Archive for the 'Art/Design' Category Page 2 of 6

Mexican Pictures and the Future of Photoblogs


I’ve been a fan of Raul Gutierrez’s photography for some time. His understated style has always gotten under my skin in that subtle way: the first time you see the image, you pause for a second and keep going. Only later do you realize it’s still with you and come back to it again, this time for longer. There’s an authenticity in his style that really makes you feel a connection with people and places far away. He captures the small things.

I became a devout follower of Raul’s photoblog, Mexican Pictures, a few years back — watching his travels from Tibet to Cambodia to China to Mexico to Vietnam to East Texas with increasing interest. Then, in late 2007, his posting suddenly stopped.

And the way it stopped was mysterious. Those last sets of photos were different than what went before. Instead of travels, we started seeing scenes from home; photos of his wife and kids. Why walk away when you’ve got such a good thing going? What happened?

Turns out life did. Raul puts it this way:

The easy answer is that two new babies entered my life in 2007, my second son, Gabriel, and the company I helped create, 20×200. I went from around 5 hours sleep to around 3 which is pretty much my breaking point.

From the way it ended, you certainly could have guessed. Just as fellow photoblogger Rion Nakaya’s blogging changed after her clever baby reveal, so did Raul’s. But somehow those home photos are no less magical for it. Take this shot that, for me, evokes Guiherme Marcondes’ dreamy Tyger:

But that’s only half the story. For Raul, the concept of the photoblog itself was failing:

The more complicated answer is that for over a year I’ve been noodling with the idea of a more refined form for the photoblog. I came to feel that simply posting pictures daily didn’t give them enough context. They became disposable visual junk food. Clicking through a linear site like mine becomes a somewhat random experience especially if you are a photographer who shoots in a variety of settings and has a diverse project set (it’s less problematic with photographers who are very focused and work around and around a singular idea or set of ideas or whose photographs are a linear part of their journey). Showing the work as portfolios is the obvious answer but most portfolio sites are boring and static (the content might not be boring, but the form is). You visit a portfolio site once and are done with it. So the problem is how to design an image based site that is dynamic with regular infusions of fresh content but is able to present those images in context. The other design goals are to be clutter free, and easily navigable by anyone and to present nice big images. I haven’t figured it out yet.

So the deeper question, then, is how do we help photographers show their work online in a meaningful way considering our ever accelerating bite sized info overload culture? It’s a tall order but, if you consider the richness of seeing a photography exhibit in a physical gallery, it’s tough to argue that we can’t do better. While sites like flickr have some of the trappings of galleries (community, dynamic content, custom albums), they’re also full of noise, random access, and just general ADD. Plus, any artist wants fine control over their presentation and flickr forces everything into one monolithic style.

Where to next? How do we give the web the meditative quality and context of a gallery visit? Is it a zooming UI? Some VR walkthrough? Perhaps one direction lies closer, in the fan’s experience with Mexican Pictures. While surely not everyone lingered at the site, I did. And I found myself getting sucked in again and again, looking up names of places I hadn’t known before and wondering about the people who live there, the people I was seeing in Raul’s photos. That extended and deepened my experience, even though it didn’t all happen in one shot; even though my first engagements were invariably short ones. The question then becomes how do we encourage this kind of behavior? How do we provide tranquil spots in a random access world?

Fortunately, we may not have to wait until the problem is fully solved to see the return of Mexican Pictures. Raul tells me that he’s got some new projects in the works that will likely make it onto the web. Here’s hoping.

For more, see the Mexican Pictures archives, Raul’s text blog Heading East, and his flickr stream. Liz Kuball has an interview and his new business venture 20×200 has seen some nice writeups, too. Raul last showed offline at the Nelson Hancock Gallery.

Lust Design


This week had us infatuated with design transformation: building up, tearing down — but always emerging with something wicked.

Building Lust – NYT has a great behind the scenes look at the making of Bjork’s stunning new video Wanderlust

Living Bridges – transformative bridges that do far more than transport people; they become a destination

Design Gets Minted – comparing the beautiful new British coins to the horrid design-by-committee US five dollar bill

Murakami Retro – the Brooklyn Museum launches what looks to be a fabulous retrospective on the father of Superflat, Takashi Murakami

Where Billboards Went Рsuper clever repurposing of trashed Ṣo Paulo billboards after the public advertising ban

Jamming Apparel – appropriately raunchy mockeries of American Apparel keep popping up all over NYC

image via pitchfork

African Architectures

What do you know about architecture in Africa? The March issue of Dwell is its best in ages. Where the magazine started out focusing on radically new housing and inclusive community design, the years since have seen it devolve into a slide show of stylish homes for the rich and famous (like so many other architecture magazines). A unique voice was lost.

This month’s issue, though, sees a return to roots — with a cover story featuring small affordable homes and another on inexpensively incorporating sustainable energy. The real gem of the issue, though, is a fabulous interview with Tanzanian architect David Adjaye. Here’s the best bit:

Dwell: You’ve been compiling a book of photographs from African capital cities. What inspired that project, and what is its ultimate goal?

Adjaye: It was really just an archive that I started. I was extremely interested in a sort of anthropological survey of the continent in the 21st century, when its image is still predominantly that of poverty. If there is an image of an African city, rarely do you see a skyline; you see a shantytown or a village or a mud hut.

I’ve found that even architectural students have no idea about the urban quality of African cities! We know South American cities; we know Asian cities like the backs of our hands; we know European cities because they’ve been done to death; we don’t know the last continent.

It’s not a book about architectural style; it’s about the way in which these buildings are used and the way in which the urbanism of the city works.

The African continent has a very particular quality — and I fear that this quality is being lost by leaders who are trying to replicate places like Los Angeles or Chicago. But from my point of view, Chicago is a 19th-century city; it’s really not the way to plan a city now — with this massive infrastructure that gets decrepit and falls apart and is impossible to update because it’s too expensive. There’s got to be a better way to think about the city.

My mouth fell open. Standing in Africa when I read it, I’d been searching for words to describe what I was seeing in the buildings and how they interact with people. This captures it cold. While Adjaye speaks largely of the interaction of architecture and social structures, his quote could just as easily refer to anything from art to politics to health care. Africa is seen as a place where very little works and less works well. Nothing could be further.

A South African friend we met on our travels put it this way: “So many people come here fearful; expecting safety to be a constant challenge. What they don’t realize is that Africa is like anyplace else: some parts of it are safe, some parts aren’t. You have to do your homework traveling here just like anywhere in the world.”

This couldn’t have been made clearer than when I traveled to an informal settlement on the outskirts of Soweto. With no police, makeshift homes that are impossible to secure, a semi-transient population, and no formal records system, you’d expect the worst. And you’d be wrong. Residents were welcoming and the settlement is known to be one of the safest areas in Johannesburg. Safer than some rich neighborhoods. How did this happen? How can new architecture design to support the kind of community that has developed here?

And on the flip side, spending time in cities like Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Dakar drives home a very different architectural and design sense. They all have towering modern buildings but the way those buildings interact with their surroundings — their interplay with communities — is fascinatingly different. Western design language just can’t do it justice.

I have to give Dwell credit for publishing a quote that very well could be taken as a criticism of its own editorial policy — focusing on the rich and sexy and western rather than going the extra mile to communicate why we should care about architecture in developing nations; what we can learn from them. It’s good to see Dwell sticking its neck out again. Here’s hoping that continues. And here’s looking forward to Adjaye’s book!

Adjaye was also recently interviewed in New York Magazine. Read more about him at Wikipedia and flip through the March Dwell. We last touched on African architecture in Astronauts in Africa.

image via timeodanaos

FFFFOUND! Feeds Art Addiction

FFFFOUND! should be classified as controlled substance — the rush or sheer uncut eye candy it delivers can’t be safe. I mean, sure, there are plenty of social image bookmarking sites, but none has nearly the addictive quality of Yugo Nakamura’s invite-only baby. Since I found it back in September, I’ve been there. Hourly. Four reasons:

  • Quality – ffffound is a steady stream of supremely eye popping stuff (political, goofy, sublime). It rewards time spent like few others.
  • Simplicity – the fabulously unencumbered browsing interface allows images pop and suck you in. Voting is a simple click, contributing an image is two. (Copyright may decide the latter is too easy, but let’s hope safe harbor helps.)
  • Language independence – there are no tags, no comments, no categories, no text profiles, not even timestamps. Anyone who uses ffffound has only one communication channel: images. That forces the question: what do these images tell me about the person who bookmarked them? Only later do you realize you’ve been sharing images for weeks with folks you don’t even share a language with. Testimony to the communicative power of art.
  • Emergence – clusters of related images happen with surprising frequency (my recent love affair with whales for example). That’s fascinating considering there’s really no site feature that affords this (no tagging, no linking). Images ebb and flow naturally, inviting users to see patterns, call them out, and contribute to them. (I’d love to see the developers capitalize on this with a lightweight “related to” function.)

But all ain’t well in the land of visual inspiration. With any community content site, you’re going to get pollution and I’ve noticed an ever-so-slight drop in quality over the past month. Can the laser focus on beautiful images be maintained through the addition of so many new users, each with their own notion of what beauty means?

And speaking of the meaning of beauty, there are certainly many types of beauty in the human form. But when you look at the bodies that make it to the top of ffffound, they are often of the half naked female variety. Of course, there are many ways to interpret that result (largely heterosexual male user base, image availability, pop culture programming, etc.) but not everyone’s pleased with it. To form, the debate is happening in ffffound, in images: point / counterpoint. Personally, I like my communities open and uncensored but it would be nice to see more diversity in gender, ethnicity, and body type. Let’s hope a broadening user base brings balance, not dilution.

Ultimately, ffffound is a case study in design restraint. It strips away many of the expected web 2.0 trappings (tags, discussions, rounded corner coitus) and emerges with a streamlined community that’s pretty hard to ignore (or so says my crack addicted optic nerve). The challenge, then, is to grow it without losing the beautiful simplicity and content that make it so special.

Visit me on FFFFOUND! and check out creator Yugo Nakamura. I’ve got a few invites. Drop a comment if you’d like one.

Update: Invites gone!

I’m a Whale!

Whales rock and lately I’ve run into so many clever illustrations of them, I figure it must be a sign. Just in time for winter migration, too. The above is from the perpetually wicked Alberto Cerriteño. More clickable favorites follow. Key observation: whales always face left.

Whale with zero identity issues (anyone know the artist?):

Lovely lines as Frohawk Two Feathers revisits Jonah:

Roland Tamayo gives us the rocket powered Sperm Whale:

Bonus: Since we’re at sea, don’t miss this clever shipwreck of a concert poster. And find more whales at Wikipedia.

Tekkon Kinkreet’s Stunning Animated City

Tekkon Kinkreet has the most stunning realization of an imaginary city I’ve seen since Blade Runner. And that pisses me off. But let’s start from the beginning.

A film adaptation of the underground hit manga Black & White, Tekkon Kinkreet (a Japanese pun on steel reinforced concrete and deep relationships) will have your jaw on the floor from the first frame and pretty much never lets up. Treasure City is flat out gorgeous and just teems with architectural detail that at once feels whimsical yet quite real. When the camera moves through the world, you want to savor every second. As far as environmental design goes, the production just nails it.

And, honestly, the city really has to breathe for the movie to work since the entire story hinges on it. In typical anime mumbo-jumbo, the story goes like this:

Black and White, two street urchins, battle an array of old-word Yakuza and alien assassins vying to rule the decaying metropolis of Treasure Town – where the moon smiles and young boys can fly. (imdb)

Despite how it sounds, the narrative sticks surprisingly close to earth. Contrast that with Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, which also visited the US this year. Where Paprika’s fantastic environs led it off the deep end in the last quarter of the film, Tekkon’s do much the opposite — they ground it. Giving much more would ruin things, but let’s just say TK feels closer to Satoshi’s more intimate (and better) film Tokyo Godfathers.

So, what pissed me off? Well, I had the chance to see Tekkon in the theater. Heck, I have a photo to prove it. But I slacked off (well, I saw the even more elusive Colma instead) and I’m now left wondering how those massive vistas might play on the big screen. Considering the box office take, it seems like I’ll likely never know. Bugger.

Find more Tekkon Kinkreet at Sony Pictures and peek behind the scenes at PingMag.

images via fps and audrey

New Chinese Mythology

China Opening Day
Hairman Mao

When we think China, we often think of a place steeped in centuries old mythology. But new myths spring up now and again, too.

Communist Opening – the majestic visuals surrounding Communist Opening Day belies a political agenda that’s anything but

Hairman Mao – Zedong’s hidden history comes out of the closet in a Yuan retrofit for the ages. Bald to Bouffant in 60 seconds

New Mao / No Mao – speaking of Mao, Shanghai’s Guangci gives two sides of the man: one in mythmaker sterling silver and another melting grotesquely under the bright lights of historical scrutiny

And shedding light on myths around the globe:

Daily Deforestation – paper dispenser hack connects consumption with its environmental effects

Visualize World Health – lovely visualization highlights where doctors are needed most

War and Weddings – photographer forges credentials and sneaks into places officials would rather forget to shed light on world issues that desperately need solving. It’s people like Mark that make sure we remember

Clementine’s Eclipse Machine

When you walk into Reel to Reel at the Clemetine Gallery, you walk into a mystery. Clicking, whirring machines are everywhere and, at the center, a video screen that’s somehow pulls them all together. But how?

And the machines are designed to afford just that kind of investigation, leaving tiny cracks just wide enough for curious eyes to peek in and see miniature rooms and cameras. Or a whirling cylinder that produces a panoramic flyover or a moving sandbox that creates cloud cover or a room full of turntables that work in tandem to generate the soundtrack. Or the machine that makes eclipses (excerpt). Then the realization hits you: it’s a sort of video Rube Goldberg machine — an interleaved bunch of contraptions that works together to produce a cleverly enigmatic short film, each time a little different.

Model rooms, staircases, and landscapes inside boxes with tiny moving cameras:

A camera skims the surface of this cylinder to generate panoramic flyovers:

Turntables provide music on-cue:

It’s a fascinating show not as much for the final product film as for the component parts: the intricate, artfully constructed boxes, cameras, and wires, and the extra clever, impeccably timed transitions between their outputs. The show’s title, Reel to Reel, then, nicely captures the harmony and hand-off on display — once, that is, you’ve figured out the mystery.

Find more on Reel to Reel at Clementine Gallery and other work by Jeff Shore and Jon Fisher at Shofish.

Also hot in Chelsea: David Fred’s Far From Equilibrium sound-driven kinetic sculptures, Dan Rozin’s interactive wooden mirrors in Fabrication, the group show She & I looking at socio-political change in China (particularly love Bang!), and Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba’s lovely The Ground, The Root, and The Air, a short film shot in Laos that artfully captures the cultural significance of the Bodhi Tree.

Ukraine’s Floating Castle

Found object: floating castle. Photos of a mysterious levitated structure that looks straight out of a fantasy film showed up recently, and much speculation followed. Where was it? Was it a sculpture? Had the photoshop corps been at work again?

Some judicious automated translator banging (most of the conversation is in Russian, Spanish, and Ukranian) yielded a few tidbits. The photographer, for example, says it was dismantled in May of this year. And it was in Ukraine. Archinect says it’s the remains of “bunker for the overload of mineral fertilizers.”

But what I find most interesting are the connections people made between the structure and film worlds created by Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and, most often, Hayao Miyazaki — particularly Howl’s Moving Castle. I never quite understood what went on in that film. (A couple friends from Japan didn’t either, so I’m guessing it’s not a cultural thing.) Still, the characters and the world were so strong that it nearly didn’t matter.

And the fact that so many want to see Miyazaki’s world in the real one says something about the places his films create. Lots of animated films let us escape into wonderful imaginary places. But there’s something special about Miyazaki’s movies that makes the real world seem more wonderful, too.

Find alternate angles and multilingual conversation at panoramio. Thanks to ffffound.

Fabulous Illustrated Octonauts Back in Action

See, there is something good about the end of summer after all. The second in Meomi’s gorgeously illustrated Octonauts book series is due out October 15. And, from the looks of it, creative duo Vicky Wong and Mike Murphy have outdone themselves as the supercute team of eight return to explore charming underwater vistas in a new story about saving the world’s shadows. Preorder it and get a autographed copy plus postcard.

Find more at Octonauts HQ and visit for some behind the scenes goodies. Even more regular updates on the studio blog.

via k10k

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