kottke.org posts about photography
Photographer Nicky Bay has been documenting an arachnid he calls the mirror spider for past few years. He’s noticed that when the spider feels threatened, it can shift the mirrored plates on its abdomen to reveal itself and make itself look bigger, like a cloaked Klingon ship uncloaking for battle.
For several years, I have been observing the odd behavior of the Mirror Spider (Thwaitesia sp.) where the “silver-plates” on the abdomen seem to shrink when the spider is agitated (or perhaps threatened), revealing the actual abdomen. At rest, the silver plates expand and the spaces between the plates close up to become an almost uniform reflective surface.
Many animals have evolved the ability to camouflage themselves and I’d speculate that is what’s happened to the mirror spider. The mirrored surface reflects the spider’s surroundings and turns it somewhat invisible to potential predators. The mirror system is more complex than an abdomen matching the green of a particular plant, but is also more adaptive — the mirror works equally well on green leaves, brown branches, and black soil. (via colossal)
Update: I misread Bay’s explanation of the spider’s response to threats and have corrected it above. I previously stated “that when the spider feels threatened, it can shift the mirrored plates on its abdomen to make itself appear more reflective”, which is exactly wrong. (via @RLHeppner/status/780921795335581696)
The Daily Overview has been serving up gorgeous satellite imagery of Earth for a few years now and they’ve taken some of their greatest hits and packaged it up into a book called Overview: A New Perspective of Earth.
Inspired by the “Overview Effect” — a sensation that astronauts experience when given the opportunity to look down and view the Earth as a whole — the breathtaking, high definition satellite photographs in OVERVIEW offer a new way to look at the landscape that we have shaped. More than 200 images of industry, agriculture, architecture, and nature highlight incredible patterns while also revealing a deeper story about human impact.
I got my hands on an early copy and it’s a beautiful book.
From photographer Brea Souders, an assortment of food photographed using a thermal camera.
As an object’s temperature increases, so does the amount of radiation it emits. This special camera uses state-of-the-art technology to detect infrared radiation, thereby displaying differing levels of heat in various colors and creating images reminiscent of pop art.
Mitch Dobrowner takes wonderfully dramatic black & white photos of clouds and storms from across the plains of the central United States. Dobrowner, who lives in California, became “addicted” to photography as a teen after discovering Ansel Adams and Minor White but then gave it up to spend energy on his career and family. A few years ago, he picked his old obsession back up and these storm photos are the result. (via colossal)
The Museum of Modern Art has started the process of putting online a massive trove of photographs of what the museum’s exhibitions looked like, extending back to their earliest big exhibition in 1929 of works by Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, and van Gogh. The NY Times has the story.
The digital archive project will include almost 33,000 exhibition installation photographs, most never previously available online, along with the pages of 800 out-of-print catalogs and more than 1,000 exhibition checklists, documents related to more than 3,500 exhibitions from 1929 through 1989.
Shown above are some notable works of art pictured among the first times they were displayed at the museum…the top one is from that first show in 1929. I happily spent an hour browsing through these exhibitions1 and I haven’t been gripped with this powerful of a desire to travel through time in quite some time. To be able to see that first exhibition…what a thing that would be. In part, I love going to museums for this very reason: standing in the very spot where the artist stood in making their drawing or painting is a very cheap form of time travel.
Craig Mod and Dan Rubin recently walked the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage path in Japan, taking thousands of photos along the way. They made a book of the photographs and have launched a Kickstarter project to make more copies of the book and do some other fun stuff.
The book, of course, is beautiful — Rubin and Mod are great photographers and designers - but direct your attention to the economy of their project description:
In March of this year, Dan Rubin and I went on a walk. The walk was along Japan’s 1,000+ year old Kumano Kodo pilgrimage path.
From that walk, we made one copy of a book of photographs called Koya Bound.
Together, with your help, we’d like to make/do a whole lot more…
This is what we did, here’s what we made, and we’d like your help to do more. That’s how you do Kickstarter, folks.
Carl Van Vechten moved to New York in the early 20th century and became “violently interested in Negroes”. As part of that interest, Van Vechten got to know many of the leading black figures in the city and photographed them, first in black & white but later in vibrant Kodachrome. Almost 2000 of his color photos are available at Yale’s Beinecke Library (direct search). Pictured above are Van Vechten’s photos of Ella Fitzgerald, Eartha Kitt, W.E.B. DuBois, Dizzy Gillespie, and a young James Earl Jones. (via the new yorker)
John Francis Peters photographed San Diego cliff jumpers for a series he calls Falling. My favorites are the shots where he catches the jumpers in mid-air, before they hit the water. On the cusp, just like that Nirvana video from yesterday. A book of the photographs, published in a limited edition of 300, is available.
I had heard months ago that Errol Morris was releasing a new documentary called The B-Side but couldn’t really find any information about it (it’s not even listed on Wikipedia). But the film is being screened soon at both the Toronto and New York film festivals, so some information is filtering out there. The film is about photographer Elsa Dorfman, who is known for her use of the large-format Polaroid 20” x 24” camera. From the description of the film on the New York film festival site:
Errol Morris’s surprising new film is simplicity itself: a visit to the Cambridge, Massachusetts studio of his friend, the 20x24 Polaroid portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman, who specifies on her website that she likes her subjects “to wear clothes (and to bring toys, skis, books, tennis racquets, musical instruments, and particularly pets…).” As this charming, articulate, and calmly uncompromising woman takes us through her fifty-plus years of remarkable but fragile images of paying customers, commissioned subjects, family, and close friends (including the poet Allen Ginsberg), the sense of time passing grows more and more acute. This is a masterful film.
And from the Toronto festival:
“My style of photography is very literary,” she says, “influenced by Ginsberg’s poetry in the acceptance of detail, everydayness. What you’re wearing is okay and who you are is okay. You don’t have to be cosmeticized.” For her portrait clients, she took two pictures. The client got one and she kept “the B-side.” For music fans, the B-sides of vinyl singles had a reputation for being unpredictable and extra precious. The same can be said for Morris’ touching portrait of Dorfman.
Sounds great…I’m definitely keeping an eye out for a trailer and release dates.
These composite photos from the NY Times of athletes competing at the Olympics are fantastic. See also the same treatment for Simone Biles and Usain Bolt. (via @feltron, who wrote the book on this stuff)
During the medals ceremony for the 200 meter race the 1968 Olympics, gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos, both standing shoeless on the podium, each raised one black-gloved fist in the air during the playing of the US national anthem as a gesture in support of the fight of better treatment of African Americans in the US. It was an historic moment immortalized in photos like the one above.
The white man in the photo, silver medalist Peter Norman from Australia, could be considered a sort of symbolic visual foil against which Smith and Carlos were protesting, but in fact Norman was a willing participant in the gesture and suffered the consequences.
Norman was a white man from Australia, a country that had strict apartheid laws, almost as strict as South Africa. There was tension and protests in the streets of Australia following heavy restrictions on non-white immigration and discriminatory laws against aboriginal people, some of which consisted of forced adoptions of native children to white families.
The two Americans had asked Norman if he believed in human rights. Norman said he did. They asked him if he believed in God, and he, who had been in the Salvation Army, said he believed strongly in God. “We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat, and he said “I’ll stand with you” — remembers John Carlos — “I expected to see fear in Norman’s eyes, but instead we saw love.”
Update: In 2011, Democracy Now! interviewed Carlos about the salute and the aftermath. He was joined by sportwriter Dave Zirin and the pair told a story about why Norman didn’t want to be represented alongside Carlos and Smith with a statue on the San Jose State campus:
DAVE ZIRIN: OK, just checking. Well, they made the decision to make this amazing work of art, these statues on campus. And they were just going to have Tommie Smith and John Carlos, with a blank space where Peter Norman stood. And when John heard about that, he said, “Oh, no, no. I don’t want to be a part of this. And I don’t even want this statue if Peter Norman’s not going to be on it.” And the people at San Jose State said, “Well, Peter said he didn’t want to be on it.” And John said, “OK, let’s go to the president’s office and get him on the phone.” So they called Peter Norman from the president’s office at San Jose State, and sure enough, they got Peter on the phone. I believe Peter said-what did he say? “Blimey, John”? What did he say?
JOHN CARLOS: Yeah, “Blimey, John. You’re calling me with these blimey questions here?” And I said to him, I said, “Pete, I have a concern, man. What’s this about you don’t want to have your statue there? What, are you backing away from me? Are you ashamed of us?” And he laughed, and he said, “No, John.” He said-you know, the deep thing is, he said, “Man, I didn’t do what you guys did.” He said, “But I was there in heart and soul to support what you did. I feel it’s only fair that you guys go on and have your statues built there, and I would like to have a blank spot there and have a commemorative plaque stating that I was in that spot. But anyone that comes thereafter from around the world and going to San Jose State that support the movement, what you guys had in ‘68, they could stand in my spot and take the picture.” And I think that’s the largest thing any man would ever do. And as I said, I don’t think that my co-partner, my co-heart, Tommie Smith, would have done what Peter Norman done in that regards. He was just a tremendous individual.
Alec Garcia has built an extension for Chrome that lets you view the Instagram Stories of the people you follow. You can even save/download them.
BTW, I am really liking Instagram Stories. Yeah, sure, Snapchat rip-off blah blah blah,1 but Insta nailed the implementation and my network is already all there, so yeah. I’ve been posting occasional Stories, which you can see if you follow me on Instagram.
And yes, like Craig Mod, I use Instagram’s website many times a day. What percentage of their users even knows they can check Instagram on the web? 50%? 30%? 10%?
A cute Ikea ad imagines what Instagram might have been like in the 18th century…it involves a painter and a lot of driving around in a carriage soliciting likes.
Photographer Oliver Curtis visits famous landmarks and takes photos faced the wrong direction, capturing essentially what these landmarks see all day. From the top, the Taj Mahal, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and Stonehenge.
Stacey Baker, who is a photo editor at the NY Times, spends some of her leisure time photographing the legs of women on the streets of NYC. Her Instagram account has 78K+ followers and now she’s turned the project into a book: New York Legs.
Beginning in 1904, Edward Curtis travelled around North American for more than 20 years photographing Native Americans. While his collection of over a thousand photos housed at the Library of Congress isn’t a precise record of how American Indians lived at the time (he took some liberties in romanticizing the past), it is nonetheless a valuable record of a people largely marginalized by history. (via open culture)
Sad news from the NY Times: legendary street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham has died today at the age of 87.
In his nearly 40 years working for The Times, Mr. Cunningham operated both as a dedicated chronicler of fashion and as an unlikely cultural anthropologist, one who used the changing dress habits of the people he photographed to chart the broader shift away from formality and toward something more diffuse and individualistic.
At the Pierre hotel on the East Side of Manhattan, he pointed his camera at tweed-wearing blue-blood New Yorkers with names like Rockefeller and Vanderbilt. Downtown, by the piers, he clicked away at crop-top wearing Voguers. Up in Harlem, he jumped off his bicycle — he rode more than 30 over the years, replacing one after another as they were wrecked or stolen — for B-boys in low-slung jeans.
I saw Cunningham out on the streets of NYC twice and both times chills ran up my back watching a master at work. Unless Cunningham had something in the can before he died, it looks as though the last of his On the Street features is about black and white fashion. Tonight might be a good time to watch the documentary Bill Cunningham New York — it’s available on Amazon (free with Prime).
Thomas Leuthard takes us around Salzburg and demonstrates a number of tricks you can employ to take photos on the street. Tricks sounds too gimmicky…think of these as potential approaches to being creative with a camera. Watching this made me want to start taking photos again. Before I had kids, I carried a camera pretty much everywhere.1 I still do (in the form of an iPhone 6s) but I’m not hunting for photos in the same way.
Photographer Bill Yates spent months documenting the happenings at the Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink in Florida in the early 1970s. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Yates is publishing a book of the photos.
In 1942, the US government hired Dorothea Lange (of Migrant Mother fame) to take photos of the removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Although Lange quit after a few months because government censors wouldn’t let her shoot images of barbed wire and the bayonets on guards’ guns, she took hundreds of photos documenting this shameful moment in American history.
Famous for her forlorn images of Dust Bowl America, this pioneering female photographer was hired by the War Relocation Authority in 1942 to document the removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans. Although her skill at candid portraiture was unparalleled, “Lange was an odd choice, given her leftist politics and strong sympathy for victims of racial discrimination,” writes scholar Megan Asaka. The position was a challenging one for Lange as well. “Appalled by the forced exile, she confided to a Quaker protestor that she was guilt stricken to be working for a federal government that could treat its citizens so unjustly.”
The WRA initially gave Lange little instruction about where and what to shoot, but controlled and censored her while she was at work. When documenting life inside the assembly centers and concentration camps, she was prohibited from taking shots of barbed wire and bayonets. Unable to tolerate this censorship and her own conflicted feelings about the work, Lange quit after just a few months of employment with the WRA.
Less ashamed at what they’d done and more worried about PR backlash, the government embargoed Lange’s photos until 1972.
If this all makes you think of some recent comments about Muslims from a certain Republican presidential candidate, history may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.
Update: Ansel Adams also took dozens of photos of the Japanese American interment camp at Manzanar.
So did photographer Toyo Miyatake, who was among the prisoners at Manzanar.
The exclusion order forced Miyatake, his wife and four children, to the concentration camp at Manzanar. He was able to store his photographic equipment but managed to smuggle a camera lens and film plate holder into the camp against government orders. Miyatake told his son Archie that he felt it was his duty to document camp life. An Issei carpenter in camp constructed a box to house the lens, and Miyatake was able to get film into camp by way of a hardware salesman and former client. The photographer eventually asked camp director Ralph Merritt if he could set up a photo studio, and Merritt, who learned about Miyatake from Edward Weston, consented with the provision that Miyatake only load and set the camera, and a Caucasian assistant snap the shutter. Eventually, that restriction was lifted, and Miyatake was designated official camp photographer, and granted the freedom to take photos of everyday life at Manzanar.
Miyatake and Adams met at the camp and began a collaboration. Lange and Adams were friends — he printed Migrant Mother for her — and she was instrumental in convincing Adams to document Manzanar. But she was also critical of his detached approach:
In 1961, Lange said about Adams’s taking landscape pictures at the Manzanar Relocation Center: “It was shameful. That’s Ansel. He doesn’t have much sense about these things.”
(thx, @gen and samuel)
Photo retoucher Jordan Lloyd took old photos of famous buildings and monuments being built and colorized them. The Eiffel Tower is the best one, but the others are worth a look as well. I also like these two colorized views of the Golden Gate Bridge construction (not done by Lloyd):
Lloyd and Wolfgang Wild are collaborating on a book of colorized historical photographs called The Paper Time Machine. You can support the project on Unbound.
The Misplaced Series removes notable New York buildings from their surroundings and “misplaces” them in desolate landscapes around the world. Concrete behemoths and steel-and-glass towers rise from sand dunes and rocky cliffs, inviting viewers to see them as if for the first time. Out of context, architectural forms become more pronounced and easily understood.
See all 10 buildings in their new surroundings at Misplaced New York.
Stitching together thousands of images, photographer Levon Biss produces huge and detailed photographs of tiny insects; prints of 10 mm bugs are 3 meters across. An exhibition of Biss’ photos will be on display at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. All three images above are of the orchid cuckoo bee at different levels of zoom. This video shows how the photos are made:
National Geographic has a selection of wonderful aerial photos from German photographer Bernhard Edmaier. His photos can also be found in two of his most recent books, Water and EarthArt.
Angélica Dass’ Humanæ project matches photos of volunteer participants with the Pantone colors of their skin tones.
Update: Turns out this really cool blog you guys should be reading covered this project almost 4 years ago. (thx, @djacobs)
Alexey Zakharov gathered old photos of New York, Washington D.C. and other American cities from Shorpy and animated them into something wonderful. There’s a cheesy steampunk time machine at the beginning…push through that to the good stuff. (via @pshoplifter)
The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and the resulting fires destroyed 500 blocks, 25,000 buildings, killed more than 3000 people, and left more than half the city homeless. Alan Taylor curated a selection of photos of the earthquake and aftermath. The most striking ones are those taken from an airship that show how complete and extensive the destruction was. I mean:
Camilo Jose Vergara’s Tracking Time project is a collection of photos of locations around the US (LA, Harlem, Detroit, South Bronx) photographed repeatedly over the years, from the 70s to the present day. For instance, here’s how 65 East 125th St in Harlem looked in 1978:
And in 2015:
As Stewart Brand noted, Vergara’s project is a perfect illustration of How Buildings Learn.
Update: I can’t stop looking at these. Check out Fern St. in Camden, New at Newark Sts. in Newark, Paired Houses in Camden, and 6003 Compton Ave. in LA.
When six of Phil Collins’ albums were recently remastered, he went back and recreated the covers as well. That’s fun! (via @pieratt)
Update: Patrick Balls was the photographer for the reshoots.