November 2013

Posted by Ellen

Artists Jordan Lloyd, Dana Keller, and Sanna Dullaway try their hands at colorizing photographs from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They've got a new book out titled, appropriately enough, Colorized Photographs.

Above is Walt Whitman, who posed for the camera in 1887. Below are Japanese archers photographed circa 1860, and below that is a sunset viewed from the Tennessee state capitol building in Nashville in 1864.

These three images suggest some of the difficulties and limitations of colorization, even in the hands of talented artists. Walt Whitman in color looks a bit like a painted portrait we may have seen in a museum. The Japanese archers in color look like they're from a movie we're pretty sure we saw but can't quite remember. And while color probably adds visual interest to the Nashville scene, it doesn't really add to our comprehension of the historical situation documented in that photo–and the blaze of color in the sky arguably distracts the viewer from the drama and rhythm of the composition, which was originally rendered with an eye toward black and white simplicity.

Still and all, there's something about photographic revisionism that gets us interested all over again in how the world used to look.

Posted by Ellen

Smokestacks of Israel's largest power plant, Orot Rabin, loom over the beach at Hadera, north of Tel Aviv. The plant's coal-fired turbines produce almost one-quarter of Israel's electricity.

The low structures leading from the chimneys to the left edge of the picture are part of the power station's coal port offshore in the Mediterranean, where ships offload 18,000 tons of coal every day.

The plant is called Orot Rabin–Rabin Lights–in remembrance of Israeli President Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995. Electricity generated here lights much of the country, producing something like the memorial lights of Jewish tradition, helping to keep alive the memory of those who are gone.

Posted by Ellen

In the morning, in Bethesda, Maryland.

My mother-in-law's window also offers a fine view.

Posted by Ellen

The Montenegran town of Kotor, as viewed through an opening in its Byzantine-era fortifications. Behind the domes are smokestacks of one of the umpteen dozen cruise ships that visit Kotor nowadays while steaming along the Dalmatian coast.

Posted by Ellen

The highlight of this year's Australian Spring Racing Carnival, if it wasn't these hats, was last week's 153rd running of the Melbourne Cup, "the race that stops a nation."

Winning horse was Fiorente, trained by actress Gai Waterhouse. The BBC points out that even though Waterhouse spent several years in Britain, she is definitely Australian and thus continues the unbroken streak of 153 consecutive Melbourne Cup winners trained by non-British trainers.

Posted by Ellen

Veterans' Day is Armistice Day, except that it's not. Calendar-wise, they're the same, but pausing or parading to show gratitude for our veterans is not really the same as pausing to commemorate the moment 95 years ago when soldiers lay down their weapons and those among them who still had the vitality and the nerve climbed out of their trenches and tried to put World War I behind them.

We know more than a few military men and women who squirm at hearing "Thank you for your service," which servicepeople hear all the time these days. All too often, what the people who say it really mean by it is: "Hey, I'm not one of those dirty hippies who burned their draft cards and stuff during Vietnam–I'm a real American, and here's my business card." Or something like that.

Still. We are grateful for our veterans and for all the people through the years who put their lives on the line for us. People sacrificed so much in so many wars, and way too many of those who benefited from their sacrifice are obnoxious Americans like me.

Anyways, VJ Day, much like Armistice Day, was a very good day for hundreds of millions of people around the world. We young folk know it mostly from Eistanstadt's iconic photo of a kiss in Times Square, recreated here in Lego by photographer Mike Stimpson.

Posted by Ellen

We shot this picture at night because well-mannered hibiscus flowers fold up and die at night, after just a single day of wide-open gorgeousness. This bloom's behavior is out of line; it has glowed like this for four or five days and nights now, and it shows no sign of giving up.

We should note that it's cold outside, downright frosty at night. And well-mannered hibiscus plants don't bloom at all in November in Pennsylvania. They give up and die.

There are no more buds on this plant, and many of the leaves have dropped now, or curled up, or turned brown and crunchy. So when this flower goes, that's it; the show's over. But what a show.

In richness and boldness of color as well as in longevity, this last swan song of a flower really outdid the pale, delicate blooms of summer. But oddly, perhaps, if we carefully compare the hibiscus flower of November with a flower from the same plant back in July, it becomes apparent that this new all-night, all-weather blossom is missing its male parts. And that's all there is to say about that.

Posted by Ellen

Villa at sunrise, San Quirico d'Orcia.

Posted by Ellen

Your head and mine are three-dimensional objects, vaguely globular. This chart shows what we might look like if we tried to project our heads onto a flat piece of paper the way cartographers project the planet earth to make a world map.

The guy in the lower-right corner is Mercator Man, the visage we grew up with on schoolroom wallmaps. It's common knowledge that the earth on Mercator world maps was really, really distorted, but we might not have realized quite how ugly the distortion was. And the other three guys are also a mess, even though they are projected onto rounded shapes.

We know what you're thinking: if artists can draw a face on paper and have it look attractive and "realistic," why can't mapmakers give us a simple round world in its natural proportions?

We suspect this was one of the questions Picasso mulled over as he worked out his Cubist projection, a much more elegant solution to the problem of showing all the sides of things at once. A GPS optimized for driving all over Picasso Man, however, might be a hard sell.