Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘photography’

19 MARCH, 2009

The Creative (Re)Touch

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Aliens, the real Iron Man, and what an orangutan has to say about your electric bill.

A common booby trap that befalls design rookies is the tendency to get all giddy and excited over the various tools and filters of visual editing software, spitting out visual atrocities each more garish and over-the-top Photoshoppy than the next. But, like Spiderman’s aunt likes to say, with great power comes great responsibility — the mark of an exceptional designer is the gift of conceptual vision, the mastery of technical skill, and the wisdom of restraint.

Here are three such creative visionaries, who use the tools of image manipulation to craft sophisticated visuals that capture compelling concepts  or, at the very least, tickle our curiosity and our visceral appetite.

CHRIS SCARBOROUGH

Chris Scarborough makes photographic caricatures, in a good way. He takes ordinary subjects’ existing features and exaggerates them to a dehumanized extent, creating an air of unearthly eeriness about the images.

In some, the manipulation is so subtle you can barely detect it, yet you can’t help feeling the haunting alienness oozing from the image.

ERIC JOHANSSON

23-year-old Swedish interaction designer Eric Johansson has a rare eye for capturing that elusive quantum intersection of reality and the surreal. He takes ordinary landscapes and subjects, transforming them into sometimes slightly creep, often amusing, and always fascinating what-if’s.

Johansson’s work is part Alice in Wonderland, part Tim Burton, part the slapstick visual puns we all make in the privacy of our own creatively restless minds.

Explore the rest of Johansson’s portfolio for a whimsical journey to all the places your mind has always dreamt of going.

CHRISTOPHE HUET

Professional photo whiz Christophe Huet, a.k.a. “The French (Re)Touch,” is a modern-day illusionist. He works with the world’s best creative teams to craft an alternate reality of delightfully surreal images.

His work is an elaborate production that involves entire armies of art directors, makeup artists, actors, extras, creative directors, photographers, fashion stylists, set directors, assistants — you get the picture. And the picture happens to be exceptionally striking, both visually and conceptually — like the brilliant campaign Huet created for French anti-AIDS organization AIDES.

What we find most compelling about Christophe’s brand of creativity is that it is vocally visceral, but it does more than to merely amuse — it uses that visceral element to create visual metaphors that illuminate culturally relevant and socially important issues.

Like this brilliantly simple yet brilliantly powerful illustration of the link between our daily habits and the living beings they affect — a crisp reminder that “the environment” isn’t just some abstract concept we donate to at the Whole Foods checkout aisle.

See Huet’s entire portfolio for images that make your eyes pop while drawing them a little bit closer to your brain.

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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.