Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘vintage’

05 JANUARY, 2011

Ralph Ginzburg’s fact:, Vintage Wikileaks?


Inconvenient truths, or what groundbreaking typography has to do with the justice system.

Between January 1964 and August 1967 Ralph Ginzburg published a quarterly magazine entitled fact: — a provocative blend of satire and investigative journalism exploring controversial issues across American politics, consumer advocacy and public policy. Art directed by iconic graphic designer Herb Lubalin and printed entirely in black and white, the magazine set a new standard for ambitious and innovative typography as a bold visual statement complementing its anti-establishment editorial angle, bringing a new level of credibility to the role of the designer as an editorial, not just aesthetic, visionary.

Lubalin and I worked together like Siamese twins. It was a rare and remarkable relationship. I had no experience or training as a graphic designer. Herb brought a graphic impact. I never tried to overrule him and almost never disagreed with him.” ~ Ralph Ginzburg

In some ways, fact: was a lot like Wikileaks. Despite being separated by nearly half a century and living on vastly different media platforms, the two served a remarkably similar social function — to bring to light that which is uncomfortable, controversial but ultimately necessary to the reader’s informed citizenship — and triggered ire of similar magnitude among the political players whose reputation and credibility the publication’s content brought into question.

The parallel, however, becomes even more uncanny: In 1963, a drawn-out libel case was brought against Fact and Ginzburg himself. Two years after the case finally came to a close in 1972, Ginzburg was sent to jail — but not for libel. He was sentenced to three years in prison for distributing pornographic material through the mail — a striking similarity to Julian Assange’s rape charges in lieu of a solid Wikileaks case, bespeaking a systemic practice of not only keeping inconvenient journalists quiet by any means necessary, but by manufacturing charges for offenses as socially unacceptable as possible, with sexual transgressions being the pinnacle of social condemnation.

Rare issues of the magazine are available online, for surprisingly little. For more of Ginzburg’s keen cultural curtain-pulling, take a look at 100 Years of Lynchings — a compilation of newspaper clippings between 1886 and 1960 capturing vivid and unsettling accounts of lynching to offer insight into the history of racial violence.

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03 JANUARY, 2011

Women of the World: An Arresting Global Exploration


Last year, we took a look at Mondo Cane, the original shockumentary circa 1962. The following year, the same filmmakers — Paolo Cavara, Franco Prosperi and Gualtiero Jacopetti — released La Donna nel Mondo (Women of the World), another genre-bender film whose tagline says it all: “Behind the Fancy Clothes Into the Most Primitive, the Most Provocative Affairs of Women!” — an arresting exploration of everything from tribal culture to Geishas to polygamy to the female form itself.

In the following excerpt, the filmmakers take us inside the gay and lesbian club scene of Paris in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It’s fascinating and unsettling to see the film treat homosexuality as symptomatic of some “underlying sadness” and a misguided attempt to emulate the physical characteristics of the opposite gender. At the same time, however, it’s hard not to revel in the disconnect between the narrator’s scorn and the merry good time these men and women seem to be having.

Women of the World bespeaks the era’s institutionalized sexism, devoid of any self-awareness, yet offers a fascinating perspective on both the women of the time and, in a rich meta kind of way, on the men who documented them.

via VSL

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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.

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 an example. Like? Sign up.