Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘vintage’

03 MAY, 2012

Harry Benson’s Luminous Black-and-White Photographs of The Beatles, 1964-1966

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From pillow fights to world domination, or what Beatlemania has to do with Jesus Christ.

The past year has been a boon for seeing The Beatles with new eyes — from their tour manager’s never-before-published tour photos to Linda McCartney’s tender portraits to rediscovered vintage children’s books — but count on Taschen to up the ante on any cultural trope. The newly released The Beatles: On the Road 1964-1966 is a lavish collection of hundreds of Harry Benson’s luminous black-and-white photographs of the Fab Four at close quarters — from ecstatic encounters with fans to quiet moments in the recording studio to playful boyish frolicking.

Benson’s own Beatle story is an unlikely one — in 1964, while boarding a plane for a foreign assignment in Africa, he got a call from the editor of London’s The Daily Express and was dispatched to Paris instead, with The Beatles, to document French Beatlemania. Personable and warm, Benson was quickly welcomed into the Fab Four’s inner circle. At the cusp of their exorbitant global celebrity, he managed to capture some of their most intimate and genuine moments on film. (That famous photograph of The Beatles having a pillow fight at the George V Hotel was his.) From their first visit to the U.S., complete with New York hysteria, to their adventures on the set of A Hard Day’s Night to their famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, Benson was there to capture it all, even the impact of Lennon’s controversial comment that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus Christ.”

An introductory essay by Benson himself, complete with newspaper clippings from the era, adds first-hand context to the remarkable photos. He writes:

These photos convey a really happy period for them and for me. It all comes down to music, they were without a doubt the greatest band of the 20th century, and that’s why these photographs are so important.

Images courtesy of Taschen / © Harry Benson

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27 APRIL, 2012

The Human Body: What It Is and How It Works, in Vibrant Vintage Illustrations circa 1959

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“Two hearts could provide enough energy to drive a truck around the world in two years.”

Much of our inquiry into what makes us human focuses on understanding consciousness, yet we spend the whole of our lives in our physical bodies. As a lover of anatomical art and vintage science illustration, I was instantly enamored with The Human Body: What It Is And How It Works — a stunning vintage anatomy book, depicting and explaining in more than 200 vibrant mid-century illustrations the inner workings of the body. Originally published in 1959, this colorful gem was inspired by German artist and researcher Fritz Kahn, who in his 1926 classic Man as Industrial Palace described the human body as “the highest performance machine in the world” and used industrial metaphors to illustrate its remarkable capacities.

From the nine systems of the body — skeletal, muscle, nervous, digestive, respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic, endocrine, and reproductive — to the intricacies of the different organs and senses, the tantalizing tome demonstrates, in delightfully illustrated detail, just how magnificent our physical complexity is.

A gorgeous four-page centerfold illustrates full-body views of the various systems — muscles, blood vessels, nerves, digestive organs, and the gastrointestinal tract.

The introduction traces the history of our modern understanding of the body:

Almost nothing, it seems, could be more important to man than the human body. It is the solid part of “I”; it is with us as long as we live. Yet thousands and thousands of years passed before man really learned about this physical part of himself.

Among the ancients, health was something given by the gods. If you had an accident or got sick, it was because you had displeased the gods, or a demon had entered your body. The demon had to be eliminated, the gods made happy, before you could get well. Breathing and digestion, the circulation of blood, the working of the brain — these functions that kept a human being alive and active were not understood. The few real facts that were known were badly mixed up with superstition.

For more on the pictorial history of how we understand the body, see The Art of Medicine: Over 2,000 Years of Images and Imagination from the Wellcome Collection and Hidden Treasure from The National Library of Medicine.

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25 APRIL, 2012

The Animal Fair: Vibrant Vintage Children’s Illustration by Alice and Martin Provensen

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“A little owl looked wise. ‘I think there’s going to be a parade,’ he said.”

As a lover of children’s books, especially vintage ones, I was instantly enthralled by the work of artist-author duo Alice and Martin Provensen, who began their collaboration when they got married in 1944 and went on to produce a wealth of vibrant, textured illustrations wrapped in heart-warming stories of curiosity and kindness. Among their most delightful gems is The Animal Fair (public library), originally published in 1952 and featuring 22 original stories and poems by the Provensens. Along the lively journey to the farmyard, zoo, and forest, we also find humorous semi-useful advice, like “how to sleep through the winter” and “how to recognize a wolf in the forest.”

(It isn’t hard to imagine that Kate Messer’s lovely modern children’s illustrations were inspired by the Provensens’.)

One day a hummingbird sat all by himself on a pole. A sparrow fluttered down and perched beside him. Then a chickadee, a titmouse, a finch, a pippit and other small birds joined them.

‘Is something going to happen?’ asked a wren.

A little owl looked wise. ‘I think there’s going to be a parade,’ he said.

Martin Provensen passed away in 1987. Alice Provensen is 94 years old and continues to illustrate.

Thanks, Jeremiah

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23 APRIL, 2012

E. B. White’s Only New Yorker Cover, April 23, 1932

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‘I can’t draw or paint, but I was sick in bed…and I had nothing to occupy me, but I had a cover idea.’

E. B. White was a man of many talents — a fierce idealist, a writer of warm and witty love letters, a champion of optimism in the human condition. In April of 1932, he expanded his roster of creative accomplishments by contributing his only cover for the New Yorker, the magazine that would go on to be his literary home for five decades.

In his fantastic 1969 Paris Review interview, the same gem that gave us his timeless insights on the role and responsibility of the writer, White tells George Plimpton the cover’s story:

I’m not an artist and never did any drawings for The New Yorker. I did turn in a cover and it was published. I can’t draw or paint, but I was sick in bed with tonsillitis or something, and I had nothing to occupy me, but I had a cover idea — of a sea horse wearing a nose bag. I borrowed my son’s watercolor set, copied a sea horse from a picture in Webster’s dictionary, and managed to produce a cover that was bought. It wasn’t much of a thing. I even loused up the whole business finally by printing the word ‘oats’ on the nose bag, lest somebody fail to get the point. I suppose the original of that cover would be a collector’s item of a minor sort, since it is my only excursion into the world of art. But I don’t know where it is. I gave it to Jed Harris. What he did with it, knows God.

Various prints of the cover are available from the Conde Nast store, and it can also be found in the altogether fantastic 2000 compendium, Covering the New Yorker: Cutting-Edge Covers from a Literary Institution.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0375869832/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=braipick-20&camp=0&creative=0&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0375869832&adid=02YXM5MD2VFTBCC5WMM6&Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.