Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘photography’

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.

03 MARCH, 2009

The Art of Identity

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What bathroom signage has to do with aviator masks and our shared existential journey.

The notion of identity has always been a fundamental subject of restless exploration in art. Today, we look at 3 very different creative meditations on the tools of crafting, disguising and exposing the self — masks and costumes.

LOS VOCALINO BROTHERS

Argentinian brothers Ariel and Sebas Vocalino are a double shot of talent. The art director (Ariel) and photographer (Sebas) duo’s latest project, a digital series titled Turista, explores the existential journey each of us is on through the eyes of a lonely traveler.

The tourist is, for us, a man who knows that is on the way, who enjoys every moment and every place he walks by. The tourist is someone who lives the present very consciously. He is a person who is lonely and connects to the places through his look.

In the first part of the series, the masked voyager has traveled to places from the brothers’ own lives — their parents’ apartment, their club, downtown in their hometown of Buenos Aires — places and situations common for the brothers, into which they invite others through the tourist.

This excellent interview with the brothers sheds light on their creative process, their inspiration, and the places the tourist is yet to take them — take a look.

BOB BASSET’S STEAMPUNK MASKS

It’s no secret we love steampunk. Which is why we dig Ukrainian artist Bob Basset’s steampunk take on culture’s most (in)famous masks.

From aviators to doctors to gas masks, his work ranges from the bizarre to the brilliant, meticulously crafted and implicitly concerned with culture’s historical need for facewear.

Now, if he could only steampunk that Joker ski mask

via BoingBoing

THE PEDESTRIAN PROJECT

In 1989, New York costume designer Yvette Helin became increasingly fascinated by the generic graphic images of people used on many types of signage — faceless figures intended to convey broader concepts. This gave birth to ongoing performance art known as The Pedestrian Project — silent performers wearing entirely black custom-made costumes modeled after the signs, roaming the streets and other public venues and mimicking the lives of everyday people.

Since the project’s inception, The Peds have toured the world, from the MoMA to the Prague Quadrennial.

The project is part visual art, part pure whimsy, part social satire that challenges onlookers to do a double-take as they see the familiar graphic icons from signs come to life.

We see the project as a brilliant metaphor for our culture of facelessness — we live in our own little bubbles, iPod earbuds shutting off the outside world, gaze glazing over the swarm of passengers on the subway. We miss the complexity of each stranger we pass by in the street, their passions, their tribulations, their everyday reality. The Peds challenge us to rethink what we dismiss as faceless and generic, to consider the private truths within the public personas we encounter.

17 FEBRUARY, 2009

Vintage Design: Innovation Lessons from the Past

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Bleeding-edge art direction, what Obama’s agricultural policy has to do with vintage graphic design, and why 2009 is exactly like 1939.

It all began in the 1980’s, when editorial entrepreneur Janet A. Ginsburg stumbled upon a wonderful series of illustrations on a roll of microfilm while researching a story in the Chicago Tribune‘s library. The illustrations, titled “Robert and Peggy in a Century of Progress,” chronicled the adventures of a little boy and his sister at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. Despite the poor quality of the microfilm, the artwork struck Janet with its aesthetic brilliance and intricacy, so she embarked upon a long journey to uncover the lost creative gems of the Chicago Tribune.

Art of The Message: The Story Behind the Chicago Tribune Collection captures Janet’s investigative expedition of trials and tribulations that eventually unearthed some of the 20th century’s most defining print design treasures. Gems like poster design so brave and groundbreaking it would be considered cutting-edge even by today’s jaded standards.

Pieces of history like the most pivotal moments of color photography — the first color photograph to be taken outdoors, away from the controlled environment of studio lights, which required elaborate three-plate filtering of the different colors and took technicians an entire night to get the engravings and half-tones just right.

From interactive inserts inviting the reader to play with the medium…

…to conceptually and aesthetically sophisticated advertising, complete with brilliant art direction and stellar typography, standing as an antithesis to the generic cliches flooding the pages of today’s print publications.

Then there was the editorial side, framing compelling op-eds in gripping visuals — literally, like in the story of the last emperor of China.

But most fascinating of all are the Tribune‘s striking data visualizations, a pinnacle of bleeding-edge journalism condensed in a vessel of stellar graphic design. Something that lives at the intersection of Al Jaffe’s iconic fold-ins and Chris Jordan’s gripping data representations. Something today’s magazines often try to do well and only rarely succeed —  you might find it in Wired‘s visual exposés or on the pages of GOOD, where our present-biased generation gawks at it in marvel of the innovation. Which, of course, is hardly novel, given such executions can be traced as far back as the late 1920’s — executions no less, if not more, visually and conceptually compelling, made with every bit as much thoughtfulness and wit and an aesthetic sensibility, yet made without any of today’s bells and whistles. (Adobe CS4 and $40,000-a-year graphic design schools, we’re looking at you.)

But here’s the most interesting part: At the closing of TED 2009 a couple of weeks ago, when the audience waved their iPhones into the air lighter-style to Jamie Cullum’s rendition of “Imagine,” we remarked what a metaphor this was for the times.

We’ve come a long way technologically, yet the social and cultural issues John Lennon sang about in 1971 are every bit as relevant and pressing today.

In a lot of ways, the Tribune‘s data visualizations are a similar reminder that those biggest burdens of yesteryear have not healed but swollen into social abscesses. Case in point: This dissection, circa 1938, of what a billion dollars is, trying to put economic scale in a culturally digestible context.

Remind you of something? Or of something else?

The same is true of this 1936 farm plan, a striking prequel to today’s most heated debates on agricultural subsidies and sustainable farming.

And as if it isn’t eye-opening enough to see two of today’s most hot-button issues — the economy and sustainability — make waves decades ago, there’s the matter of the truly biggest one of all: The tensions of international politics and their propensity for armed conflict tearing the world apart.

The moral of the story, of course, is that we did not invent the wheel — in design, in journalism, or in cultural concern, for that matter.

And while we may have honed our skills with new and better tools — better graphic design software, new media platforms for journalism to play out on, more awareness and philanthropy efforts — we still have a long, long way to go before we can declare ourselves truly innovative and claim real progress.

Explore The Art of The Message, it’s one of those rare fresh perspectives you won’t find on the regurgitated pages of today’s mass publications and info-recycling blogs.

via @TrackerNews