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Faking It: A Visual History of 150 Years of Image Manipulation Before Photoshop

Two-headed daguerreotypes, Dadaist photomontages, and how the subversion of optical reality got its start.

“The painter constructs, the photographer discloses,” Susan Sontag famously asserted in On Photography. But in the quarter century since, the rise of digital photography and image manipulation software has increasingly transmogrified the photographer into a constructor of reality, a reality in which believing is seeing. Still, image manipulation dates much further back — in fact, to the dawn of photography itself. Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop (public library), the companion book to the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition of the same title, traces the evolution of image manipulation from the 1840s to the 1990s, when computer software first began to revolutionize the alteration of photographs.

Man on Rooftop with Eleven Men in Formation on His Shoulders (Unidentified American artist, ca. 1930)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Dirigible Docked on Empire State Building, New York (Unidentified American artist, 1930)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
A Powerful Collision (Unidentified German artist, 1914)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

These images — artful, subversive, unapologetic in their unreality — serve sometimes to amuse and entertain, sometimes to deliberately deceive, sometimes to comment on social and political issues, and always to give pause with how they tease and taunt our assumptions of optical reality and visual representation.

Met curator Mia Fineman writes in the introduction:

Over the past twenty years, photography has undergone a dramatic transformation. Mechanical cameras and silver-based film have been replaced by electronic image sensors and microchips; instead of shuffling through piles of glossy prints, we stare at the glowing screens of laptops, tablets, and mobile phones; negative enlargers and chemical darkrooms have given way to personal computers and image-processing software. Digital cameras and applications such as Photoshop have create, look at, and think about photographs. Among the most profound cultural effects of these new technologies has been a heightened awareness of the malleability of the photographic image and a corresponding loss of faith in photography as an accurate, trustworthy means of representing the visual world. As viewers, we have become increasingly savvy, even habitually skeptical, about photography’s claims to truth.

The Vision (Orpheus Scene) (F. Holland Day, 1907)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Aberdeen Portraits No. 1 (George Washington Wilson, 1857)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Fading Away (Henry Peach Robinson, 1858)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Lenin and Stalin in Gorki in 1922 (Unidentified Russian artist, 1949)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as Artist and Model (Maurice Guibert, ca. 1900)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Man Juggling His Own Head (Unidentified French artist, Published by Allain de Torbéchet et Cie. ca. 1880)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Two-Headed Man (Unidentified American artist, ca. 1930)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Room with Eye (Maurice Tabard, 1930)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Hearst Over the People (Barbara Morgan, 1939)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Sueño No. 1: Articulos eléctricos para el hogar / Dream No. 1: Electrical Appliances for the Home (Grete Stern, 1948)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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Rework: Beck and Others Remix the Music of Philip Glass for the Iconic Composer’s 75th Birthday

Half a century of music innovation, reimagined.

As he approached his 75th birthday, beloved avant-garde composer Philip Glass, a champion of transformation as creative authorship, reached out to Beck and asked him to enlist some of his favorite contemporary musicians in remixing Glass’s most iconic pieces. The result, out today, is Rework: Philip Glass Remixed — a spellbinding two-disc collection curated by Beck and featuring remixes by a dozen celebrated artists, including Amon Tobin (“Warda’s Whorehouse Inside Out Version”), Tyondai Braxton (“Rubric”), Memory Tapes (“Floe ’87”), and Beck himself (“NYC: 73-78”).

My indisputable favorites: Johann Johannsson’s remix of “Protest” and Peter Broderick’s “Island”.

Beck has kindly offered up his contribution to the album, a 20-minute masterwork woven of snippets from more than 20 Glass tracks, on SoundCloud:

Rework comes out on vinyl next month. You can hear the entire album on NPR’s First Listen.

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The Power of Introverts, Animated

A necessary antidote to our culture’s extreme bias for extraversion.

In this short animated excerpt from Susan Cain’s RSA talk, based on her fantastic book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (public library) and illustrated by the darkly delightful Molly Crabapple, Cain explores how modern society evolved to glorify the qualities associated with extraversion. And yet, rather than being a social handicap, introversion isn’t just enormously widespread but also socially advantageous and necessary. She gives the example of Apple, which we’ve come to associate with the very vocal Steve Jobs — but Steve Wozniak, a sworn champion of the creative value of working alone, was just as indispensable in building the iconic company. The two complemented one another, just like extroverts and introverts would in an ideal world.

For a richer taste of Quiet, which was one of 7 great books by this year’s TED speakers, see Cain’s recent TED talk on the power of introverts:

Our most important institutions, our schools and our workplaces, they are designed mostly for extroverts and for extroverts’ need for lots of stimulation. And also we have this belief system right now that I call the new groupthink, which holds that all creativity and all productivity comes from a very oddly gregarious place.

[…]

There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.

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