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kottke.org posts about photography

The Microscopic Fabric of Butterfly Wings

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2018

Chris Perani

Chris Perani

Chris Perani takes macro photographs of the delicate microscopic makeup of butterfly wings. When you look at the thumbnails on his site, you almost can’t tell they aren’t woven rugs. The detail on these are incredible…here’s a closeup of the top photo:

Chris Perani

(via colossal)

Jackson Pollock 51

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2018

In 1950, Swiss photographer Hans Namuth took some photos of Jackson Pollock painting some of his drip paintings, which were used to illustrate a 1951 article in ArtNews. Along with photos published alongside a piece in Life in 1949, they made Pollock and his unusual technique famous.

Namuth returned with a film camera and captured the artist painting in full color motion in a short film called Jackson Pollock 51.

In the film, you can see the physicality and performative aspect of Pollock’s work, the near repetition, the footwork, the precise imprecision of his arm movements, the cigarette dangling from his mouth. Pollock narrates part of the film:

I don’t work from drawings or color sketches. My painting is direct. I usually paint on the floor. I enjoy working on a large canvas. I feel more at home, more at ease, in the big area. Having the canvas on the floor, I feel nearer, more a part of the painting. This way, I can walk around it, work from all four sides, and be in the painting, similar to the Indian sand painters of the West.

At one point, Pollock paints on glass and Namuth shoots from underneath, so you can see how it looks from the point of view of the canvas. A 1998 NY Times piece by Sarah Boxer has an account of how the photos and film were captured, including a series of incidents that brought the Namuth/Pollock collaboration (and, some say, Pollock’s life six years later) to an end:

When Pollock and Namuth came in from outside, blue from the cold, the first thing Pollock did was pour himself a tumbler of bourbon. It was the beginning of the end. Pollock had been sober (some say) for two years. Soon Namuth and Pollock got into an argument — a volley of “I’m not a phony, you’re a phony.” Then Pollock tore a strap of cowbells off the wall and started swinging it around.

With the dinner guests seated and food on the table, Pollock and Namuth continued to argue. Finally Pollock grabbed the end of the table, shouting “Should I do it now?” to Namuth. “Now?” Then he turned over the whole table, plates, glasses, meat, gravy and all. (There is a scholarly disagreement about whether it was turkey or roast beef.) The dogs lapped at the glassy gravy. Krasner said, “Coffee will be served in the living room.”

After that night, Pollock never stopped drinking. He didn’t bring in the glass painting (“No. 29, 1950”) until it was covered with rain and leaves. He returned to a more figurative style of painting. Six years later, bloated, depressed and drunk, he drove his car into a tree, killing himself and a friend.

(via open culture)

Scuba Diving Magazine’s 2018 Underwater Photo Contest Winners

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2018

Scuba Underwater Contest 2018

Scuba Diving magazine has announced the winners of their 2018 Underwater Photo Contest. The whale photo above is by Rodney Bursiel (see more of his whale and dolphin photos) and the one below is by Cai Songda.

Scuba Underwater Contest 2018

Ice Fishers

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2018

Ice Fishers

Ice Fishers

Ice Fishers

For a recent project, Aleksey Kondratyev captured the ice fishers of his native Kazakhstan sheltering themselves from the brutal cold. He wrote about the project for LensCulture.

Many of these fishermen venture onto the ice, braving temperatures that often reach -40 degrees celsius. After Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, north-central Kazakhstan is the second-coldest populated region in the world. While they fish, the fishermen protect themselves from the harsh weather with salvaged pieces of plastic, patched together from discarded packaging or rice bags that you can find outside markets selling western, Chinese and Russian goods.

I was interested in examining the aesthetic forms of these improvised protective coverings and the way in which they function as inadvertent sculptures.

Finalists in the 2018 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2018

Each year to promote wildlife conservation, the folks behind The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards select the funniest photos of animals doing goofy things from hundreds of entries from around the world. The Guardian has a selection of photos from 2018’s finalists.

Wildlife Comedy

Wildlife Comedy

Wildlife Comedy

The galleries of finalists & winners from past years is also worth looking through. So many good ones in there, but this particularly caught my attention:

Wildlife Comedy

Update: There’s a book featuring photos from the contest.

Photographing the Biggest, Oldest, and Rarest Trees on Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2018

Beth Moon

Beth Moon

Beth Moon

Photographer Beth Moon travels the globe documenting some of the biggest, oldest, and rarest trees in the world — dragon blood trees in Yemen, massive English oaks, giant sequoias, baobabs in Madagascar, and ancient bristlecone pines in California.

I’d like to keep a clear picture, so if a tree is destroyed by storm, disease, greed, or lack of concern, I will have a record of its power and beauty for those who were not able to make the journey. I photograph these trees because I know words alone are not enough, and I want their stories to live on. I photograph these trees because they may not be here tomorrow.

Moon has collected her tree photos into two books: Ancient Trees: Portrait of Time and Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees.

My Recent Media Diet, Special In Denial That Summer’s Over Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2018

I’ve been keeping track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the last month or so. This installment has a few things on it from a trip to NYC and is also very movie-heavy. In addition to the stuff below, I also finished Sharp Objects (HBO series, not the book) and Star Trek: Voyager, both of which I reviewed last time. I’m almost done with Origin Story…might do a whole separate post on that one. Up next in the book department: Now My Heart Is Full, The Good Neighbor, or Fantasyland.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout. I’m not a particular fan of the series, but this was so fun that maybe I should be? Love the practical effects. (B+)

Bundyville. This podcast came highly recommended by a reader but as soon as Cliven Bundy opened his mouth to speak I realized I did not want to spend a single second of my life in this asshole’s ville or town or mind or anything. Maybe this makes me intolerant or incurious? Not sure I particularly care…there are worthier things I can choose spend my time on. (-)

Radiohead at TD Garden, 7/29/2018. I somehow won the Ticketmaster lottery and got floor tickets, so we were about 35 feet from the stage. Cool to see my favorite band that close. (A)

MFA Pastels

French Pastels: Treasures from the Vault, MFA Boston. I don’t have much experience with viewing pastels but these seemed simultaneously alive and dreamy. (A-)

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. One of our culture’s recent great storytellers. It’s dated (and cringeworthy) in places, but that Bourdain voice and perspective is right there on the page, almost fully formed. In the chapter about Tokyo, you also get to witness the prototype for Bourdain’s third and, arguably, greatest career as a culinary and cultural observer of far-flung places. Pro tip: get the audiobook read by the man himself. (A)

My new electric toothbrush. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this sooner? My teeth feel (and probably are) so much cleaner now! (A-)

Holedown. I’ve spent too many hours playing this. It sucks I hate it it’s so good and I can’t stopppppppp. (A-/D+)

David Wojnarowicz exhibition at the Whitney. A strong show about an artist I didn’t know a lot about going in. (B+)

The Problem We All Live With

Celebrating Bill Cunningham exhibition at the New-York Historical Society. The exhibition was in a small room and featured very few photographs, so I was a little disappointed. But I did get to see the Norman Rockwell/FDR exhibition, including this arresting painting. (B)

Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs at the Museum of the City of New York. Even though I have the book, the original photos were worth seeing in person. (B+)

Eighth Grade. The feelings generated by watching this film — dread, crushing anxiety — closely approximated how I felt attending 8th grade. Well played. (B+)

Sorry to Bother You. If you haven’t seen this, don’t watch or read anything about it before you do. Just watch it. (A-)

Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin. This had me thinking about all sorts of different things. Recommended. (A)

Succession. This wasn’t quite as good as everyone said it was, but I still enjoyed it. My tolerance for watching rich, powerful, white assholes, however entertaining, is waning though… (B)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Unsurprisingly more spare than the TV series but still powerful and unsparing. (A-)

The Dark Knight. If not the best superhero movie ever, it’s close. (A-)

Crazy Rich Asians. A romantic comedy with a strong dramatic element rooted in family & cultural dynamics, women who are strong & interesting & feminine in different ways, and a wondrous setting. Also, put Awkwafina in every movie from now on. (A-)

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. Fred Rogers was a relentless person, a fantastic example of a different kind of unyielding masculinity. I sobbed like a baby for the last 20 minutes of this. (A)

BlacKkKlansman. Messy. I didn’t really know what to feel about it when it ended…other than shellshocked. Was that the point? (B+)

Tycho’s 2018 Burning Man Sunrise DJ set. Always an end-of-the-summer treat. (A)

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I watched this movie at least 100 times in high school. Despite not having seen it in probably 20 years, I still knew every single line of dialogue — inflections, timing, the whole thing. (A+)

Foggy hikes. (A+)

American Animals. This is like Ocean’s 11 directed by Errol Morris. Stealing things is more difficult than it seems in the movies. (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Stunning high-res photo of a stellar nursery

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2018

Carina Nebula

Astronomers using an infrared telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile recently released an infrared photo of the Carina Nebula that shows the inner workings of the star factory “as never before”.

This spectacular image of the Carina nebula reveals the dynamic cloud of interstellar matter and thinly spread gas and dust as never before. The massive stars in the interior of this cosmic bubble emit intense radiation that causes the surrounding gas to glow. By contrast, other regions of the nebula contain dark pillars of dust cloaking newborn stars.

This is a massive image…the original is 140 megapixels (<- that’s a 344MB download). Phil Plait notes that it may contain about 1 million stars and gives a bit of background on what we’re looking at here:

The colors you see here are not what you’d see with your eye, since it’s all infrared. What’s shown as blue is actually 0.88 microns, or a wavelength just outside what your eye can see. Green is really 1.25 microns and red is 2.15, so both are well into the near-infrared.

Even in the infrared, a lot of gas and dust still are visible. That’s because there’s a whole bunch of it here. And it’s not just randomly strewn around; patterns are there when you look for them.

For example, in this subimage you can see long, skinny triangles of dust. These are formed when very thick clots of dust are near very luminous stars. The wind and fierce blast of ultraviolet light from the stars erode away at the clump and also flow around it. They’re like sandbars in a stream! This is the same mechanism that made the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle nebula, and they’re common in star-forming nebulae.

The Indonesian customized Vespa scene is straight out of Mad Max

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2018

Indonesia Vespa 01

Indonesia Vespa 02

Festivals dedicated to the celebration and modification of Vespa scooters are held in various places around Indonesia. Photographer Darren Whiteside traveled to these festivals to capture the “extreme Vespa” scene going on there. I love the creativity and ingenuity on display here. For more, here’s a video tour of the 2018 festival in Kediri.

(via robin sloan)

Close-up shark portraits

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2018

Todd Bretl Shark

Todd Bretl Shark

I’m not sure how underwater photographer Todd Bretl manages to take such close-up snaps of sharks — diving cage? underwater telephoto? some sort of robotic camera? — but the results are pretty great. I think I’ve seen these exact facial expressions on characters’ faces in The Sopranos and The Godfather.

Summer sunset

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2018

Sunset Summer 2018

Sunset Summer 2018

Sunset Summer 2018

Last night’s sunset threw all of these crazy colors into the sky. If you’re into that sort of thing, these images available as wallpaper for your phone: 1, 2, 3.

Auctioneer chanting, “the poetry of capitalism”

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 15, 2018

Auction Competition 2018

For the New Yorker, photographer David Williams visited the 2018 World Livestock Auctioneer Championship in Bloomington, Wisconsin. Amanda Petrusich wrote about the competition and his photos here.

This year’s champion, Jared Miller, of Leon, Iowa, took home a customized 2018 Chevrolet Silverado truck to drive for his yearlong reign; he also won six thousand dollars, a world-champion belt buckle, a world-champion ring, a money clip, and a bespoke leather briefcase. In interviews, Miller, like many successful auctioneers, appears personable and polite. When he begins his chant, his mouth only opens so much — when you’re talking as fast as he is, the tongue does most of the work — but what comes out sounds something like a undulating yodel, or a less guttural take on the Inuit tradition of throat singing. Once you tune in to its particular rhythms — and it can take a few minutes to acclimate to the crests and swells — the prices become discernible: “One dollar bid, now two, now two, would you give me two?”

You can listen to Miller’s winning chant on Facebook.

I hadn’t realized Werner Herzog made a 45-minute documentary about auctioneers at the same competition in 1976 called How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube, although the audio isn’t synced that well:

According to the article, Herzog called auctioneering “the last poetry possible, the poetry of capitalism”. This poetry can be difficult to follow, so this auctioneer explained what he and his fellow chanters are saying up on the stand.

Rap music also has a claim on being “the poetry of capitalism” and Graham Heavenrich had the genius idea of layering auctioneer chants over beats; you can listen in on Instagram or with this compilation:

Ok and just for kicks, when I was searching for the auctioneer beats thing on YouTube, I ran across this young woman rapping the entirety of Rap God by Eminem (the part starting at 4:26 = fire). Sign her up for the 2019 World Livestock Auctioneer Championship!

Highlighting photo cliches on Instagram

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 15, 2018

Insta Repeat collects photos of people (particularly so-called “influencers”) taking similar photos on Instagram — peeking out of an open tent flap, perched on top of an offroad vehicle, on the end of a dock — and displays them together.

Insta Repeat

Insta Repeat

Insta Repeat

Insta Repeat

See also this supercut of cliched Instagram travel photos.

Taking a photo of a friend holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa or jumping in the middle of the road in Utah are really good ideas — that’s why lots of people do it — but each successive photo of the same thing doesn’t tell us anything new about those places, experiences, or people.

For influencers, a cliched photo is easy money, a tried and true way of capturing what others already know is the essence of a place or an experience. For most of the rest of us, we aren’t looking to say anything new about someone or somewhere. We just want to capture our experience to show our friends and well-wishers on Instagram. If I saw my tent flap hanging open to a beautiful mountain vista, of course I would take the hell out of that photo.

From Errol Morris, a list of 10 things you should know about truth & photography

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2018

In 2011, writer and filmmaker Errol Morris summarized the main points in Believing Is Seeing, his book on the nature of truth, belief, and reality in photography with a series of tweets.

1. All photographs are posed.

2. The intentions of the photographer are not recorded in a photographic image. (You can imagine what they are, but it’s pure speculation.)

3. Photographs are neither true nor false. (They have no truth-value.)

4. False beliefs adhere to photographs like flies to flypaper.

5. There is a causal connection between a photograph and what it is a photograph of. (Even photoshopped images.)

6. Uncovering the relationship between a photograph and reality is no easy matter.

7. Most people don’t care about this and prefer to speculate about what they believe about a photograph.

8. The more famous a photograph is, the more likely it is that people will claim it has been posed or faked.

9. All photographs are posed but never in the same way.

10. Photographs provide evidence. (The question is of what?)

Morris expanded on the third item in his list in a 2007 NY Times piece.

In discussing truth and photography, we are asking whether a caption or a belief — whether a statement about a photograph — is true or false about (the things depicted in) the photograph. A caption is like a statement. It trumpets the claim, “This is the Lusitania.” And when we wonder “Is this a photograph of the Lusitania?” we are wondering whether the claim is true or false. The issue of the truth or falsity of a photograph is only meaningful with respect to statements about the photograph. Truth or falsity “adheres” not to the photograph itself but to the statements we make about a photograph. Depending on the statements, our answers change. All alone — shorn of context, without captions — a photograph is neither true nor false.

(via austin kleon)

The winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2018

The winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards

The winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards

Culled from thousands of entrants from more than 140 countries around the world, here are the winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards. What’s really interesting is that many of the winners were not shot on iPhone 8 or iPhone X but with iPhone 7s and 6s and even 5s. That’s a good reminder of Clayton Cubitt’s three step guide to photography: “01: be interesting. 02: find interesting people. 03: find interesting places. Nothing about cameras.”

That said, the increase in photo quality from the first contest in 2008, just a year after the iPhone launched, is welcome. The initial iPhone had just a 2 megapixel camera with a mediocre lens while the iPhone X packs a 12 megapixel resolution and an incredible lens.

Photos above by Huapeng Zhao and Alexandre Weber.

Photos of Tokyo taken with a fractal lens look incredibly futuristic

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2018

Photographer Steve Roe brought his fractal lens to Japan & Korea and got some shots that look like they’re out of Blade Runner, Speed Racer, or anime.

Steve Roe Fractal

Steve Roe Fractal

Steve Roe Fractal

The lenses are adjustable prism filters that picks up images from outside the camera’s normal field of view, allowing for in-camera layering effects. You can check out more photos shot with these lenses on Instagram (though few quite as successful as Roe’s).

Anthropocene, a new film about how humans are changing the Earth forever

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 01, 2018

From Edward Burtynsky (known around these parts for his aerial photographs of industrial landscapes) and filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal & Nicholas de Pencier comes a film called Anthropocene.

The Holocene epoch started 11,700 years ago as the glaciers of the last ice age receded. Geologists and other scientists from the Anthropocene Working Group believe that we have left the Holocene and entered a new epoch: the Anthropocene. Their argument is that humans have become the single most defining force on the planet and that the evidence for this is overwhelming. Terraforming of the earth through mining, urbanization, industrialization and agriculture; the proliferation of dams and diverting of waterways; CO2 and acidification of oceans due to climate change; the pervasive presence around the globe of plastics, concrete, and other technofossils; unprecedented rates of deforestation and extinction: these human incursions, they argue, are so massive in scope that they have already entered, and will endure in, geological time.

The film is one part of a larger “multimedia exploration” of the human epoch, which will include a book of new photography from Burtynsky, a traveling museum exhibition, interactive VR & AR experiences, and an educational program.

The film is premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.

Update: In this video for Canadian Geographic, Catherine McKenna, Canada’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, talks with Burtynsky, Baichwal, and de Pencier about this project.

Stunning photo of a lightning storm with undulating asperitas clouds

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 01, 2018

Gabriel Zaparolli

Holy moly, would you look at this photo taken by Gabriel Zaparolli!

This photo shows a distant lightning storm and asperitas clouds looming over the outskirts of Torres, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, as observed during the evening of June 10, 2018. On this long-exposure image it seems that most of the lightning consisted of cloud-to-ground strokes. Asperitas form in convective storms when the air in downdrafts (cooled by the sublimation of ice crystals) pushes through the cloud base.

Asperitas clouds plus lightning? What a capture.

We almost stopped climate change in the 80s. What happened?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 01, 2018

Steinmetz Desert

The New York Times Magazine has devoted its entire issue this weekend to a single article by Nathanial Rich: Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change.

The world has warmed more than one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. The Paris climate agreement — the nonbinding, unenforceable and already unheeded treaty signed on Earth Day in 2016 — hoped to restrict warming to two degrees. The odds of succeeding, according to a recent study based on current emissions trends, are one in 20. If by miracle we are able to limit warming to two degrees, we will only have to negotiate the extinction of the world’s tropical reefs, sea-level rise of several meters and the abandonment of the Persian Gulf. The climate scientist James Hansen has called two-degree warming “a prescription for long-term disaster.” Long-term disaster is now the best-case scenario. Three-degree warming is a prescription for short-term disaster: forests in the Arctic and the loss of most coastal cities. Robert Watson, a former director of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has argued that three-degree warming is the realistic minimum. Four degrees: Europe in permanent drought; vast areas of China, India and Bangladesh claimed by desert; Polynesia swallowed by the sea; the Colorado River thinned to a trickle; the American Southwest largely uninhabitable. The prospect of a five-degree warming has prompted some of the world’s leading climate scientists to warn of the end of human civilization.

Is it a comfort or a curse, the knowledge that we could have avoided all this?

Because in the decade that ran from 1979 to 1989, we had an excellent opportunity to solve the climate crisis. The world’s major powers came within several signatures of endorsing a binding, global framework to reduce carbon emissions — far closer than we’ve come since. During those years, the conditions for success could not have been more favorable. The obstacles we blame for our current inaction had yet to emerge. Almost nothing stood in our way — nothing except ourselves.

Photo by George Steinmetz, who did the photography for the Times piece.

Update: For a critical reading of Rich’s piece, check out this Twitter thread by Alex Steffen.

I notice that reactions to “Losing Earth” seem divided along a pretty straight-forward line: Those who work in climate science, journalism or advocacy-and those who don’t.

Folks who don’t work on climate for a living seem more positive about the piece than those who do.

There’s a reason for that: It’s a long essay that gets its subject wrong, and the ways it goes wrong are ways many of us who work on climate have seen again and again. It’s work that doesn’t know its history, and so makes old mistakes.

Weirdly central in Nathaniel Rich’s story is the claim that there existed a time before politics, when climate change was not hampered by opposition: “The obstacles we blame for our current inaction had yet to emerge. Almost nothing stood in our way…”

This is simply untrue.

He doubles down on the idea by explicitly exonerating high-CO2 industries + the GOP

“A common boogeyman today is the fossil-fuel industry, which in recent decades has committed to playing the role of villain with comic-book bravado. …Nor can the Republican Party be blamed.”

Robinson Meyer makes a similar point at The Atlantic.

The thrust of this history seems to suggest that powerful figures in the Republican Party were already skeptical of human-caused climate change by 1980. These leaders had not yet converted most Republican rank-and-file voters to their view, and indeed there may have been a few supporters of climate action in the party. But by and large, the most influential administration officials muddied climate science and weakened climate policy.

If Rich seems a little too charitable to the G.O.P, he lets fossil-fuel interests off the hook entirely. It’s likely that oil executives knew humans were triggering climate change before Rich’s story even picks up.

Here comes the sunscreen

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 30, 2018

Apply Sunscreen

Apply Sunscreen

The three toughest things about being a parent are the sleep deprivation, knowing when to let kids push their boundaries vs keeping them safe, and applying sunscreen to a toddler. The NY Times has a slideshow of parents applying sunscreen to their kids and the struggle is real!

The good news for you parents of young children is that eventually they learn how to apply their own sunscreen. The bad news? They still would rather have a finger lopped off than to do it without complaining Every. Single. Freaking. Time.

The weird and wonderful American roadtrip with John Margolies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2018

John Margolies

John Margolies

John Margolies

John Margolies

For more than 30 years beginning in the 1960s, photographer John Margolies criss-crossed the USA documenting the roadside architecture of a pre-corporate America, taking photos of diners, weird sculptures, mini golf courses, and signs that don’t exist anymore in great numbers.

Before the advent of corporate communications and architectural uniformity, America’s built environment was a free-form landscape of individual expression. Signs, artifacts, and even buildings ranged from playful to eccentric, from deliciously cartoonish to quasipsychedelic. Photographer John Margolies spent over three decades and drove more than 100,000 miles documenting these fascinating and endearingly artisanal examples of roadside advertising and fantasy structures, a fast-fading aspect of Americana.

In addition to publishing his work in a book, Margolies released his images into the public domain. The Library of Congress has posted over 11,000 of his photos online, a treasure trove of 60s & 70s Americana. Good luck spending less than 30 minutes poking around in there…

Winners of the 2018 Audubon Photography Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2018

The 2018 Audubon Photography Awards

The 2018 Audubon Photography Awards

The 2018 Audubon Photography Awards

The National Audubon Society has announced the winners of their ninth annual photography contest. The winning photos, which “evoke the splendor, resilience, and ingenuity of birdlife”, were drawn from over 8000 entries from all over the US and Canada.

The photos above are a great grey owl by Steve Mattheis, a long-tailed tit by Diana Rebman, and a flock of cobalt-winged parakeets by Liron Gertsman. Gertsman swept the youth category with the winning image and both honorable mentions. Here’s what he had to say about the parakeets:

Three days in a row I waited in a blind near a clay lick that Cobalt-winged Parakeets and other birds of the Amazon frequent. When hundreds of the birds finally descended from the tree canopy to the mineral-rich forest floor on the third morning, I was ready. I used a slow shutter speed to accentuate the blues in their wings. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sight of the birds or the deafening roar of parakeet chatter.

A list of the top 100 photos is available here. (via in focus)

Peter Jackson is remastering old WWI film footage

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2018

Working with the 14-18 NOW project, Peter Jackson is making a film about the experience of the soldiers fighting in World War I. As part of the process, Jackson and his special effects team (who have worked on the LOTR films, etc.) have been remastering and reimagining film footage from the collection of the Imperial War Museums. Here’s Jackson talking about the project and showing some of the remastered video:

The footage has been stabilized, the grain and scratches cleaned up, and the pace slowed down to from comedic to lifelike. Jackson’s also planning on using colorization to make the people in that old footage seem as contemporary as possible. Here are some split-screen stills comparing the old footage with the remastered video:

Peter Jackson WWI

Peter Jackson WWI

Peter Jackson WWI

The finished product will be shown in theaters and schools around the UK in the fall and also on the BBC. (via open culture)

Some reflections on my roadtrip across the western United States

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2018

Last week, I stood in the middle of the caldera of a supervolcano, walked on rocks billions of years old, and traveled back in time simply by driving down a mountain. I looked a bison in the eye at five yards. I witnessed the final resting place of a 12 million-year-old fossilized horse buried in volcanic ash. I saw a rainbow emerging from a mighty thundercloud — powerful with a little bit of tender. I talked civilly with red hatters in red states and found some common ground at least. I drove across the western United States, from Iowa to Oregon, over the course of 10 days. Here is some of what I saw and learned.

Biggest surprise of the trip, part 1: The Bighorn Mountains and The Bighorn National Forest. I had planned to just drive though, up and over, on my way to Yellowstone, but I ended up stopping here for quite a while. The Bighorns aren’t as spectacular as Yellowstone or some of the other park, but it’s a hell of a lot less crowded. I’d go back and spend a few days here easy.

2018 Roadtrip 01

Surprisingly, despite spending 57 hours in the car, I was not bored a single minute of my trip. I marveled at the landscape, played music, and thought. I thought a lot. I expected to listen to a bunch of audiobooks but only managed to finish one I was most of the way through and the first third of another…the landscape was just too distracting most of the time. My experience leads me to believe I might be a good candidate for a solo Mars mission (aside from the one-way thing).

Animals seen on my trip, a partial list: rabbits, prairie dogs, antelope, ducks, geese, pelicans, pheasants, a moose, a wolf, elk, bison, deer, and a bunch of birds I couldn’t identify. The prairie dogs sat near their holes peeping at each other…it was really cute. The moose was a juvenile male in Yellowstone who looked lost & confused; he trotted alongside the road for a bit, then swam across the river and took off into the woods. I was apprehensive about not seeing a bison on my trip, but I shouldn’t have worried…Yellowstone was lousy with ‘em. Pro tip: bring a good pair of binoculars, possibly left over from eclipse-watching.

Yellowstone was one of the highlights (with a caveat that I’ll get to in a second). A single park containing all these different landscapes, from volcanic wastelands to mountain peaks to verdant river valleys to evergreen forests to grasslands…it’s a geographic marvel. But here’s the but: it’s also really crowded in the summer. At times, it felt like a nature mall, with herds of consumers moving from the bison shop to the geyser store. Reminded me a bit of my experience at the Louvre, itself a wonderful place too crowded to enjoy.

2018 Roadtrip

Final roadtrip stats: 2748 miles driven in 10 days and a total of 57 hours in the car. 718 photos and videos taken. I visited seven states — Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Oregon — and spent at least one night in each save Idaho. Lowest point: 810’. Highest point: 11,070’.

Somewhere west of the Missouri River, which separates Iowa & Missouri from Nebraska & Kansas, the dominance in the eastern US of human activity & organization gives way to geology and geography. Even in the sparser areas of the Midwest, you look down from an airplane and see the Jefferson grid: square parcels of land, each with a group of buildings contained somewhere within it. Further west, hills and mountains and volcanoes and rivers and streams and forests and plains dominate the landscape and how people move within it. The West is not yet tamed, not by a long shot, and acknowledging this goes a long way toward understanding the people who live here.

Biggest surprise of the trip, part 2: High altitude wildflower meadows. When I stopped my car at a scenic overlook at 9400’ in the Bighorn Mountains and saw a path down a gentle slope through a meadow of wildflowers growing very close to the ground, I didn’t think a whole lot about it. Pretty scene, right? I grabbed my daypack from the car and as soon as I stepped down onto the path and into the meadow, this amazing smell sent me reeling. For 20 minutes, I walked in an olfactory daze to the crest of the next hill and back. OMG, what an amazing sensation…a definite high-water mark.

2018 Roadtrip

The speed limit on the freeways in South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho was 80 mph. On some rural undivided two-lane highways, the limit was still 70 mph, which I found astounding. But the lanes and the shoulders were way wider than in Vermont, the roads flatter and straighter, and traffic was few and far between most of the time. Still, even just that little extra speed really cuts down on drivers’ potential reaction times.

I had high hopes for the Badlands, and it lived up to the hype. Magnificent desolation, accessible, and not super crowded. I could (and probably should) have spent a couple of days there easy.

2018 Roadtrip

Food was not a highlight or a focus of this trip, mostly because I didn’t spend a tremendous amount of time seeking out good places to eat. I had some Thai lettuce wraps w/ bison in SD that were pretty good, some just-fine sushi in Missoula, and a delicious tostada scramble in Rhododendron, OR. Maybe the best thing I ate was a homemade breakfast burrito I bought at a gas station in Red Lodge, Montana. It was a struggle to find non-meat things to eat — I’m not a vegetarian, but man cannot subsist on burgers & hot dogs & steaks & BBQ for a week and a half w/o GI discomfort. With some notable exceptions, food in the US is more homogenous than ever…you can get anything almost anywhere.

Biggest surprise of the trip, part 3: The hosts at the B&B I stayed at in Wyoming advised me to enter Yellowstone via the Beartooth Highway and I am so glad I took their advice. The 68-mile drive was called “the most beautiful drive in America” by former CBS correspondant Charles Kuralt and he might be right. At the top of the pass, you drive just short of 11,000’ above sea level; I climbed above the 11K mark for a stunning 360° view of the entire area. Reader, I may have done the arms-wide-on-the-bow-of-the-Titanic gesture on top of a rock at the top of the world…no apologies.

2018 Roadtrip

About 5 minutes after I checked into my B&B near Cody, WY, I looked out my window to see a rain cloud off in the distance with a rainbow coming out of it. Chuckling, I asked my host if that was a common occurence around here. “Pretty much,” he replied, “especially with climate change.” A life-long resident of the area, he went on to explain that it rains a lot more there now than “20-30 years ago”. “See all that grass out there? It’s supposed to be brown this time of year.”

Several people told me before my trip that Devils Tower was worth the effort, but as I spotted it off in the distance on my approach, I had my doubts. But as it got closer, I realized they’d all been right. Totally crazy geological thing worth seeing in the flesh.

2018 Roadtrip

At a gas station in southern South Dakota, a man noticed the Texas plates on my rental car and asked, “What’s the price of gas in Texas these days?” I explained my situation, and he said, “I’m from Texas originally and I can tell by your accent that you ain’t. What’re ya doing in this godforsaken country?”

In Wyoming, I stayed less than a mile from the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, a WWII Japanese American confinement site. From 1942 to 1945, this concentration camp held almost 14,000 people, making it the third-largest town in Wyoming at the time. The majority were American citizens and had done nothing wrong and committed no crimes…they were put there for being of Japanese heritage. I regret that my plans didn’t allow for a visit; if I’d had known beforehand that it was going to be so close, I would have made the time, given our present administration’s treatment of its Muslim citizens and asylum seekers from Central and South America. As Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

I saw some cool thunderstorms:

2018 Roadtrip

2018 Roadtrip

If I had a time machine, I would tell myself from two weeks ago to skip Mt Rushmore, Wind Cave, and the volcanic stuff in Yellowstone. And perhaps Wall Drug. I also would have opted to fly out of Salt Lake City instead of Portland, OR to give me more time to explore Montana and Wyoming…the trip ended up having too much driving and not enough being out in nature.

You can see more photos from my trip on Instagram and in this saved Instagram Story. I feel very lucky to have had the time and resources to take this trip. It definitely took me out of my comfort zone in both good ways and bad — the journey definitely wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops, despite what my photos might indicate. To many of us, it seems like a perilous time in our nation’s history, with many debts, old and new, coming due in rapid-fire succession. Doing this roadtrip reminded me of many great things about this country & the people who live in it and gave me the time & space to ponder how I fit into the puzzle, without the din of the news and social media. If you can manage it, I encourage you all to do the same, even if it’s just visiting someplace close that you’ve never been to: get out there and see the world and visit with its people. This world is all we have, and the more we see of it, the better we can make it.

Winners of National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year competition for 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2018

Nat Geo Travel 2018

Nat Geo Travel 2018

Nat Geo Travel 2018

National Geographic recently announced the winners of the Travel Photographer of the Year contest for 2018. You can look at the winners here and the people’s choice awards here.

You can also download the winning images as wallpaper for your computer, phone, or tablet.

Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2018

Obama Shade Souza

Pete Souza spent 8 years photographing President Obama as the official White House photographer. Souza compiled some of the best of those photos (including the ones with kids) into a book, Obama: An Intimate Portrait. Since Trump took office in January 2017, Souza has used his Instagram account to post photos of Obama in response to Trump’s actions — for instance, when Trump initiated the travel ban against Muslim nations, Souza posted a photo of Obama meeting with a refugee girl.

Souza has collected all of that shade into another book of Presidential photos: Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents.

Shade is a portrait in Presidential contrasts, telling the tale of the Obama and Trump administrations through a series of visual juxtapositions. Here, more than one hundred of Souza’s unforgettable images of President Obama deliver new power and meaning when framed by the tweets, news headlines, and quotes that defined the first 500 days of the Trump White House.

The book comes out in October, but you can preorder it now from Amazon.

The chaotic clouds of Jupiter

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2018

Jupiter Clouds Swirl

This newly released photo of the chaotic clouds of Jupiter would make a great marbled paper pattern.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft took this color-enhanced image at 10:23 p.m. PDT on May 23, 2018 (1:23 a.m. EDT on May 24), as the spacecraft performed its 13th close flyby of Jupiter. At the time, Juno was about 9,600 miles (15,500 kilometers) from the planet’s cloud tops, above a northern latitude of 56 degrees.

The region seen here is somewhat chaotic and turbulent, given the various swirling cloud formations. In general, the darker cloud material is deeper in Jupiter’s atmosphere, while bright cloud material is high. The bright clouds are most likely ammonia or ammonia and water, mixed with a sprinkling of unknown chemical ingredients.

You can view a “charmingly British” short film about making marbled paper right here.

The color photographs of World War I

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2018

Color WWI

Color WWI

Color WWI

Color WWI

When World War I started, color photography was still in its experimental stage so most of the imagery of the war is in black and white. But a few photographers managed to capture color views the battlefield, military operations, and scenes of daily life during the conflict. You can check out a bunch of the WWI color photos here, here, here, and here. There’s even some color film footage from the war:

As I’ve written before, early color photography is a form of time travel, connecting long-ago events to the present.

Until recently, the color palette of history was black and white. The lack of color is sometimes so overpowering that it’s difficult to imagine from Matthew Brady’s photos what the Civil War looked like in real life. Even into the 1970s, press photos documenting the war in Vietnam were in B&W and the New York Times delivered its news exclusively in B&W until the 90s, running the first color photograph on the front page in 1997.

Which is why when color photos from an event or era set firmly in our B&W history are uncovered, the effect can be jarring. Color adds depth, presence, and modernity to photography; it’s easier for us to identify with the people in the pictures and to imagine ourselves in their surroundings.

Lots more early color photography in the archives.

Update: From 2006, a song called The War Was in Color by Carbon Leaf. Here are the first two stanzas:

I see you’ve found a box of my things:
Infantries, tanks and smoldering airplane wings
These old pictures are cool. Tell me some stories
Was it like the old war movies?
Sit down son. Let me fill you in

Where to begin? Let’s start with the end
This black and white photo don’t capture the skin
From the flash of a gun to a soldier who’s done
Trust me grandson
The war was in color

(thx, adam)

The poster child problem

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 22, 2018

child separation

This week’s crisis of children separated from their parents, and both parents and children sent to jails or camps (in most cases) for the misdemeanor of improperly crossing the border, has inspired some excellent critical writing on the power of overpowering imagery, especially the John Moore photograph above.

From Josephine Livingstone, “America’s ‘Poster Child’ Syndrome”:

These poster children present a paradox: They are real, so is their suffering—but they have also been chosen to represent a suffering that is shared by many others… There are several political repercussions of allowing a single child to represent a crisis. The first is that the child herself, literally voiceless in the case of Moore’s photograph, ceases to be an individual. She instead becomes a blank canvas upon which adults project their anxieties and fears. The second is that it obscures the suffering of others—particularly adults. Moore’s photograph captures this young migrant’s isolation so well that it hurts; but, by definition, it leaves out the faces of the rest of her family. It reduces a crisis about human beings of all ages and stages of life to a single image of total vulnerability.

Behind the American response to these images of children lurks an uncomfortable truth: The white majority in this country perceives children of color differently than they perceive adults, in what we might call the visual rhetoric of victimhood. This crisis is happening to babies, toddlers, teenagers, parents, and elderly adults; but the only images that can make America care about its inhumane policy toward immigrants at its borders, the only images that can cause a Republican like Laura Bush to speak on behalf of these foreigners, are photographs of children.

Megan Garber, “How To Look Away”:

In a democracy, if the people are to have a meaningful say over the world and its workings, those people are, fundamentally, obligated to look. And, much more fundamentally, to see. To avert one’s eyes is a privilege that those of us who have the power to act cannot afford to exercise, even when we are complicit in the images. Especially when we are complicit.

It is a dynamic—the democratic alchemy that converts seeing things into changing them—that the president and his surrogates have been objecting to, as they have defended their policy. They have been, this week (with notable absences), busily appearing on cable-news shows and giving disembodied quotes to news outlets, insisting that things aren’t as bad as they seem: that the images and the audio and the evidence are wrong not merely ontologically, but also emotionally. Don’t be duped, they are telling Americans. Your horror is incorrect. The tragedy is false. Your outrage about it, therefore, is false. Because, actually, the truth is so much more complicated than your easy emotions will allow you to believe. Actually, as Fox News host Laura Ingraham insists, the holding pens that seem to house horrors are “essentially summer camps.” And actually, as Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy instructs, the pens are not cages so much as “walls” that have merely been “built … out of chain-link fences.” And actually, Kirstjen Nielsen wants you to remember, “We provide food, medical, education, all needs that the child requests.” And actually, too, Tom Cotton warns, think of the child-smuggling. And of MS-13. And of sexual assault. And of soccer fields. There are so many reasons to look away, so many other situations more deserving of your outrage and your horror.

And Kainaz Amaria, “Time magazine’s cover isn’t bold or brave. It’s exploitative.”

[When] I saw Time’s cover this morning — and what I can only describe as the misuse of Moore’s original image — my immediate reaction was rage. As a photojournalist, a visuals editor, and an immigrant, I didn’t see it as a powerful statement on President Trump’s attitude toward the family separation crisis or the policies that have ripped more than 2,000 vulnerable children from their parents.

I see it as an insensitive and exploitative play to sell magazines — and one that, albeit unintentionally, offers up this personal tragedy to be memed and ridiculed…

Vox’s Brian Resnick has written about the limits of human compassion and the impact an image can have. In it, he talks to Paul Slovic, a psychologist at the University of Oregon, who says: “Individual stories and individual photographs can be effective for a while. They capture our attention — they get us to see the reality, to glimpse the reality at a scale we can understand and connect to emotionally. But then there has to be somewhere to go with it.”

I haven’t yet read anything comparable diving into the effect of the ProPublica audio of imprisoned children separated from their parents by immigration officials, apart from this behind-the-scenes video on the how the audio was obtained. But I’d certainly be interested in doing so.

Those grainy Moon photos from the 60s? The actual high-res images looked so much better.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2018

In 1966 and 1967, NASA sent five spacecraft to orbit the Moon to take high-resolution photos to aid in finding a good landing spot for the Apollo missions. NASA released some photos to the public and they were extremely grainy and low resolution because they didn’t want the Soviet Union to know the capabilities of US spy satellites. Here’s a comparison to what the public saw at the time versus how the photos actually looked:

Old Moon New Moon

The Lunar Orbiters never returned to Earth with the imagery. Instead, the Orbiter developed the 70mm film (yes film) and then raster scanned the negatives with a 5 micron spot (200 lines/mm resolution) and beamed the data back to Earth using lossless analog compression, which was yet to actually be patented by anyone. Three ground stations on earth, one of which was in Madrid, another in Australia and the other in California recieved the signals and recorded them. The transmissions were recorded on to magnetic tape. The tapes needed Ampex FR-900 drives to read them, a refrigerator sized device that cost $300,000 to buy new in the 1960’s.

The high-res photos were only revealed in 2008, after a volunteer restoration effort undertaken in an abandoned McDonald’s nicknamed McMoon.

They were huge files, even by today’s standards. One of the later images can be as big as 2GB on a modern PC, with photos on top resolution DSLRs only being in the region of 10MB you can see how big these images are. One engineer said you could blow the images up to the size of a billboard without losing any quality. When the initial NASA engineers printed off these images, they had to hang them in a church because they were so big. The below images show some idea of the scale of these images. Each individual image when printed out was 1.58m by 0.4m.

You can view a collection of some of the images here.