guatemala: The Mendozas of Todos Santos

Food expenditure per week: 573 Quetzales ($75.70)

Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

There’s something very special about the photograph and its ability to encapsulate the time’s vibe, condensing big amounts of information — cultural, political, economic — in a commentary that engages us emotionally. The student standing in front of a tank on Tiananmen Square. The Pulitzer-Prize-winning photo of a vulture stalking a starved child. National Geographic’s iconic Afghan girl. Even without the full contextual facts about these photos, they somehow make us get “it.” And Hungry Planet does just that.

Comparing these images makes for some shocking conclusions, both funny and sad — prolific fodder for sociology, economics, and anthropology college papers alike. But to stick to our point here, we’ll seize elaboration and let the photographs speak.

Australia: The Browns of River View

Food expenditure per week: 481.14 Australian dollars ($376.45)

Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

Japan: The Ukita family of Kodaira City

Food expenditure per week: 37,699 Yen ($317.25)

Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

Egypt: The Ahmed family of Cairo

Food expenditure per week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds ($68.53)

Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp

Food expenditure per week: 685 CFA Francs ($1.23)

Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com

Grab a copy of Hungry Planet for a pause-giving perspective on a basic human right we’ve come to take for granted.

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06 MARCH, 2009

Transform: The Journey to Creative Contentment

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Why the only thing that matters is that it shouldn’t matter.

As creators, we all have moments of doubt. Sometimes momentary, sometimes situational, sometimes existential. But the “trick” about creative self-doubt seems to be in doing away with the pressures of measuring up, the perceived comparative value of our work, the destructive cravings for critical acclaim, and focusing on the creative truth of each moment, that “in-the-zoneness” that makes us truly happy.

transform1 Which is why we love Zack Arias’ short film Transform — an exploration of a photographer’s journey to creative contentment, past the trials and tribulations of doubt and the tortured obsessions over the work’s merit. And although Zack himself is a photographer, we think the grander message of the film will strike a chord with any creator.

So watch Transform, and don’t let the intentional satire of the first 93 seconds mislead you — it’s after this that the film’s true richness really begins.

Transform seems to echo the wisdom of our favorite TED talk — Elizabeth Gilbert on creative genius — and the idea that these pressures, be they external or internal, to measure up, to outdo, to be celebrated kill the very spring of creativity.

So with this sentiment, have an inspired weekend. And if you don’t, that’s okay.

04 MARCH, 2009

The Secret Lives of Secret Places

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What NYC rats have to do with Les Miserables, med school dropouts and photographic genius.

When Seoul-born artist Miru Kim moved to New York to attend college in 1999, she wasn’t officially an “artist” — she was a pre-med student interested in anatomy. But she grew increasingly fascinated by the city itself and began to look at it is a living organism, itching to dissect it and reveal its hidden layers. So she scrapped med school and decided to get an MFA instead.

In grad school, Kim became interested in the creatures that dwell on the fringes of society, in the hidden parts of the city. So she began photographing New York City rats. Eventually, she started going into the tunnels, discovering a whole new dimension to the city that most people don’t get to see. She connected with a subculture of like-minded urban explorers, adventurers and guerrilla historians, but somehow felt there was something missing from her photographs of these demolished underground spaces.

So she decided to create a fictional character that dwells in these places — the easiest way to do it was to model herself.

I decided against any clothing because I wanted the figure to be without any cultural implications or time-specific elements. I wanted a simple way to represent a living body inhabiting these decaying, derelict spaces.

This gave birth to a series titled Naked City Spleen, an allusion to Charles Baudelaire’s Paris SpleenNaked City is the nickname for New York, and spleen captures “the melancholy inertia that comes from being alienated in an urban environment.”

The project took Kim around the world in search of hidden places — from the catacombs of Paris to London’s River Tyburn to the 19th century homeless asylums of Berlin. Her work, however, is about more than just the mere documentation of decay.

I like doing more than just exploring these spaces and feel an obligation to animate and humanize [them] continually in order to preserve their memories in a creative way before they’re lost forever.

Kim eventually went on to shoot two films on 60mm black-and-white film — Blind Door and Blind Window — as she became more interested in capturing movement and texture.

Watch her inspired TED talk, for a deeper look at the artist’s process, her unique brand of inspiration, and the cultural resonance of her work.