Ta ra, Theresa

The press are keen to analyse her political legacy (blah blah blah blah), but I’d rather look at Prime Minister May’s time at Number 1O via two of my favourite things – photos and charts.

The political life of Theresa May – in pictures
A look back over May’s political career, from being elected as MP for Maidenhead in 1997 to Brexit, the snap election that backfired and her onstage dancing at the 2018 Tory conference.

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Theresa May: Premiership in six charts
1. She hasn’t been in office long
Mrs May has developed a reputation for surviving in almost impossible circumstances, but she is still among the UK prime ministers with the shortest time in office.

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Making an exhibition of yourself

The faces are real this time, though the galleries aren’t.

Put your head into gallery
Georgian artist Tezi Gabunia wants to trigger a dialogue about hyper realistic issues in art. His modus operandi is falsification. In his work “put your head into gallery”, Gabunia wanted to bring the galleries and the art to the people, and not the other way around.

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Whilst the images are striking, I wonder if he’s just pandering to our vanity, though. I mean, look at the queues.

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Smartphones have killed compact cameras

Via a Benedict Evans newsletter.

2019 outlook on the shipment by product type concerning cameras and related goods (pdf)
“Fascinating set of charts for the Japanese camera industry. The compact camera is now mostly gone thanks to smartphones, but the higher-end removable-lens cameras have stabilized, and at a much higher revenue than pre-digital, and lens sales are doing great. Also, the customer for these cameras is now younger and less male. Digital has opened up pro/hobbyist cameras even as smartphones killed snapshot cameras.”

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Last week, a look at the demise of CDs. Now, a similar curve for compact cameras. Avoid anything with the word ‘compact’, I think.

More fake face fun

More fun with fake faces. Here’s a breakdown from Eric Jang of Snapchat’s bizarre new filter.

Fun with Snapchat’s gender swapping filter
Snapchat’s new gender-bending filter is a source of endless fun and laughs at parties. The results are very pleasing to look at. As someone who is used to working with machine learning algorithms, it’s almost magical how robust this feature is.

I was so duly impressed that I signed up for Snapchat and fiddled around with it this morning to try and figure out what’s going on under the hood and how I might break it.

Eric takes it through its paces to learn a little more about how it’s generated. I hadn’t appreciated that it worked in real time like that.

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Update 15/05/2019

Classic FM got in on the act, and has taken a few portraits of classical music composers through the filter, with varying results.

We used Snapchat’s gender-swapping filter on famous composers… and the results are terrifying
5. Beethoven

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Female Ludwig is a very sulky teenager.

There, but not there

The busiest beach in the world, on the busiest weekend of the year, and yet no one seems to be fully there.

Photographer Oleg Tolstoy captures the tech-obsessed crowds on Silicon Beach
Shenzhen is known as China’s Silicon Valley, partly because so many smartphones are assembled here and partly because the city’s population has grown exponentially in recent years to match the country’s booming tech sector. Needless to say, the photo series overall offers a quizzical take on the benefits of connectivity and omnipresent technology. “It really shows that technology is taking us away from basic human interaction,” says Oleg. “The mere fact that visitors to the beach have gone with friends and family to enjoy time together but yet are communicating with people that are not present says a lot.”

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Meanwhile.

The Instagram aesthetic is over
No one has capitalized on this look’s popularity more than influencers. Some have even started to make thousands of dollars on photo presets that warp anyone’s pictures to fit this mold. But every trend has a shelf life, and as quickly as Instagram ushered in pink walls and pastel macaroons, it’s now turning on them. “Avocado toast and posts on the beach. It’s so generic and played out at this point. You can photoshop any girl into that background and it will be the same post,” said Claire, a 15-year-old who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym because of her age. “It’s not cool anymore to be manufactured.”

Pics in space

So black holes are really real, then?

The first photo of a black hole
We have the first photo of a supermassive black hole, from imagery taken two years ago of the elliptical galaxy M87 (in the constellation Virgo) by the Event Horizon Telescope project. The EHT team is a group of 200 scientist that has been working on this project for two decades. The image was created using data captured from radio telescopes from Hawaii to the South Pole and beyond using very long baseline interferometry.

This animation, via the Event Horizon Telescope project website, explains what we’re looking at.

Zooming into a simulated black hole accretion system in M87

As always with space stuff, I have a problem with scale. This helps enormously, though.

xkcd: M87 Black Hole Size Comparison

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That’s pretty big. But how about these images of Jupiter.

NASA has released new images of Jupiter, taken by the Juno Spacecraft
Favourite comment: “God I wish Vincent van Gogh was alive to see this”

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Yes, I can just imagine Van Gogh looking at these with a ‘told you so’ smile on his face. NASA has some more images from their Juno mission.

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She’s been restored before

The images of Notre Dame yesterday were just horrible. Let’s look at some different ones (with apologies for relying on Google Translate).

1840 – Notre Dame before restoration
The success of Hugo’s novel and the beginning of the Romantic Current will contribute to a renewed interest in French Gothic heritage. In 1843, a vast restoration program will be launched at the initiative of Prosper Mérimée, then Inspector General of Historical Monuments. Architects Viollet le Duc and Lassus will win the competition.

Started in 1845, the titanic construction site will last twenty years. Every effort will be made to restore the cathedral to its former splendor. The arrow and the Red Gate will be restored among others. A hundred or so statues, inspired by other cathedrals, will be made under the careful control of the architects.

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(Via a Benedict Evans newsletter.)

Meanwhile.

Notre Dame fire hoaxes are already spreading on social media
Online conspiracists are baselessly trying to blame the fire on their political opponents.

YouTube’s new fact-check tool flagged Notre Dame fire coverage and attached an article about 9/11
The widget showing information about the Sept. 11 terror attacks appears to have been triggered by a new feature YouTube is testing to provide “topical context” around videos that might contain misinformation.

Surfin’ sharks

This isn’t your typical Australian beach scene.

A pair of sharks photographed through a cresting wave by Sean Scott
“The shore break was quite large so the first wave came and I fired off a test shot to get my exposure and focus right,” explains Scott to Colossal. “The very next wave rose up right on the shore, and sure enough there were 2 big sharks in excess of 2 meters in the wave. I snapped away and ended up with 3 of my favorite shots. I stayed and waited for a further 2 hours and did not see them in that close again.”

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What an incredible photo.

Taking his camera for a walk

You can’t beat a bit of New York street photography.

“Foot Traffic” by photographer David Nelson-Hospers
A great series from American photographer David Nelson-Hospers. Originally from Western Massachusetts, and currently residing in Brooklyn, “Foot Traffic” focuses on the flow of everyday life in New York City. Documenting the city streets and the people that crowd them he manages to highlight the social landscape and moments that are often overlooked.

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Part of me thinks it must be easier to find such captivating images in an interesting, visual place like New York compared to where I live. But a larger part of me thinks that’s just an excuse I’m making up to mask my jealousy/laziness/cowardice.

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Here comes nobody

Yesterday there were millions of us, today there’s nobody here at all.

AI fake face website launched
A software developer has created a website that generates fake faces, using artificial intelligence (AI). Thispersondoesnotexist.com generates a new lifelike image each time the page is refreshed, using technology developed by chipmaker Nvidia. Some visitors to the website say they have been amazed by the convincing nature of some of the fakes, although others are more clearly artificial.

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They look like us, and now they can write like us too.

AI text writing technology too dangerous to release, creators claim
Researchers at OpenAI say they have created an AI writer which “generates coherent paragraphs of text, achieves state-of-the-art performance on many language modeling benchmarks and performs rudimentary reading comprehension, machine translation, question answering and summarisation — all without task-specific training.”

But they are withholding it from public use “due to our concerns about malicious applications of the technology”.

Of course, it’s not just AI that’s trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

How to catch a catfisher
Last year, I found out someone was using my photos to catfish women. He stole dozens of my online photos – including selfies, family photos, baby photos, photos with my ex – and, pretending to be me, he would then approach women and spew a torrent of abuse at them.

It took me months to track him down, and now I’m about to call him.

Machines pretending to be people, people pretending to be other people. At least we’re truthful with ourselves, right?

Be honest, how much do you edit YOUR selfies?
“It’s time to acknowledge the damaging effects that social media has on people’s self-image,” says Rankin of the project, which is part of a wider initiative to explore the impact of imagery on our mental health.

“Social media has made everyone into their own brand. People are creating a two-dimensional version of themselves at the perfect angle, with the most flattering lighting and with any apparent ‘flaws’ removed. Mix this readily-available technology with the celebrities and influencers flaunting impossible shapes with impossible faces and we’ve got a recipe for disaster.”

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Images of Hong Kong

I felt that last post about China was a little negative, but perhaps this one about the amazing imagery of Hong Kong might redress the balance.

Fan Ho’s street photography of 50s & 60s Hong Kong
Dubbed the “Cartier-Bresson of the East”, Fan Ho patiently waited for ‘the decisive moment’; very often a collision of the unexpected, framed against a very clever composed background of geometrical construction, patterns and texture. He often created drama and atmosphere with backlit effects or through the combination of smoke and light. His favorite locations were the streets, alleys and markets around dusk or life on the sea.

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Housing there looks a little different now, especially in Kowloon. Here’s Toby Harriman’s take on that (via Laughing Squid).

The Block Tower // Hong Kong Aerial
For years I have seen pictures of these public housing/apartment tower blocks being built and knew that they were something I wanted to see and document for myself. Rather than just creating stills from these, I went with the goal of taking abstract videos and displaying them more like art, showing off their true scale.

The Block Tower, by Toby Harriman

Interestingly, he says that “Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with an overall density of an estimated 6,300 people per square kilometer”, but there are no people to be found anywhere in the images he captures, just the occasional glimpses of laundry drying on balconies. I think the photos feel a little unreal as a result, simply too immense to get your head round.

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Crazy colour schemes, though.

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Whilst the drone footage is impressive, I think I prefer Michael Wolf’s more atmospheric interpretation, Architecture of Density, from a while back. Looks like glitch art.

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Michael Wolf photographs the architecture of density
The structural urban fabric of the city of Hong Kong is one of the most astonishingly condensed, populated and vertical in the world, propelling its edifices soaring into the sky to contend with the lack of lateral space. German photographer Michael Wolf — and current resident of the Chinese metropolis — has captured a series of images that acutely acknowledge the landscape’s overwhelming concentration of soaring buildings and skyscrapers. ‘Architecture of Density’ is a collection of large scale works, which focuses on repetition of pattern and form to cause an infinitely complex visual reaction and rediscovers the city scenes by highlighting its forest-like expanse of high rises.

It’s not just the grand scale that interests him, though.

Michael Wolf captures abstract, accidental sculptures in Hong Kong alleyways
For over 20 years Michael Wolf has been photographing Hong Kong. During that time he has captured the towering pastel facades of its high rise architecture in a vein similar to Thomas Struth or Andreas Gursky, but perhaps more interestingly he has delved into the hidden maze of the city’s back alleys. What he found and has faithfully documented, are the innumerable abstract urban still lifes seen throughout. All the city’s flotsam and jetsam, from clusters of gloves and clothes hangers, to networks of pipes and a full colour spectrum of plastic bags, are photographed in strange, but entirely happenstance arrangements.

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And check this out for an unusual point of view.

Chan Dick’s aerial photos of a Hong Kong fire station taken from a toilet window
“One day I was busy in my workshop when I heard a noise coming from the bathroom. Curious, I opened the window and looked down and saw firefighters playing volleyball,” explains Chan. “For the next month, I dedicated myself to observation and bit by bit discovered the routine of this small unusual space.”

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Selfie portraits

There’s no escaping the selfie, they’re everywhere. But have we really stopped to consider them as an art form? Here’s a critique of this new genre, with some famous and infamous examples.

Art at arm’s length: A history of the selfie
In some way, selfies reach back to the Greek theatrical idea of methexis—a group sharing wherein the speaker addresses the audience directly, much like when comic actors look at the TV camera and make a face. Finally, fascinatingly, the genre wasn’t created by artists. Selfies come from all of us; they are a folk art that is already expanding the language and lexicon of photography. Selfies are a photography of modern life—not that academics or curators are paying much attention to them. They will, though: In a hundred years, the mass of selfies will be an incredible record of the fine details of everyday life. Imagine what we could see if we had millions of these from the streets of imperial Rome.

And here’s Jason Bailey from Artnome suggesting we could see Rembrandt as the Paris Hilton of his day…

How Rembrandt and Van Gogh mastered the art of the selfie
Next time someone gives you a hard time for spending 15 minutes fussing with filters on your selfie, remind them that Rembrandt spent a full 10% of his career perfecting selfies.

Not so common garden photography

Some wonderful images here, amongst the winners of this photography competition specialising in garden and botanical photography.

Winners of the 2019 International Garden Photographer of the Year competition
British photographer Jill Welham has been announced as the overall winner of this year’s International Garden Photographer of the Year Competition. The North Yorkshire photographer beat 19,000 entrants from more than 50 countries to scoop the top prize of £7,500 with her photogram print entitled Fireworks, below. The image shows Allium flower heads from her garden.

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That is such a strange, liquid image. Natural and unnatural at the same time. Here’s what the judges said of Jill’s work.

Competition 12 results – International Garden Photographer of the Year
Jill’s image has proven that even old techniques are still capable of relevance, originality and immense beauty. Her knowledge and passion for the process has resulted in an extraordinary exposure of the Allium, adding complex textures and colour profiles analogous to the pioneering botanical cyanotype prints by English botanist and photographer Anna Atkins in the first half of the 19th century. The resulting exposure clearly draws from this rich and interesting heritage, but is unmistakably different in its approach and execution, making an image fit for the modern age in both its ability to communicate the beauty and importance of plant life as well as its capacity to represent the empowerment of women in art and science.

It was nice to see these more abstract images, nestling within the HDR landscapes.

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Trim Trump touch-ups?

The BBC have a couple of before-and-after images of President Trump that raised a smile this morning.

Trump team accused of posting edited images on social media
Social media users were quick to point out the possible tweaks to this image, which was shared on Mr Trump’s official Instagram and Facebook accounts. […]

The ruffles in the president’s suit have been smoothed out near his shoulder and he looks trimmer, specifically around his neck. His hair also seems tidier, although this could be a result of the image being superimposed on a different background, and his face has been brightened.

One of the more unusual differences is that Mr Trump’s fingers seem to have been made longer.

How vain! I can’t replicate it properly here, but you must check out the interactive slider they have on their website, to see for yourself.

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Small dioramas, big issues

Compare and contrast these two recent posts from Web Urbanist. Similar levels of ingenuity and skills, but eliciting very different emotional responses.

Refugee Baggage: Suitcase dioramas show dark scenes from countries fled
The project of a Syrian-born artist and architect and an Iraqi-born author, this installation invites viewers to imagine what refugees leave behind when the pack up the few things they can carry and flee an oppressive regime or war-torn country.

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The UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage installation by Mohamad and Ahmed Badr “sculpturally re-creates rooms, homes, buildings and landscapes that have suffered the ravages of war. Each is embedded with the voices and stories of real people — from Afghanistan, Congo, Syria, Iraq and Sudan — who have escaped those same rooms and buildings to build a new life in America.”

Some really important stories being told. Meanwhile, over in Japan, Tanaka Tatsuya is continuing his miniature photography series. It’s been going since 2011.

Miniature Calendar: Micro-city scenes made daily from household objects
It takes just one artist to raise this annual micro-village, putting out a fresh scene daily featuring miniature people going about their everyday lives, navigating repurposed objects designed for different purposes at larger scales.

The new Miniature Calendar by Tastuya Tanaka is the latest in a series of 7, each one featuring 365 snapshots of lives lived small. The figures are often framed by items that are easy to recognize and yet also simple to reimagine in context.

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Making of MINIATURE CALENDAR

A year of (mostly bad?) news

They say we all love bad news, which is all we ever get these days.

The media exaggerates negative news. This distortion has consequences
News is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen. We never see a journalist saying to the camera, “I’m reporting live from a country where a war has not broken out”— or a city that has not been bombed, or a school that has not been shot up.

And so we have another something of the year article, this time a hundred news photographs from Reuters.

Pictures of the year 2018

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Lots of shouting, lots of people in dreadful situations, lots of heart-wrenching tragedies. None of it I really want to show here, to be honest.

It wasn’t all like that, though, thankfully. Remember these, for instance?

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And if you want more, there’s this year’s Atlantic In Focus series:

2018 in photos: How the first months unfolded

2018 in photos: A look at the middle months

2018 in photos: Wrapping up the year

Will 2019 look any different, I wonder.

Big in Japan

I was inspired to search through my Pinboard bookmarks for things relating to Japan, following my son’s recent school trip there. Here’s some of what I found.

David Bowie memorialized in traditional Japanese woodblock prints
The recent release of two modern ukiyo-e woodblock prints featuring the rocker has caused such mass swooning among legions of Japanophile Bowie fans, the reverberations may well be powerful enough to ring temple bells in Kyoto.

We could all use a little more Chindogu, the Japanese art of useless inventions
A little bit Dada, a little bit “only sold on television,” intentionally useless inventions called Chindogu look like a bunch of plastic junk at first glance, but there’s more to it than that. And they’re not quite altogether useless. In fact, as creator Kenji Kawakami stated when he first revealed Chindogu to the world in 1995, these objects are “un-useless.” They have a purpose, but they take their halfway practical solution to a perceived problem and stretch it to maximum absurdity. It’s all kind of dumb, and that’s the point.

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Japan pampers its pets like nowhere else – A dog’s life
It is common for a parent taking a baby for a stroll to exchange a look of solidarity with another pram-pusher, only to glance down and realise the other’s contains a furry friend. Greying Japan is alert to animal ageing, too: there are acupuncture services for elderly pets, and several firms offer funerals.

In Japan, the Kit Kat isn’t just a chocolate. It’s an obsession.
There are also carefully chosen collaborations that capitalize on Japan’s culture of omiyage, which can be loosely defined as returning from travels with gifts for friends, family and colleagues. The Kikyou shingen mochi Kit Kat, which would go on sale in mid-October, would be sold right alongside the real Kikyou shingen mochi at souvenir shops and in service areas along the Chuo Expressway, a major four-lane road more than 200 miles long that passes through the mountainous regions of several prefectures, connecting Tokyo to Nagoya. With any luck, people would associate the Kit Kat with the traditional sweet and snap it up as a souvenir. But for this to be a success, for Kit Kat to expand into the souvenir market, consumers would have to believe that Kit Kat, originally a British product, was Japanese, and that although it was manufactured in a factory far away, it somehow represented the very essence of a region.

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Miyu Kojima creates miniature replicas of lonely deaths
Twenty six-year old Miyu Kojima works for a company that cleans up after kodokushi (孤独死) or lonely deaths: a Japanese phenomenon of people dying alone and remaining undiscovered for a long period of time. […] Part art therapy and part public service campaign, Kojima spends a large portion of her free time recreating detailed miniature replicas of the rooms she has cleaned.

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An early 20th century guide to wave designs for Japanese craftsmen is now available online
In 1903, Japanese artist Mori Yuzan’s wave designs were published in a resource guide for Japanese craftsmen looking to add aquatic motifs to their wares. The three-volume series, titled Hamonshū, includes variations on contained and free-form wave patterns suitable for embellishing swords, religious objects, and ceramics.

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And their firework catalogue is a pretty interesting resource too.

* of the year

December’s not quite here yet, but the best somethings of the year articles are starting already. Here are two I’ve spotted recently.

National Geographic’s best photos of 2018
National Geographic’s 100 best images of the year—curated from 107 photographers, 119 stories, and more than two million photographs.

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As well as the usual, and often quite grisly, natural history images, there are some remarkable human interest stories here too.

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Books of the year 2018: the TLS contributors decide
From autofiction to ‘unbooks’ and ‘Ancient Mariner novels’.

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Having spent much of the past three years writing about a fictional piano-tuner I thought I had had enough of the instrument. Then along came Paul Kildea’s fascinating Chopin’s Piano: A journey through Romanticism (Allen Lane) and I was hooked again. The starting point for this beguiling journey is a somewhat basic piano – a pianino – made in Majorca in the 1830s on which Chopin composed and polished his 24 Preludes.

[…]

Hastings’s indictment of Washington policy after the South Vietnamese military coup of 1963 is lethal. America’s prolongation of the war was a mutilating act of self-harm which took generations to heal. It happened because US policymakers lied to the electorate, which is usual enough, but more culpably also lied to close colleagues and lied to themselves. In this sense, at least, Brexit is Britain’s Vietnam.

[…]

Schnackenberg has everything except (a) a snappy name, and (b) a recital voice powerful enough to overcome the uproar of gerbils mating. Listen to her on YouTube and you’ll think that the Americans are developing a new weapon: Stealth people. 

Sound mirrors

With parallels to that giant, concrete speaker in Taiwan, photographer Piercarlo Quecchia has tracked down all of Britain’s remaining strange and sculptural sound mirrors, built after World War 1 to detect incoming enemy aeroplanes.

Acoustic defense: photo series reflects on derelict British “sound mirrors”
“They represent an incredible demonstration of how sound can generate a physical form: both the curvature radius and the dimensions of the dishes are studied and designed according to the sound frequency that they must reflect,” explains the photographer. He hopes the series will continue to raise awareness of these artifacts.

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There are more images of these brutalist-looking structures on his website.

Sound Mirrors’ Portraits – Piercarlo Quecchia
They consist of concrete parabolas with a diameter of a few meters. In the twenties of the last century, their use combined with microphones, allowed to intercept planes directed towards the coast, discovering in advance any possible attacks. The need to be positioned near the coasts mainly in raised areas, the strong materiality of the concrete and their huge dimensions make them spectacular and extremely fascinating structures, able to dominate the entire surrounding landscape.

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There are cameras everywhere

There is such a high level of surveillance in our society. There are cameras everywhere, but they’re our cameras.

The ubiquity of smartphones, as captured by photographers
With so many devices in so many hands now, the visual landscape has changed greatly, making it a rare event to find oneself in a group of people anywhere in the world and not see at least one of them using a phone. Collected here: a look at that smartphone landscape, and some of the stories of the phones’ owners.

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What an odd world we live in.

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The real world isn’t really real unless there’s a screen between us and it.

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But then you come across a photo like this.

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Such a strong image. The difference between surveillance and sousveillance.

Sousveillance
Sousveillance is the recording of an activity by a participant in the activity, typically by way of small wearable or portable personal technologies. The term “sousveillance”, coined by Steve Mann, stems from the contrasting French words sur, meaning “above”, and sous, meaning “below”, i.e. “surveillance” denotes the “eye-in-the-sky” watching from above, whereas “sousveillance” denotes bringing the camera or other means of observation down to human level, either physically (mounting cameras on people rather than on buildings), or hierarchically (ordinary people doing the watching, rather than higher authorities or architectures doing the watching).