February 2014

Posted by Ellen

Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens in Philadelphia is a compound of galleries and courtyards devoted to Zagar's obsessive mosaicking of every square inch of everything.

Here on the outer side of the wall surrounding the place, we see a sign on a drainpipe that clarifies what's important to life outside the magic garden

Posted by Ellen

Point your camera at pretty scenes in New Zealand, and it won't take long before you notice how many of your snapshots include a fringe or scrim of tall red-brown lilies.

They call the lilies flax, which makes no sense. In the northern hemisphere, flax is the name of a field crop, a bushy, weedy looking plant grown for linen fiber and linseed oil. In New Zealand, flax is the name for a group of native lilies that grow wild all over the countryside, around mountain lakes and seaside marshes, in suburban yards and rural hedgerows and the far-flung edges of uninhabited woodlands.

New Zealand flax got its name as a marketing gimmick. The Maori called these lilies harakeke, and they used their fibrous leaves for weaving baskets, fishing nets, ropes, cords, mats, and all sorts of clothing, from rough raincloaks to fine gowns decorated with feathers. By the mid-nineteenth century, the strength and durability of the fiber was known around the world, particularly for ropes, fishnets, and cordage; the Maori began cultivating the lilies in huge plantations, sometimes using slave labor to tend the lilies and strip the leaves for fiber to sell to Europeans. The Europeans, smelling money, promoted New Zealand "flax" as a high-quality version of that Old World lineny stuff.

Meanwhile, Maori continued to weave their flax into goods for their own use, including baskets, as depicted below in a 1903 painting by the Czech artist Gottfried Bohumir Lindauer; the flax baskets in the painting are being woven by women who are wearing garments also woven from New Zealand flax fiber. Lindauer, trained as an artist in Vienna, fled to New Zealand to avoid military service in the Austrian army and discovered he could make a living painting scenes of Maori life.

Below the painting here are additional views of New Zealand flax in bloom.

Posted by Ellen
New Zealand is a land of ferns, notably of tree ferns, which give many Kiwi forests a certain Jurassic Park sort of character. And of course it is also the land of the silver fern, which is botanically one of the endemic tree ferns and artistically an abstracted swirl of a fern frond, as much corporate-style logo as patriotic emblem.
 
How many countries have logos? One recent Kiwi prime minister thought the silver fern belonged on New Zealand's flag, which Kiwis don't seem to wave or display very much and which foreigners often confuse with Australia's flag.
 
There's no silver fern on the flag–yet–though it's been on numerous coins and stamps over the years. The world knows it as the symbol of the fearsome All Blacks rugby team, and it is also associated with centuries-old Maori cultural motifs.
 
Recently, the silver fern has shown up on airplane fuselages, t-shirts, tattoos, beer commercials, wedding cakes, and the foaming milk atop expresso drinks.
 
Posted by Ellen

When we returned from New Zealand late last year, we were particularly eager to share pictures of the really interesting, stretch-of-the-imagination stuff we'd encountered there: car-eating parrots, cardboard cathedrals, a parkour professor, and of course an awesome ukelele wedding.

We'd set out for New Zealand hoping for this sort of serendipity but knowing for sure we'd see scenery: mountains, waterfalls, forests of hobbity vegetation, cities with flowers, beaches and cliffs, and, of course of course, sheep. We lucked out with all of that as well.

And needless to say, we got pictures.

So for the next little while, we'll share some shots of the real New Zealand, beginning tomorrow with The Silver Fern

Posted by Ellen

This photo appeared in the 19 January 1951 edition of the Wellington, New Zealand, Evening Post. The caption: "Common accidents in the home." Best to leave it at that.

Posted by Ellen

As today's contribution to the occasional series "Places We've Not Been and Have No Business Trying to Write Anything About," please consider this roofscape scene taken in Lijiang village, a UNESCO World Heritage site high in the hills of southwest China, near the border with Myanmar.

Human habitation in Lijiang has been continuous since before there was such a thing as a roofscape, or even a roof; paleolithic cave-dwellers were here. The ancient Silk Road passed through here. Townspeople grew wealthy through trade and tribute, and they began to rebuild their town in more elaborate, decorative styles.

Civilization was flourishing here in the thirteenth century. And fortunately for some, within about eight hundred years, give or take, the tourists showed up.

Posted by Ellen

Marco's rock is right on track for the U.S. of A.

Posted by Ellen

Two years ago, Jimmy Kong retired from his job as a lab technician and began teaching himself macro photography, the art of photographing teensy little things.

He seems to have gotten the hang of it, even though this Malaysian spider obviously has locked its gaze dead straight on Jimmy and his camera.

We suggest you click on the photo to appreciate it at its most embiggened.

Posted by Ellen

Friday was a leapin' good snow day for dogs in Durham, North Carolina.