The future’s so bright?

What could possibly go wrong?

Ray-Ban StoriesLuxottica
Facebook, Inc. and Ray-Ban releases the next generation of smart glasses, Ray-Ban Stories. The highly anticipated collaboration brings forward a new way to seamlessly capture, share and listen through your most authentic moments. […]

We’re introducing an entirely new way for people to stay connected to the world around them and truly be present in life’s most important moments, and to look good while doing it,” said Andrew Bosworth, Vice President, Facebook Reality Labs.

I wish Ray-Ban’s Stories smart glasses were made by anyone but FacebookYahoo Finance
Whether or not you’re willing to make that investment largely depends on how you feel about Facebook and what you are hoping to get out of a pair of “smart glasses.” At best, they feel like a better, more polished version of Snapchat’s Spectacles. It’s still a novelty, but with decent audio, smart glasses are starting to feel a lot more useful. At worst, the glasses are yet another reminder of Facebook’s dominance.

Facebook announces launch of Ray-Ban Stories smart glassesThe Guardian
The company’s hardest sell might not be privacy, but the glasses themselves. Snapchat’s Spectacles are now in their third generation, with improvements each time, yet they’ve failed to catch the imagination of the target market. The company took a $40m write-down on the value of unsold inventory in 2017.

Facebook and Ray-Ban are rolling out smart glasses that actually look cool. Will anyone buy them?CNN
I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was getting away with something while wearing Ray-Ban Stories in public. As far as I could tell, nobody noticed anything unusual about the glasses while chasing my kids around a busy playground, even when I was taking numerous short videos. (It was impossible for me to tell, but perhaps the bright sunlight made the glasses’ white LED less noticeable.) I walked into stores with them on, took pictures of myself in mirrors, and nobody even blinked. It would have been easy to use these glasses to invade other people’s privacy. Was this accidentally furtive photo- and video-taking turning me into a Facehole?

Facebook’s new camera glasses are dangerously easy to useWIRED
During a dinner with friends last weekend, Peter wore the Ray-Ban Stories the whole time—and it wasn’t until he pointed out the tiny sensors embedded at the temples that friends noticed. Once they did, though, Facebook’s biggest issue didn’t take long to surface: “So, you’ve been recording the whole time?” one friend asked, only half joking. Similarly, Lauren recorded (then deleted) a conversation with an editor while fumbling with the glasses. The editor never noticed.

Smart glasses made Google look dumb. Now Facebook is giving them a try.The New York Times
Many of these privacy concerns are beside the point for technologists who see wearables as inexorable for society. For Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, the ultimate goal is to eventually release a pair of smart glasses that fully augment reality, which puts a kind of virtual overlay onto the world in front of people.

That idea is yet another step on the road to the metaverse, Mr. Zuckerberg’s term for how parts of the virtual and actual world will eventually meld together and share different parts of each other.

Is it getting a little tiring, now, to keep responding to these type of stories with ‘just because we can, doesn’t mean we should’? I did, however, like the comment about determining someone’s age by their taking-a-photo gestures, at the end of this piece from the BBC’s Chris Fox.

A persistent photographer

An interview with Ian Treherne, a photographer with a certain sense of urgency.

“I’ve managed to break a few boundaries along the way”: Meet the blind photographer who captured this year’s ParalympiansIt’s Nice That
Ian says that he enjoys making people question how he can be both blind and a photographer, he likes “hurting their brains. I’m just super happy that I can inspire other people to pick up the camera and tell themselves, ‘I’m allowed to do this,’ because I know people feel like they’re not allowed to do it.” Paralympians, in his eyes, are superhuman: “bloody brilliant”. They’re showing us, he explains, that with a certain level of commitment, practice and dedication, you can really achieve what it is that you want to do.

“The box that I’m being put in is only based on seven per cent of people in the UK. There are people that are totally blind, in total darkness. That’s the universal idea of what a blind person is, but that’s only seven per cent of us, so it’s a really small number. There’s another 93 per cent of people that have been questioned as to why they’re holding a white cane whilst looking at their phone.”

This profile of him from a few years ago gives us a sense of what he’s up against.

How a blind photographer sees the worldBBC News
Completely self-taught, Treherne is influenced by photographers David Bailey and John French – and also by his blindness. With their dark peripheries, his black and white portraits “mimic” his eye condition. “I’m not going to lie, it is extremely difficult for me,” he says. “It is insanely hard working with this tiny window of sight. There are shoots I can’t do but I don’t know any other way and I just utilise what I’ve got left. I’ve never had an assistant, I have done it the hard way.”

Treherne’s window of vision is demonstrated in this representation of his eyesight

Pretty inspiring stuff.

Fractured identities

My profile picture provides a hint of my past as an art student interested in photography and collage, but Argentine multidisciplinary artist Karen Navarro takes the idea to an altogether higher level.

Houston artist Karen Navarro looks inward in her latest exhibitionML Houston
Known for pushing the boundaries of traditional photography, mixed-media artist Karen Navarro has reached new heights with her latest exhibition—a series of photosculpture configurations assembled and arranged in various ways, shapes and forms. In The Constructed Self, on view April 30 through June 25 at Foto Relevance, Navarro uses multidimensional portraiture to illustrate our ability to reorder and redesign our public-facing personas.

Karen Navarro: The Constructed Self – Foto Relevance
Using digital photography as a foundation, I transform traditional prints into three-dimensional objects by cutting and incorporating tactile elements such as wood, paint, and resin. The labor-intensive techniques I apply to create these sculptural objects not only allow for a physical deconstruction of my images but also become a form of meditation that reflects my efforts in trying to reconstruct and make sense of my own identity.

More on her website.

El pertenecer en tiempos modernos (Belonging in modern times)Karen Navarro
Belonging is intrinsic to our humanity and integral to our understanding of ourselves. While the need for community transcends time, the means to develop one’s “tribe” has transformed from the physical to the digital realm and has subsequently impacted how we view ourselves in this interconnected world. Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, that value the visual image above all, have altered our sense of self and the very mechanisms for how we develop our external and internal identities and to which groups we belong.

It’s all over, you can rest now

So that’s that for another four three years. I didn’t watch that much of the Olympics, but here are some links about it I’ve enjoyed reading. Let’s start with some great photography very much in the style of Pelle Cass, I think.

Decisive moments from the Tokyo Games, frame by frameThe New York Times

Nine of the most memorable moments from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic GamesOlympics.com
Filippo Tortu of Team Italy beats Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake of Team Great Britain across the finish line to win the gold medal in the Men’s 4 x 100m Relay Final on day fourteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 06, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.

I love that photo, the matching poses several feet into the air.

Tokyo Olympics: Toughest Games? Decathletes and heptathletes say probablyStuff.co.nz
The last 18 months brought the pandemic, while Tokyo brought another new challenge, as if the multi-eventers needed it. The scorching heat and humidity at the Olympic Stadium had many of the competitors donning ice vests and dumping ice inside and over their hats to try stay cool.

A memorable Olympics, but for the right reasons?The New York Times
Pushing forth in a pandemic, these Games were meant to be, as the International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said last year, “the light at the end of this dark tunnel the whole world is going through.” Yet they were often claustrophobic, cut off from society, with capacious venues across Tokyo repurposed into cloistered safe houses. They were, in this way, paradoxical, uncanny and hard to wholly comprehend. They were a feat of organizational planning and execution, even amid arguments about whether they should be happening in the first place. They were stubbornly called Tokyo 2020, a retrograde name that reminded everyone of the meandering path traveled to this point.

Such a shame about all those empty seats. All these athletes are incredible, though, in so many different ways.

There’s nothing Adam Ondra can’t climb, but is an Olympic medal out of reach?The New York Times
Ondra, 28, has completed more of the hardest outdoor routes than anyone, and on the competition walls that will be featured at the Games, he is the reigning world champion in lead climbing and the only one to win the world championship in lead and bouldering in the same year. But in Tokyo, equal weight will be given to speed climbing, a fringe event where Ondra’s considerable talents — creativity, problem solving, efficiency — are meaningless.

How Olympic divers make the perfect tiny splashYouTube
If you’ve watched any Olympics diving coverage, you may have noticed that the splashes athletes make are tiny. Divers spend years training to perform with minimal splash, in the same way that gymnasts train to stick their landings. In this video, Team USA’s head diving coach Drew Johansen explains the three major components he uses to guide his athletes towards smaller splashes: the above water position, the underwater swim, and the underwater pike. And while the sport of diving isn’t all about getting splashes, a small splash is the perfect punctuation to a job well done.

The Olympics are more than just a collection of sporting events, of course. Remember that floating head?

Giant inflatables and flying dancers: Olympic art has always turned headsThe Conversation
From Leni Riefenstahl’s film, Olympia, at the Berlin 1936 Games to Speed Skater, Andy Warhol’s print for Sarajevo 1984, artists have contributed to modern Olympic narratives in iconic ways. The purpose of these interventions, not to mention their desired audience, has varied considerably.

Celebrating the legacy of Kamekura Yusaku’s iconic Tokyo 1964 Olympics identityIt’s Nice That
“They were quite cutting-edge and challenged the process of photography in order to create the right look,” says Simon. The second poster, released in May 1962, was a full-bleed photograph depicting a line of athletes shooting off from the starting block against a sharp black background and that striking gold typeface emblazoned below. The photo used American servicemen who were stationed at the Tachikawa airbase as models, alongside amateur Japanese athletes. Its technical mastery is in the painstaking process it took to get the final dynamic image – at the time, blacking out the background digitally wasn’t an option (Photoshop had yet to be born). The shoot took place in the National Stadium on a cold February evening over three hours, with the six runners making around 80 staggered false starts before photographer Hayasaki Osamu captured the perfect shot.

The Yusaku Kamekura meme: From the Tokyo Olympics to Monster StrikeThe Olympians
I was on the Yamanote Line train when I looked up to see all in-car advertisements devoted to Japan’s #1 best-selling mobile game from 2016 – Monster Strike. I usually don’t care about mobile games, but the ad immediately caught my attention – animals in mid-stride racing together, on a dark black background. It is exactly the same concept as the second of designer Yusaku Kamekura‘s poster in 1962, marketing the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to come.

‘A stirring moment preserved forever through typography’: Morisawa, the official font provider for Tokyo 2020Olympics.com
Under our motto, “Enhancing society through typography,” we would like to see our UD fonts more widely adopted and used throughout society. Our ultimate goal is to use typography to contribute to the creation of an inclusive society where people with or without impairments live side by side. For humanity to maintain peace and growth, we cannot avoid embracing an inclusive society.

When ancient Greece banned women from Olympics, they started their ownAtlas Obscura
During these ancient times, women lived much shorter lives, were excluded from political decision-making and religious rites, were forced into early marriages, and then gave birth to several children. Despite the societal inequalities and oppression, women in Greece wanted to play—so they started their own Olympics called the Heraean Games.

Tokyo’s drones and their updating of Kamekura Yusaku’s pictograms were fantastic, and I know I’m biased, being both British and an Underworld fan, but I still think London 2012’s opening ceremony was the best.

And I Will KissWikipedia
His brief from Danny Boyle, the creative director of the Olympics opening ceremony was simple: “Danny wanted to frighten people. He was certain that by the end [of the Pandemonium section], people had to be going: ‘Christ, you can’t possibly do that to us for the next three hours.’ All the way along, he’d leave you with a sentence like that. That’s the kind of direction that leaves you empowered.” Smith also said of the track: “There was to be nothing half-hearted or polite about it.”

And you must check out this version of that footage, the view from the inside.

They’ve seen it all

Via Kottke, an alternative to Noah Kalina’s method of photographing the passage of time. It reminds me a little of Nancy Floyd’s work, only more so.

Faces of centuryJan Langer
Photographs show portraits of one hundred years old Czechs. Nowadays, there are over 1200. In fifty years their number will reach 14,000. How these people see their life after such a period? The majority of those I approached agree that with advancing age life is faster; until, at last, the life will pass in a moment. Time is shrinking, as are the faces of the elders. I wondered what changes and what remains on a human face and in a human mind in such a long time, and in such a short while in relative terms. I wondered how much loneliness of the old age weighs, and what memories stay in 100-year-old mind.

The biographies are quite poignant, the last one especially so.

A secret photographer #3

Not quite sure why, but I found myself wondering what Audrey Tautou, the star of Amélie, is up to these days. Yes, she’s still working as an actress, but has also found another outlet for her creativity. Here’s a hint from a 2008 interview, ostensibly promoting a rom-com she starred in at the time.

‘It doesn’t take much to catch a man’The Guardian
Audrey Tautou has this thing with journalists: she takes their photograph. She started doing it soon after the release of Amélie, when she became, almost overnight, one of the most in-demand interviewees on the planet. She waits until the end of your allotted slot, asks politely if you’d mind, then points her Leica at you and presses the button. She has no idea how many of these snaps she has taken – “maybe as many as 400, I guess” – nor what she is going to do with them, but they are her compensation for the time she has spent, over the past few years, sitting in over-decorated hotel rooms talking about herself.

“They’re just kind of lost hours for me,” she says, apologetically. “All that time talking totally about myself, which is of course a fascinating subject but not exactly new and exciting for me. And then the interviews appear, and obviously there’s not really going to be anything very new or exciting for me in them either, because I was the one being interviewed. I wanted there to be something in the whole process for me. I’m thinking of maybe turning them all into table mats. That was a joke, by the way.”

Almost ten years later, these snapshots became part of something a little grander than table mats.

Audrey Tautou’s very private self-portraitureThe New York Times
In July, the annual Rencontres d’Arles photography festival will show Tautou’s photographic work for the first time. The precisely cataloged and annotated portraits of journalists will sit alongside three other bodies of work by the actress: All are forms of self-portraiture. Counterbalancing her pictures of the journalists responsible for creating her public image are small, spontaneous snapshots Tautou takes of her own reflection. “I always have a camera with me,” she says.

“I’m an actress, but I’m not only an actress,” Tautou says. “This part of me that has grown and grown and grown for all those years was more important for my balance than I’d thought. Now it’s this part of me I want to express and develop. So to me, it’s something very intimate, it’s not a hobby. It’s a way to become complete.”

Audrey Tautou: SuperfacialLes Rencontres d’Arles
In a series of self-portraits using film photography, and shown to the public for the first time, Audrey Tautou explores her image, playing with her celebrity status by turning herself into her own model. As creator of her own image, she imagines herself, not without humor, from head to toe, in dramatizations which openly bear the signs of their artificiality. These photographic fictions create the space for her long-distance look at herself, and invent another angle on the actress.

Audrey Tautou: ‘My subject in these photos is somebody between the character and who I am’The Guardian
Tautou says that she was always interested in creating work, and in living a life less ordinary, rather than pursuing fame. After Amélie, the drawbacks became apparent: “Because your face is known, people will see it before you. It’s like a glass screen you can see through but in fact there’s always a reflection of their imagination, their fantasme.” […]

By dressing herself up, she says, she enters a kind of “no woman’s land”, where she is neither herself nor a made-up figure that might readily be associated with her. It’s a sort of “fake instantaneous moment”. “It’s not realistic mise-en-scène. My subject, in these photos, to me it’s not a real proper character. It’s somebody between the character and who I am. It’s somebody just right in the middle of the travel between the regular humans, the normal humans, and the one who’s going to become a character.”

She loves the poetry and the evanescence of photographers such as Nan Goldin, Diane Arbus and the great chronicler of Parisian life, Brassaï. Is it because, perhaps related to her work as an actor, she is interested in those who suggest the story beyond the frame? She agrees: “I like when an image could be just one of several others which would create a story. That you can imagine who are those people or what would happen before, what’s going to be next; I like when there’s a past and a future that we can imagine when we see photos.”

Creating something from something

Let’s try that phrase ‘from the sublime to the ridiculous’ in reverse.

Generating images from an internet grab bagAI Weirdness
Here’s “a toaster”

The toaster is partially made of toast so I tried to get it to generate a toaster made of chrome instead. Turns out I don’t think I can get it to do a toaster made of chrome without in some way incorporating the logo of Google Chrome. General internet training seems to poison certain keywords.

Ok, never mind all that.

“Bound Species” by Photographer Jennifer LatourBooooooom
The first lock down in 2020 gave Vancouver photographer Jennifer Latour a chance to develop a beautiful new body of work, and the inspiration actually came from her work as an FX makeup artist. “It was only when I started visualizing the plants and flowers as an extension of my work in special effect makeup that it all started coming together and the splicing began. I now see each piece as kind of Frankenstein of sorts with so many fun variation to come!”

Fake views for real crowds

I thought these two recent, very visual articles from The New York Times went together well.

At this Instagram hot spot, all the world’s a stage (and the buffalo’s a prop)The New York Times
With that, the visitors called it a wrap, satisfied they had gotten the perfect photographs of the bucolic scene. Later, the images would pop up across the Chinese internet, with captions like, “Going to work in the morning light.” A few, however, were more honest in their tags: #fakeactionshot. For the farmer (and the buffalo) had only been performing for the tourists and their cameras.

Such staged photo shoots have become the specialty of Xiapu County, a peninsula of fishing villages, beaches and lush hills known as one of China’s top viral check-in points. It is a rural Epcot on the East China Sea, a visual factory where amateur photographers churn out photogenic evidence of an experience that they never had — and that their subjects aren’t having either.

That’s a great line. I mean, look at this.

These crowds of happy snapping tourists reminded me of those others on that beach, as well as the thousands in the Louvre. Oh, to get away from it all.

How crowded are America’s national parks? See for yourself.The New York Times
Americans are flocking to national parks in record numbers, in many cases leading to long lines and overcrowded facilities. Here’s what four parks looked like over the holiday weekend.

I love the video clip they choose to head up that article — a tired, bored toddler not wanting to cooperate with the obligatory selfie, whilst others hang around, waiting their turn to take the same photo.

Big bird’s back

Carla Rhodes takes beautiful photos of strange-looking birds in an ugly situation.

A biologist, an outlandish stork and the army of women trying to save itThe New York Times
After returning from India, I realized that my encounter with the greater adjutants had irrevocably changed me. Until then, I’d doggedly chased a career in New York City as a comedic ventriloquist while juggling mundane day jobs. Wildlife photography was relatively new to me; I had only considered it an enjoyable hobby. But suddenly I wanted to pursue conservation photography with every fiber of my being.

More Skeksis than stork, I think. But how they look is only half the story.

I quickly discovered the work of Dr. Purnima Devi Barman, a wildlife biologist who has dedicated her life to protecting greater adjutants. The founder of the Hargila Army, a local all-female, grass-roots volunteer conservation effort, Dr. Barman led her corps of women in protecting nesting sites, saving fallen baby birds and educating the Assamese community on the importance of these rare and endangered scavengers.

Needless to say, I’ve never seen anything like that round my way. Maybe I just need to keep looking.

Bird cams: A virtual window into the natural world of birdsThe Cornell Lab
Our viewers tell us that watching the cams is a life changing experience: an unprecedented learning experience that they liken to virtual field trips or field biology in their living room. We’re excited to continue sharing and learning with the community as we watch the world of birds together.

Royale with cheese

I’m not a fan of soap operas and schmaltzy dramas, but it’s been hard to escape reaction to The Crown’s latest spin-off.

‘I didn’t want to be alive anymore’: Meghan Markle-Prince Harry’s revelations during Oprah interview leave internet shockedThe Indian Express
Post the broadcast of the interview, social media is abuzz with netizens reacting to the various revelations made during the interview. The hashtag #OprahMeghanHarry soon began trending on Twitter with many drawing parallels between the situation and what Princess Diana went through during her time.

This write-up from across the Irish Sea really nailed it though.

Harry and Meghan: The union of two great houses, the Windsors and the Celebrities, is completeIrish Times
Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories. More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.

Shouldn’t really be too flippant about all this, institutional bigotry is no laughing matter, but this image of the Queen caught my eye shortly after reading that.

Artist brings everyday objects to life with smartphone and no editingDesign You Trust
“I think it’s a fun way to make an ordinary situation extraordinary, to make magic by combining two different things into a whole new story. A smartphone is something we all carry all day and it allows me to take this kind of photo spontaneously on the spot whenever an idea comes. I always carry two phones to do this.”

Quite a few are from the movies …

… including Pulp Fiction …

… which brings us back to where we started — Americans and royalty.

Royale with Cheese (dialogue)Genius
As Jules Winfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) drive along they discuss trivial matters regarding the little differences between Europe and America.

Finding my way, under starry skies

I’m still trying to get my head around Second Life. The scale of it confuses me, with its talk of continents and regions, parcels and places. I need a map. It seems there’s a longstanding technical difficulty with that currently, but here’s a helpful resource — an inworld Maps of Second Life exhibition.

The maps (and more) of Second LifeInara Pey: Living in a Modem World
The maps start from the earliest days of Second Life – 2002 – and run through to almost the present. It encompasses “official” maps, those produced by SL cartographers depicting the Second Life Mainland continents, and specialist maps charting air routes, airports, the SL railways, specific estates. Not only are they informative, some stand as works of art in their own right.

For more background on how that exhibition was curated and designed, here’s an interview with its creator, Juliana Lethdetter.

In an earlier blog post, Inara Pey notes that, whilst maps might not contribute greatly to a sense of community, they’re vital for establishing a sense of presence.

Maps as metaphors: Second Life and SansarInara Pey: Living in a Modem World
However, the idea that the world map presents Second Life as a place, adding to our sense of presence, is harder to deny. In fact, given that Second Life is intended to be a single world of (largely) interconnected spaces, its representation via a map can be a vital aspect of reinforcing this view. In other words, the map is, for many – but not necessarily all of us – an intrinsic part of how we see Second Life as a connected whole, a place.

Of course, there are other ways of seeing Second Life.

Explorer shoots impressionistic photos while traveling through a virtual worldNew World Notes
Mei Vohn’s photostream is a glorious travel journal of Second Life sims highlighted by a person who sees the beauty in a single detail. Her pictures are very impressionistic. They make me think of the phrase “see through a glass darkly” from First Corinthians. Her pictures give us impressions, we have to go there to see it for ourselves.

But let’s go back to 2007, with a video that shows that, whatever technology we use to visualise the worlds around us, Van Gogh’s never far away.

Watch the World – Starry NightAustin Tate’s Blog
Robbie Dingo (aka Rob Wright) produced the “Watch the World” machinima in Second Life in 2007 depicting a build of the Vincent Van Gogh “Starry Night” painting…

Remake the starsNew World Notes
What Robbie Dingo has done is something Akira Kurosawa only envisioned: brought Van Gogh’s masterpiece to rich, three dimensional life, and for a brief moment, recast it as a living place. (Brief, for the construction was always intended as a temporary project, “so it’s all been swept away now, leaving only the film behind.”) But for a breathtaking moment you get to the most iconic of starry nights recast under the rising sun.

“One of the challenges was to make it look fluid and simple,” Robbie tells me. “If I have got it right, then it should look like something that was thrown together very quickly, but in reality I worked on this in dribs and drabs over a number of evenings.”

Things are looking up #6

I’m sure President Biden has enough on his to-do list at the moment to be giving Space Force and the politics of space much thought, but this new book from Benedict Redgrove might spark some enthusiasm.

Benedict Redgrove’s intimate photography book lands us inside the world of NASAIGNANT
Redgrove has been fascinated by space suits and shuttles since he was a young man. “The image of the astronaut or spaceman has been with me ever since, as a sort of talisman to all that is great and good,” he shares. “They symbolize the explorer, the hero, the good character, the leader. The spacesuit takes on that character, the suit and the human become one entity, more powerful than either on their own.” Combining his fascination with space technology with his interest in photography, the British creative took on the challenge to document America’s home of space-based research and development in intimate detail. Redgrove spent almost a decade working on the project, negotiating access and forming relationships with NASA, researching, investigating, and producing over 200 images of NASA’s facilities and the many objects that made their space travel imaginable and possible.

The engineering involved in landing on the moon was incredible. To fully appreciate that, I think I need to add this epic piece of journalism to my reading list.

Of a Fire on the Moon by Norman MailerPenguin Random House
For many, the moon landing was the defining event of the twentieth century. So it seems only fitting that Norman Mailer—the literary provocateur who altered the landscape of American nonfiction—wrote the most wide-ranging, far-seeing chronicle of the Apollo 11 mission. A classic chronicle of America’s reach for greatness in the midst of the Cold War, Of a Fire on the Moon compiles the reportage Mailer published between 1969 and 1970 in Life magazine: gripping firsthand dispatches from inside NASA’s clandestine operations in Houston and Cape Kennedy; technical insights into the magnitude of their awe-inspiring feat; and prescient meditations that place the event in human context as only Mailer could.

Norman Mailer’s A Fire on the Moon: a giant leap for reportageThe Guardian
In the age of Gravity, of simulated cinematic immersion in space, it is more striking than ever that footage of the greatest technological feat of all time looked no better “than a print of the earliest silent movies … Ghost beckoned to ghosts and the surface of the moon looked like a ski slope at night.”

That line about the poor quality visuals (deliberately poor, apparently) not matching the scale of the achievement reminded me of Brian Eno’s dissatisfaction with the audio, the chatter of the experts obscuring the event’s grandeur and strangeness.

Of a Fire on the Moon was first published across three issues of Life magazine (much like John Hersey’s Hiroshima, published in its entirety in The New Yorker in 1946), and is yours in book form for a tenner or so. Or, if you want to spend a little more…

Of a Fire on the Moon; $112,500 coffee table editionWikipedia
The 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing was marked in 2009 by the release of an abridged, limited edition of the text, re-packaged with images from NASA and Life magazine. This production retitled the work, MoonFire, and was presented in an aluminium box with a lid shaped like the crater-pocked surface of the Moon; the object was mounted on four legs resembling the Apollo Lunar Module’s struts. Thus, the coffee table book came inside its own lunar-themed “coffee table”, with an uneven surface (see photograph). The package included a numbered print of the famous portrait of Buzz Aldrin standing on the Moon, framed in plexiglass and signed by the astronaut himself—and enclosed a lunar meteorite. Only 12 were created and the price was $112,500.

2021 off to a flying start

Trump and his followers aren’t going out quietly, are they?

Pro-Trump mob storms US CapitolThe Guardian
A mob of Trump supporters invaded the Capitol after mass demonstrations in the nation’s capital. They breached security, took over the rotunda and House chamber, and disrupted the vote certification for Joe Biden.

Riot, insurrection or social media performance?

The pro-Trump mob was doing it for the ‘GramBuzzfeed News
For Trump supporters who occupy those extreme-right universes, anyone who believes that Trump lost the election is the delusional one. What’s more: they experience this narrative entirely online, safe from facts, where stars of this alternate universe emerge to cement it for them. And there is a reward to be found in that stardom: After all, why would anyone don a costume like the QAnon Shaman, if not as a play for the cameras?

But if the stardom is the reward, what of their revolution? Don’t they have work to do, a vote to stop? For many in the mob that showed up in DC, the posing is the work.

Twitter has been such a huge part of this presidency, it’s hard to imagine one without the other. Up to now, at least.

Twitter permanently suspends President Donald Trump’s accountTime
In a series of tweets on its @TwitterSafety account, the social media giant said that Trump’s account had continued to violate the rules even after being warned by temporarily locking Trump’s account on Wednesday evening after the insurrection that caused the death of at least six people, either at the Capitol or from injuries sustained there.

“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” Twitter said in its announcement. “In the context of horrific events this week, we made it clear on Wednesday that additional violations of the Twitter Rules would potentially result in this very course of action.”

Permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrumpTwitter Blog
Our public interest framework exists to enable the public to hear from elected officials and world leaders directly. It is built on a principle that the people have a right to hold power to account in the open. However, we made it clear going back years that these accounts are not above our rules entirely and cannot use Twitter to incite violence, among other things.

Well, that’s one less password for him to remember, at least.

Trump goes “ballistic” after Twitter ban, says he’s looking at creating own platformSlate
Trump seemed to be engulfed by a burning desire to tweet and so he grabbed hold of the official @POTUS Twitter account and published a statement that the White House also issued separately. Trump lashed out at Twitter, saying it had “coordinated with the Democrats and the Radical Left” to remove his account. Trump also said he had been “negotiating with various other sites” and that he and his allies are looking “at the possibilities of building out our own platform in the near future.” Twitter quickly took down the messages from the @POTUS account. Donald Trump Jr. characterized the ban as “absolute insanity,” adding that it showed how “we are living Orwell’s 1984.”

Trump Jr’s reference to 1984 is interesting. He’s not the first to spot similarities.

One alternative to Twitter, favoured by his supporters is (was?) Parler.

Apple suspends Parler from App StoreTechCrunch
Apple confirmed that it has suspended the conservative social media app Parler from the App Store, shortly after Google banned it from Google Play. The app, which became a home to Trump supporters and several high-profile conservatives in the days leading up to the Capitol riots, had been operating in violation of Apple’s rules.

Amazon will suspend hosting for pro-Trump social network ParlerBuzzfeed News
“Recently, we’ve seen a steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms,” the email reads. “It’s clear that Parler does not have an effective process to comply with the AWS terms of service.” […] On Parler, reaction to the impending ban was swift and outraged, with some discussing violence against Amazon. “It would be a pity if someone with explosives training were to pay a visit to some AWS data centers,” one person wrote.

It seems to me that these people aren’t contesting their 2020 loss, but the one from 1865.

Things are looking up #5

I don’t remember adding this to my YouTube ‘Watch Later’ playlist, but I’m glad I did. A charming documentary on a bizarre, elegant, yet absolutely enormous cloud.

Secrets of a Strange CloudYouTube
This is about the Morning Glory Cloud in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland, Australia. It is an amazing atmospheric phenomenon. It is a shockwave which can be over a thousand kilometres long. Other meteorological terms for this type of formation is a shelf cloud, roll cloud or soliton. They can happen unpredictably in other places in the world but the Gulf of Carpentaria is the only location place where they happen with some degree of regularity around September and October.

Whilst we still have our heads in the clouds, ponder this strange notion — that we didn’t always know where birds went in the winter. They seemed to just vanish each year. Perhaps, rather than flying to different countries, they flew a little further.

When birds migrated to the MoonThe MIT Press Reader
Morton rejected Aristotle’s widely accepted hibernation theory, and pointed out a major flaw in the theory that the birds simply migrated to another place on Earth: No one in Europe knew where they went. They literally disappeared. He argued that returning birds, like woodcocks, appeared to drop suddenly from the sky over ships at sea.

Their round trip to the moon took one month each way, taking the distance to the moon and the length of their absence into account. There was no atmospheric resistance to impede their flight (so he had taken on board that much of Pascal’s conclusions) and the journey between the worlds was aided by lack of gravity. They slept for much of it, living off their body fat. It was all logical enough, in its own way.

You must read that article for its charming account of Domingo Gonsales flying to the Moon on his swan engine.

It’s a good job he didn’t try that trip a few hundred years earlier.

In 1110, the Moon vanished from the sky. We may finally know whyScience Alert
“On the fifth night in the month of May appeared the Moon shining bright in the evening, and afterwards by little and little its light diminished, so that, as soon as night came, it was so completely extinguished withal, that neither light, nor orb, nor anything at all of it was seen,” an observer wrote in the Peterborough Chronicle.

It was bright enough a week ago, spookily peering through the clouds, though this shot using my binoculars doesn’t do it justice.

Perhaps I need to take some pointers from the experts.

Taking good photos in bad lightPhotography Life
When the sky is gray or the sun is directly overhead, it can be tough to find inspiration for high-quality photography. My hope with this article is to share some tips that have worked for me when I photograph in bad lighting conditions – something which every photographer experiences at some point.

Time flies

Do you remember Noah Kalina, the photographer who took a picture of himself every day for twenty years? Here’s something similar — less structured, perhaps more melancholic.

The photographer who set out to watch herself ageThe New Yorker
Over nearly four decades, beginning in the early eighties, the photographer Nancy Floyd executed an epic project of self-documentation, the results of which are collected in her new volume, “Weathering Time.” But it is not Floyd’s strict adherence to a plan that makes her project so compelling. It’s that she completed it with a laid-back kind of tenacity—an anti-perfectionistic, unfixed attitude, which lends her book, a curiously organized archive of some twelve hundred black-and-white images, a meandering charm.

Nancy Floyd has been photographing herself every day for almost 40 yearsi-D
The resulting “visual calendar”, as Nancy calls it now, consists of over 2,500 photographs. “Most often I’m by myself in these straightforward images, but sometimes I’m with family and friends. As time passes, births, deaths, celebrations, and bad days happen. Pets come and go, fashions and hairstyles evolve, typewriters, analog clocks, and telephones with cords disappear; film gives way to digital and the computer replaces the darkroom.”[…]

I like the surprises that arise when I pull together photographs to create new categories, such as Trousers or Shirts with Word. … I’ve been waiting for years to be the same age as my parent’s in my pictures. This year I made my first image: Mom and Me at 63. Viewing the pictures side-by-side there is no doubt that I am my mother’s daughter.

I’ve got to try this for myself. There must be some interesting juxtapositions to be found within the thousands of photos I’ve got on Flickr, not to mention all the boxes of old prints squirreled away in various cupboards upstairs…

Objectified

Making a spectacle of themselves.

Let’s have some quirky selfies and self portraits of a different kind, now.

Helmut Smits creates pinhole cameras that take playful selfies of your favourite objectsIt’s Nice That
What would a self-portrait made by an object look like? We usually forget a product’s packaging once we bin it after using the product. But what about, say, a tin of pringles? Is it the too-salty curved crisps that you think of, or is it the red tin that’s always too small for your hand to fit through? Can you separate what you consume from the way that it has been advertised?

In his project, A Product’s Self Portrait, Rotterdam-based visual artist Helmut Smits commits a playful approach to this topic. Because photography is a material process, Helmut has been magically creating 27 pinhole photos of products, using 27 matching pinhole cameras made from their packaging.

A beautiful year, nevertheless

It wasn’t all bad.

The of the year articles seem a little early this year. I wonder why we’re so keen to get 2020 behind us.

2020’s weather photography of the year doesn’t disappointMoss and Fog
The Royal Meteorological Society Weather Photographer of the Year contest is now in its 5th year, and has some amazing entrants that show us 2020 wasn’t just about a raging global pandemic. Indeed, Mother Nature, combined with a rapidly warming planet has resulted in record storms, floods, droughts, and wildfires this year.

Phu Tho province, Vietnam — Vu Trung Huan
Lake Baikal, Siberia — Alexey Trofimov

Top shots from the 2020 International Landscape Photographer of the YearThe Atlantic
More than 3,800 entries were received in this year’s landscape-photography competition, from professional and amateur photographers around the world.

Tromsø, Norway — Kelvin Yuen
Motukiekie Beach, New Zealand — Sergey Aleshchenko

There are many more beautiful images on those pages, do check them out. And here are some more wonderful things of a different kind.

100 best inventions of 2020TIME
Every year, TIME highlights inventions that are making the world better, smarter and even a bit more fun. … 100 groundbreaking inventions—including a smarter beehive, a greener tube of toothpaste, and technology that could catalyze a COVID-19 vaccine—that are changing the way we live, work, play and think about what’s possible.

They’re taking over

Yesterday, upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there.

I’ve shared articles about these fake, engineered nobodies before, but the transitions, animations and sliders in this piece from the New York Times are very effective, and great fun — a genuine individual on every frame.

Designed to deceive: Do these people look real to you?The New York Times
Given the pace of improvement, it’s easy to imagine a not-so-distant future in which we are confronted with not just single portraits of fake people but whole collections of them — at a party with fake friends, hanging out with their fake dogs, holding their fake babies. It will become increasingly difficult to tell who is real online and who is a figment of a computer’s imagination.

You think you know someone …

… but they turn out to be …

… someone completely different.

All these fakes — people, art, feet — it’s hard to keep track. Well, not any more.

This X Does Not Exist
Using generative adversarial networks (GAN), we can learn how to create realistic-looking fake versions of almost anything, as shown by this collection of sites that have sprung up in the past month.

Grown on me

Spindly trees, I’m a big fan. They’re just giant, 3D pen and ink drawings, really, and I’ve been snapping photos of them for a while. Though none of my pics come anywhere close to capturing the atmosphere of these tulgey woods, as Things Magazine described them.

MysticalNeil Burnell
“There’s real magic in this series, with thick fog shrouding the gnarled moss-clad oaks, one can almost visualise fairies flying effortlessly into the scenes.”

Perhaps my love of twisty, organic lines explains why I found these sculptures by Sun-Hyuk Kim so fascinating.

Stainless steel roots sprawl into figurative sculptures by artist Sun-Hyuk KimColossal
Just like a tree, the spindly branches that shape Sun-Hyuk Kim’s sculptures extend from a larger, sturdy limb—or in the South Korean artist’s case, neck or spine, too. Kim creates sprawling artworks that merge human anatomy and the root systems that crawl underneath the earth’s surface. Sometimes painted in neutral tones and others plated in gold, the sculptures are composed of stainless steel that trails out into figurative forms.

Something about them reminds me of Kumi Yamashita’s installations.