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Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

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“Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.”

― Werner HeisenbergAcross the Frontiers

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I stumbled across this photo the other day and I have come back several times to look at it. It’s the image of a mosquito’s foot at 800x magnification and there’s a strange organic beauty and weird delicacy to it that draws me in.

The complexity of the individual elements in its design is fascinating. The reddish grabby claws have a certain elegance but I can only think that if a mosquito were the size of a housecat they could latch on to you with those claws and you would never be able to merely swat them off.

Thankfully, I have yet to come across such a mosquito.

I can only think that if something so common as a mosquito can seem so alien, even if beautiful, imagine how strange the truly alien might be. As the physicist Heisenberg points out, are we even capable of imagining such strangeness?

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I am replaying a post today that I ran for Memorial Day back in 2010 that featured the living photographs of Arthur Mole. I have added a few more images to the original post. Enjoy and have a good Memorial Day.

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Arthur Mole Photo- Marine Corps Insignia

On this Memorial Day, I thought I would show some patriotic images photographed in the first part of the 20th century by Arthur Mole. Mole made a name for himself at the time by assembling large groups of people in formations and photographing them from a specially constructed 80-foot tower. He started at church conventions and later did the same for a number of universities but was probably best known for his symbols of the US and its military.

Needing large groups for his intricate compositions, military bases seemed like the perfect place to find massed groups of people to use as the paints on his palette. For instance, the Marine Corps insignia shown here was shot at Paris Island and took 100 officers and 5000 troops in order to fill out all the details in the composition.

Athur Mole Photo- Shield of the United States

It took quite a few more people to fill out the upper details in his compositions in order to maintain perspective from the perch where he shot as these areas were considerably larger in size than the than those nearer the camera. Take this US Shield shot in Battle Creek, Michigan as an example. It took 30,000 troops to complete this but the bulk of these troops were used in the area above the first row of stars.

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The varying shades were achieved by having the troops wear different clothes, obviously. For the light areas, they simply wore t-shirts and for the dark areas they wore their uniforms. In the shield photo, those in the dark areas also wore their hats to make the tone more uniform on film. No shining faces breaking up the dark shades.

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Arthur Mole Living Photograph- Liberty Bell

These are pretty amazing photos when you consider that they were taken in world long before Photoshop or any type of computer generation. It must have taken a tremendous amount of planning and effort to pull off these shoots, from the building of the tower to the precise placement of each soldier. For that alone they deserve a tip of the hat.

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And on this Memorial Day, the sight of troops who sacrificed in some way for our country standing side-by-side to create the symbols that embody our nation is a  fine way to remember them outside of the battles they fought and the great sacrifices they made.

Arthur Mole Living Photograph – Star Detail

Arthur Mole Living Photograph American Flag

Arthur Mole Living Photograph- Statue of Liberty

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You’re not going to hear any snarky comments from me on this even though the photo is obviously begging for one. There’s no context here so it’s a bit unfair to for me to shake my fist and yell for these kids to put down their telephoney-machines and get off my lawn.

Maybe they were asked to do some quick research by their teacher about Rembrandt and his masterpiece, The Night Watch, the painting shown in this photo from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I don’t really know.

But it does provide a stark example of how we often forget to experience the here and now, how we fail to calmly sit back and just take in our surroundings. Often, our present moment and place holds something remarkable and real.

I can’t say that we are better or worse off for being so tethered to technology. A case can definitely be made for either. But we should not lose our ability to look and listen, to engage and absorb the world directly around us. Without that ability there will be no more epic paintings made for future generations to ignore.

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“We are animals, born from the land with the other species. Since we’ve been living in cities, we’ve become more and more stupid, not smarter. What made us survive all these hundreds of thousands of years is our spirituality; the link to our land.”

Sebastiao Salgado

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I featured the photos of the Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado here several years back. Originally an economist, Salgado took up photography in his thirties and embarked on an epic journey to document the great beauty and darkness the of this world, photographing grand vistas and wildlife along with refugees fleeing genocide and workers in the grimmest of conditions. He does so in a wondrous fashion that has a way of connecting us in the present day to all the ages that came before.

This feeling of connection definitely hits me every time I come across his photos of the gold miners in Brazil, taken in 1986 and included in his 2005 book, Workers: An Archaeology of the Industrial Age. I love this title. The work has that archaeological feel, like artifacts that will stand as lasting images of our time here on Earth.

These images feel absolutely biblical to me. It takes away any doubt I may have previously held about how man created the ancient wonders that still stand today. The workers shown may be contemporary miners but they could just as easily be slaves in the age of the Egyptian pharaohs. Or lost souls trapped in one of the circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno.

If you get a chance please take a look at some of Salgado’s work. It is amazing imagery and truly human in every sense of the word.

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Along with the photo of the drum major that was featured in yesterday’s blog, I also came across another Alfred Eisenstadt photo. Shown above, it is of one of my painting heroes, Thomas Hart Benton, standing in front of a self-portrait. It’s a face that definitely belongs in one of his paintings. It reminded me of the post I’ve included below from a few years back that contains a video about the making of one of his famed murals. If you have ten or eleven minutes and are interested in the painstaking efforts that went into the making of this masterpiece, give it a look. 

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Thomas_Hart_Benton_-_Achelous_and_Hercules_-_SmithsonianBack in June, I wrote about going to the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum to see the painting shown above,  Achelous and Hercules, a wondrous mural from the great American painter Thomas Hart Benton.  It was commissioned to hang in a now-defunct Kansas City department store in 1947 and after the store closed in 1984 this masterpiece was given to the Smithsonian.

The photo of this mural doesn’t do it justice. Its size and scale, 5′ high and 22′ on a wide wooden panel that Benton painted in egg tempera, is lost in fitting its image on a small screen.  Take my word, it’s imposing and grand, a piece I could stand in front of for hours, losing myself in the rhythms and colors.

That being said, I came across a video taken from an old film that shows the incredibly elaborate process that Benton used in the making of this mural, which took about eight months.  It is fascinating and unusual to see a known masterpiece all the way through the process and coming together in all its stages.  It makes me appreciate this painting even more.

Here is that video.  It’s about 11 minutes long and worth the time spent.

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This morning I was shuffling through some stuff and came across the great photo shown above. It’s a photo the great photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt took in 1950 of a University of Michigan drum major leading a group of kids across the campus lawn.

It has a wonderful effect in that it never fails to make me smile broadly. The joy in those kids mimicking the drum major is palpable.

Now, that’s a parade.

Which brings me to the news that broke last night that a certain person in Washington has given his directive to the Pentagon that they plan for a huge military parade with columns of marching soldiers, tanks and all sorts of armaments flowing down Pennsylvania Avenue in the District of Columbia.

At first blush, you might think that sounds great. Why not?

But when you consider the history and symbolism of such parades, you begin to ask, “Why?”

Military parades are not part of our national identity and have happened infrequently, the exceptions being at the ends of those wars when we have had citizen troops returning.

When you think of such parades, images of those in the Soviet Union, China and North Korea come to mind. These were conceived as shows of strength from these countries but were, in fact, signs of weakness and insecurity. The need for bravado and the flexing of military muscles is meant not so much to impress the outside world. Were we in the US really filled with fear at the sight of tanks and troops marching in Red Square?

No, these parades are designed from a stance of weakness and are meant to instill unquestioning, fervent nationalism as well as to stifle dissent within their own countries by showing the absolute might of those in power.

And this proposed parade falls into that same category, in my opinion.

These shows of strength not who we are and are not necessary. They show our weakness in a pitiful need to conspicuously show the military strength that everyone in the world knows we have. When we spend more than all of the other major powers in the world combined, they know.

Not to mention the cost, most likely in the range of a hundred or so million dollars. At a time when we are adding a trillion dollars to the national debt this year, wouldn’t there be better places to direct those funds? Maybe in helping those many, many soldiers suffering with PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder?

I doubt those folks will be marching in these parades.

And all to appease the vanity of a weak and needy leader who kowtows to despots and dictators while constantly attacking his own government, a fool who believes that we are somehow constitutionally bound to stand and applaud for him.

Nobody can tell me when to stand and when to clap.

This ability to defy acts of authoritarianism might be the right that makes me feel truly American. Not some ridiculous military extravaganza.

Give me a drum major and a bunch of kids any day. Now, that’s a parade.

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I came across this photo from the great Hungarian/French photographer Brassai and its impact hit me immediately. It’s a powerful image that is filled with emotional and narrative potentials.

Just a glimpse at it elicits some sort of response.

For me, it was like a scene from a bad dream. Running from some unseen menace through the dark in an unknown place. Hot and humid. Stumbling over cobblestones.

Maybe for you, it raises a different narrative. Maybe running heroically toward a dire situation.

Maybe not. Maybe it’s just a great photo with wonderful contrasts that is beautifully composed. Whatever the case, I like it and thoughts it raises in me.

I thought I’d try to find something that fit the image and came up with Blue Shadows in the Street from Dave Brubeck.I’m not sure this quite fits the bill but I like it. Hope you do as well. Have a great Sunday.

 

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