Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘vintage’

03 JANUARY, 2011

Look at Life: The Swinging London of The 1960s


What sky-dining and London’s traffic wardens have to do with pre-modern hipsters.

During the 1960s, the Special Features Division of the Rank Organisation produced Look at Life — a fascinating British series of more than 500 short documentary segments exploring various aspets of life in Britain during the “swinging” era. From the rise of the supermarket to the tipping point of coffee culture to the emergence of the high-rise office, the series reveals the roots of many modern givens, alongside curioius era-specific fads and unique London fascinations like sky-dining and the culture of female traffic wardens.

They say London swings: It doesn’t. Not even the King’s Road, Chelsea. But here and there, among the conformist fat-cat crowds, is a lean cat or two, looking like it might swing, given some encouragement. And there among the chain stores and supermarkets is here and there a shop that may have something all its own to say. To the character who can send up a mass-production car. To people who can put living before a living.”

And the lollipop says what the toy car said: It’s all about that tiny colored womb, warm and gentle, in its way an escape from the H-bomb, television and other horrors of worker-day world.”

It’s particularly interesting to see the emergence of cultural phenomena we tend to see as nascent, from vintage revivalism to hipsterdom, in London’s “antique supermarkets,” predecessors of today’s vintage stores, and boutiques like I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet, an impressively more hipsterly-named then-version of Urban Outfitters. In fact, the program’s entire tone is oozing the same blend of genuine fascination, not-so-subtle condescendence and marginal mockery that you’d find in much of today’s media conversation on hipster culture.

One way of saying ‘no’ to authority is to parody it. Some of the young, with little to say ‘yes’ to, come to Soho — that pulsating heart of swinging London where girls join clubs to see old men strip… or is it vice-versa… and at the cutely named I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet, buy uniforms of the past to affront the uniformity of the present.”

Filmed, narrated and scored with delightful cinematic retrostalgia, the series does for the history of cultural innovation what James Burke’s Connections did for the history of technological innovation.

For more on the subject, we highly recommend Ready, Steady, Go!: The Smashing Rise and Giddy Fall of Swinging London — a sweeping review of the era that gave us mod, bob cuts, and a new paradigm for freedom of expression. From profiles of cultural icons like designer Mary Quant and photographer David Bailey to the sociology of Beatlemania to LSD, the book offers keen insight on a geotemporal phenomenon that crossed cultural borders and shaped the taste, style and sensibility of decades to come.

via MetaFilter

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01 DECEMBER, 2010

The Englishman who Posted Himself


In 1898, British prankster W. Reginald Bray decided to test the limits of the Royal Mail. He began a series of experiments, mailing everything from turnips to rabbit skulls to Russian cigarettes — and, on three occasions, himself — up until his death in 1939.

This fall, author John Tingey is telling Bray’s fascinating story in The Englishman who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects — a detailed chronicle of the bizarre and ingenious ways in which the otherwise ordinary Brit hacked the information system of his time.

Perhaps even more curiously, over the course of his long correspondence-pranking career, Bray also amassed the world’s largest collection of autographs, including ones from Charlie Chaplin, Laurence Olivier and Maurice Chevalier.

The book, absorbing and visually captivating, also features a photograph of Bray being delivered to his own doorstep in 1900, when he became the first person to send a human being through the mail. (Though he did previously pilot-test it with an Irish terrier, who made it through the postal system in one piece, albeit a barking and disgruntled one.)

via VSL; photos HT Acejet 170

In 2010, we spent more than 4,500 hours bringing you Brain Pickings — the blog, the newsletter and the Twitter feed — over which we could’ve seen 53 feature-length films, listened to 135 music albums or taken 1,872 trips to the bathroom. If you found any joy and inspiration here this year, please consider supporting us with a modest donation — it lets us know we’re doing something right.

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24 NOVEMBER, 2010

Philippe Halsman’s Iconic Jump Portraits


Legendary Latvian-born American portrait photographer Philippe Halsman is one of the most innovative photographers of the 20th century. Over his lifetime, he shot 101 LIFE magazine covers, including the most famous photograph of Albert Einstein of all time.

But during the 1950s, he started a side project separate from the serious world of magazine cover photography: He began capturing some of the era’s most iconic artists, writers, actors, politicians and other public figures in a setup that defied the expectations of both their stature and the portraiture genre: Jumping. From Salvador Dali to Marilyn Monroe to Richard Nixon, his unmistakable, surprising and delightfully dynamic portraits survive in the form of a rare book plainly titled Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book.

When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real person appears” ~ Philippe Halsman

Though the book is sadly out of print, you can score a used copy on Amazon or, if you’re lucky enough, your local library may carry it.

For a closer look at the iconic photographer’s creative process and quirk, we also highly recommend a companion read: Unknown Halsman, a fascinating exploration of Halsman’s lesser-known but remarkable work, including private and experimental photographs, decontextualized advertisements, and outtakes from famous photo shoots, many never before seen.

via But Does It Float HT @praxis22

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24 NOVEMBER, 2010

Mad Men: The Illustrated World


Tips for the modern metrosexual from the 1960s, or what martinis have to do with Twitter.

Yes, we love Mad Men goodies, who doesn’t? Nearly two years ago, we featured NYC-based illustrator, designer and comedian Dyna Moe‘s absolutely wonderful Mad Men illustrations. The series eventually charmed AMC into launching the popular Mad Men Yourself app, which has since populated countless Twitter streams with Mad-Menified avatars.

This fall, Dyna Moe released her dynamite work in Mad Men: The Illustrated World — a truly, truly fantastic book that captures not only everything we love about Mad Men, but also the broader cultural landscape of the era, from fashion and style to office culture to lifehacks like hangover workarounds and secretary etiquette.

Mad Men Illustrated

Mad Men Illustrated

Mad Men Illustrated

With stunning, vibrant illustrations inspired by the aesthetic and artistic style of vintage ads from the 1960s, the book is a priceless and colorful timecapsule of an era few of us lived in but most of us romanticize.

Mad Men Illustrated

And, of course, effort to capture the spirit of the era would be complete without the spirits of the era.

Mad Men Illustrated

Conceptually playful and artistically ambitious, Mad Men: The Illustrated World is the perfect gift for the vintage revivalist, illustration aficionado or Mad-Men-holic in your life, and a fine addition to your own collection of paper-based design gems.

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