Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky Debate Human Nature & Power on Dutch TV (1971)

Two academic stars and heroes of anti-authoritarian leftist political thought sit down to debate human nature—nowadays such events occur more rarely than they did in the 60s and 70s, when the counterculture and anti-war movements made both Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky famous. Now, when two thinkers of such caliber sit down together, their conversation is immediately distilled into tweeted commentary, sometimes illustrated with gifs and video clips. We get the gist and move on to the next link.

In 1971, when Foucault and Chomsky joined host Fons Elders on Dutch TV, those viewers who tuned in would have to follow the conversation for themselves—for the most part—though it aired in a partly abridged version with commentary from a Professor L.W. Nauta. “Chomsky is at the height of his linguistic-scientific mode,” notes New Inquiry, where “Foucault performs a genealogy of scientific truth itself.”

After an introduction in Dutch by Dr. Nauta, Elders welcomes his guests onstage in English as “tonight’s debaters,” two “mountain diggers, working at the opposite sides of the same mountains, with different tools, without knowing even if they are working in each other’s direction.” It’s a characterization that amuses both Chomsky and Foucault, who aren’t discovering each other’s differences so much as enacting them for the studio audience of “early-70s Dutch intelligentsia.”

The two do find some common ground, in Foucault’s critique of the dominant history of science, for example. Where they differ, they seem to be speaking different languages, and they are also literally speaking different languages. Chomsky begins in English, Foucault responds in English with apologies for his lack of fluency, then switches to French. Those of us who aren’t fluent in both languages will have to rely on the translation, as many of us do when reading Foucault as well, a situation that should give us pause before we draw conclusions about what we think he’s saying.

Still, those inclined to reject Foucault as a rejector of science should pay closer attention to him, even in translation (into English, Portuguese, and Japanese subtitles in the video above). He does not reject the notion of scientific fact, but rather, as Wittgenstein had decades earlier, points out that much of what we take as conceptual reality is no more than vague, meaningless abstraction, “peripheral” words and phrases that do “not all have the same degree of elaboration” as more precise scientific terms.

Fuzzy ideas, for example, like "human nature... do not play an ‘organizing’ role within science.” Neither “instruments of analysis” nor “descriptive either,” they “simply serve to point out some problems, or rather to point out certain fields in need of study.” They are signposts for the unknown, a “scientific shopping list,” as Professor Nauta puts it when he breaks in to helpfully explain to viewers at home what he thinks Foucault means. Nauta’s interventions are drier than the main action—apparently no one thought in 1971 to sensationalize the event.

Well, almost no one thought to sensationalize the event. Anarchist host Elders “wanted to jazz things up a bit,” writes Eugene Wolters at Critical Theory. “Aside from offering Foucault hashish for part of his payment, Elder tried repeatedly to get Foucault to wear a bright red wig.” According to the James Miller in The Passion of Michel Foucault, Elders “kept poking Foucault under the table, pointing to the red wig on his lap, and whispering, ‘put it on, put it on.”

Chomsky found the exchange less than amusing, later calling Foucault “totally amoral” and saying that he “wildly exaggerates.” These minor spectacles aside, the Chomsky-Foucault debate is less epic showdown and more two mostly parallel, only occasionally intersecting, discourses on “a wide range of topics, from science, history, and behaviorism to creativity, freedom, and the struggle for justice in the realm of politics.” If some of that discussion seems overly obscure at times, just imagine Foucault in a bright red wig, and later enjoying what he and his friends called “Chomsky hash.”

The text of their debate has been published. Read The Chomsky-Foucault Debate: On Human Nature.

Related Content:

Hear Michel Foucault’s Lecture “The Culture of the Self,” Presented in English at UC Berkeley (1983)

Michel Foucault Offers a Clear, Compelling Introduction to His Philosophical Project (1966)

A Brief Animated Introduction to Noam Chomsky’s Linguistic Theory, Narrated by The X-Files‘ Gillian Anderson

Noam Chomsky Makes His First Power Point Presentation

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How the Universe Will Come to Its Explosive End: Trillions of Years Covered in 29 Timelapse Minutes

We all know that Earth won't last forever. But nothing else in the universe will either, and you can witness the series of explosions, evaporations, expirations, and other kinds of cosmic deaths that will constitute the next one trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion years in the video above. Conveniently, it doesn't take quite that long to watch: the time-lapse gets from just a few years into the future to the time at which the last black hole vanishes in under half an hour, doubling its own speed every five seconds. Not only does Earth go first, destroyed by the dying sun, but it happens at the 3:20 mark.

Most of us have no idea what might possibly play out in the universe over the next 26 or so time-lapsed minutes. But more astrophysics-inclined minds like Brian Cox, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sean Carroll, Janna Levin, and Michio Kaku have put a great deal of thought into just that, and it is from their words that this video's creator John D. Boswell, known on Youtube as melodysheep, crafts its narration.

And what this formidable cast of scientists narrates resembles sequences from the biggest-budget science-fiction movies, which shows how far visual effects have come since A Brief History of Time, Errol Morris' thematically similar 1991 documentary on the late Stephen Hawking — a figure who has also appeared in Boswell's previous work.

However it's told, the narrative remains the same: "the death of the sun, the end of all stars, proton decay, zombie galaxies, possible future civilizations, exploding black holes, the effects of dark energy, alternate universes, the final fate of the cosmos," as Boswell puts it. "This is a picture of the future as painted by modern science," and one that "gives a profound perspective — that we are living inside the hot flash of the Big Bang, the perfect moment to soak in the sights and sounds of a universe in its glory days, before it all fades away." Thanks to the work of generation upon generation of scientists, as well as the work of creators like Boswell who interpret their findings in far-reaching ways (this time-lapse of the future has already racked up nearly 12.5 million views), we know how the story of the universe ends. Now what will we do with the chapters granted to us?

via Aeon

Related Content:

NASA Archive Collects Great Time-Lapse Videos of our Planet

Supermassive Black Hole Shreds a Star, and You Get to Watch

Watch A Brief History of Time, Errol Morris’ Film About the Life & Work of Stephen Hawking

The Very End of Time

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Ruins of Chernobyl Captured in Three Haunting, Drone-Shot Videos

Voices of Chernobyl—Svetlana Alexievich’s oral history of the 1986 nuclear explosion in Belarus—brings together the harrowing testimonies of over 500 eyewitnesses to the accident: Firefighters, nurses, soldiers, former Soviet officials, engineers, nuclear scientists, and ordinary Soviet citizens (at the time), who saw, but could not understand, events that would cost tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of lives.

We will never know the exact toll, due to both internal cover-ups and the immeasurable long-term effect of over 50 million curies of radionuclides spread out over the Soviet Union, Europe, and the globe for over three decades. But Alexievich’s book eschews “the usual approach of trying to quantify a disaster in terms of losses and displacement,” notes Robert Matthews at the Journal of Nuclear Medicine. She opted instead to tell the stories “of individuals and how the disaster affected their lives.”

The inherently moving, dramatic stories of people like Lyudmilla Ignatenko—the wife of a doomed firefighter whose unforgettable journey opens the book—immediately draw us into the “psychologic and personal tragedy” of the disaster. For their vividness and sheer emotional impact, these stories have a cinematic effect, filling our imagination with images of grisly tragedy and a grim persistence we might not exactly call heroism but which certainly counts as a close cousin.

It’s no wonder, then, that parts of Alexievich’s deservedly-Nobel-winning history made such a brilliant transition to the screen in Craig Mazin’s HBO miniseries, which draws from stories like Lyudmilla’s in its portrait of the explosion and its containment. The series' psychological focus, and the need to create individual heroes and villains, creates “confrontation where confrontation was unthinkable” in reality, as Masha Gessen writes in her critique at The New Yorker. We cannot trust Chernobyl as history, though it is incredibly compelling as historical fiction.

Rather what the show gives viewers, writes Gessen, is a stunningly accurate visual portrayal of the time period, one that seems at times to have recreated historical footage shot-for-shot. The show’s total immersion in the bleak, bureaucratic world of mid-eighties Soviet Russia has so enthralled viewers that people have taken to posting Instagram photos of themselves inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Though it may seem like a foolish thing to do given the levels of radiation still present in much of the area, Chernobyl has in fact been slated for redevelopment since 2007. Tourists began visiting the area not long afterwards.

Since the zone became accessible, hours of footage from Chernobyl and nearby city of Pripyat, former home of Lyudmilla Ignatenko, have appeared in amateur video and and more professional productions like “Postcards from Pripyat” (top), shot by Danny Cooke for CBS, “The Fallout,” a demo reel shot by Aerobo Designs, and the drone footage in the Wall Street Journal video just above. These are stunning montages of decaying Soviet cities left behind in time. Even emptied of the individuals whose stories keep us compulsively reading eyewitness accounts like Alexievich’s and watching fictionalized dramas like Mazin’s, the videos still have a story to tell, a visual account of the remains of an empire brought low by corruption, fear, and lies.

Related Content:

Scenes from HBO’s Chernobyl v. Real Footage Shot in 1986: A Side-By-Side Comparison

A Haunting Drone’s-Eye View of Chernobyl

The Animals of Chernobyl

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Lost Miles Davis Album, Rubberband, Will Finally Be Released This Fall: Hear the Title Track, “Rubberband,” in Five Different Versions

Jazz is a collaborative art, no matter how big the egos and outsized the personalities involved. Even bandleaders as autocratic as Miles Davis are referred to in the context of their ensembles and in the company of their finest players. Davis knew how good his collaborators were. He gave them ample space to prove it and pushed them to improve. Usually pushed them out the door, to legendary solo careers and new musical dynasties: John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock come to mind immediately.

As the 80s dawned, popular music on the whole became increasingly producer-driven. Digital synthesizers and samplers took prominence, and jazz greats like Davis and Hancock followed suit. (Would Coltrane have made computer music in the 80s had he lived to see them?) In 1986, Davis’s album Tutu fiercely “divided fans and critics,” notes Jazzwise magazine. “Miles recorded his trumpet parts over a lush electric soundscape, produced from a battery of samplers, synthesizers, sequencers and drum machines.”

Mostly “produced, arranged, played, and composed,” by bassist Marcus Miller—anticipating the current phenomenon of producer-created albums—Tutu "was a product of the 80s, a decade where music was often in danger of becoming subservient to technology." In Davis’ hands, the technological approach to jazz produced a classic that “continues to thrive” in the jazz world, covered by several major artists. Another album Davis recorded around the same time, Rubberband, never got the chance to have this kind of impact—but we will soon get to imagine what might have happened had he released the 1986 funk, soul, dance album at the time.

In its finished form—finished, that is, by original producers Randy Hall and Zane Giles, and Davis’ nephew Vince Wilburn, Jr., who played drums on the album—Rubberband sounds ahead of its time, seeming to forecast the smooth neo-soul sound of a decade later. But who knows how much this is an artifact of recent studio decisions. The impression, in any case, comes only from the title track, released last year in five different versions on the Rubberband EP. Featuring singer Ledisi, the song presages the hip-hop-adjacent, horn-and-female-vocal-driven funk of the Brand New Heavies, Erykah Badu, and Meshell Ndegeocello.

At the same time, “Rubberband” incorporates some of the more banal elements of the genre, such as an upbeat, somewhat insipid chorus about making a better life. The track crosses fully over into contemporary dance music—it is no longer jazz at all, really. Whether or not we can say that about the entire album remains to be seen. The full, completed, album will be released on September 6th (pre-order here), with a cover painting by Davis himself. “Set to be his first album for Warner Bros. Records following his departure from longtime label Columbia,” reports Pitchfork, “that record was ultimately shelved” in favor of Tutu.

The record features other guest singers, so we might expect more jams like “Rubberband,” but one never really knows with Davis, who arguably invented—or at least perfected—producer-driven, studio-made jazz records many years earlier, first on the groundbreaking In a Silent Way in 1969, then on the even more groundbreaking Bitches Brew in 1970. Even as his music began to sound more commercial, its roots in four decades of radically changing jazz every few years made it wholly original to the minds of Miles Davis and his collaborators.

via Pitchfork

Related Content:

Kind of Blue: How Miles Davis Changed Jazz

Hear a 65-Hour, Chronological Playlist of Miles Davis’ Revolutionary Jazz Albums

Listen to The Night When Miles Davis Opened for the Grateful Dead in 1970

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Women Who Draw: Explore an Open Directory That Showcases the Work of 5,000+ Female Illustrators

The seemingly never-ending era of female artists laboring in the shadows cast by their male colleagues is coming to a close.

Ditto the tyranny of the male gaze.

Women Who Draw, a database of over 5,000 professional artists, offers a thrillingly diverse panoply of female imagery, all created, as the site’s name suggests, by artists who identify as women.

Launched by illustrators Julia Rothman and Wendy MacNaughton in response to a dismaying lack of gender parity among cover artists of a prominent magazine—in 2015, men were responsible for 92%—the site aims to channel work to female artists by boosting visibility.

To that end, each illustrator tossing her hat in the ring is required to upload an illustration of a woman, ideally a full body view, on a white background.

The result is an astonishing range of styles, from an international cast of creators.

Not surprisingly, the majority of contributors are based on the East Coast of the United States, but given the site’s mission to promote female illustrators of color, as well as LBTQ+ and other less visible groups, expect to see growing numbers from Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Central and South America.

In addition to indicating their location, artists can checklist their religion, orientation, and ethnicity/race. (Those who would check“white” or “straight” should be prepared to accept that those categories are tabled as “WWD encourages people to seek out underrepresented groups of women.”)

Bean counting aside, the personalities of individual contributors shine through.

Some, like Paris-based American Laura Park, choose explicit self-portraiture.

Vanessa Davis gives the lie to bikini season

SouthAsian illustrator Baani makes an impression, documenting women of her community even as she reinterprets tropes of Western art.

Pé-de-Ovo Studio corners the market on plushies.

Women Who Draw’s latest crowd-sourced project is concerned with personal stories of immigration.

Final words of encouragement from Lindsey Andrews, Assistant Art Director for the Penguin Young Readers Design Group:

Just keep putting your work out there in any form you can think of. Update your various social platforms regularly. Mail postcards of your work. Send emails. Network when you can. But, mainly, do what you love. Even if you have a portfolio full of commissioned pieces, I still like to see what you create when you get to create whatever you want. Also, let me know your process!

Submit your work here.

Related Content:

A Space of Their Own, a New Online Database, Will Feature Works by 600+ Overlooked Female Artists from the 15th-19th Centuries

A New Archive Transcribes and Puts Online the Diaries & Notebooks of Women Artists, Art Historians, Critics and Dealers

The Daily Rituals of 143 Famous Female Creators: Octavia Butler, Edith Wharton, Coco Chanel & More

Venerable Female Artists, Musicians & Authors Give Advice to the Young: Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson & More

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC tonight, Monday, June 17 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away Opens in China 18 Years After Its Original Release: See Beautiful New Posters for the Film

Animation fans all over the world love the films of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, but animation fans in China have never, until very recently, been able to see them on the big screen. Part of the problem has to do with the sensitivity of Chinese authorities to what sort of media enters the country — especially media from a country like Japan, with which China has not always seen eye to eye. "Miyazaki films did not open theatrically in China until a re-release of My Neighbor Totoro in December 2018," writes Indiewire's Zack Scharf, "one sign that the relationship between Japan and China is getting less tense."

Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli has produced few characters as winning as Totoro — the outsized guardian of the forest who resembles a cross between a cat, an owl, and maybe a bear — and his winning over of China's censors seemed to have opened the gates to the Middle Kingdom for the rest of Miyazaki's beloved filmography. "The Totoro release was a huge box office success with more than $26 million," writes Scharf, "and Spirited Away is widely expected to perform even better given its enduring popularity." Having opened in Japan back in 2001 as 千と千尋の神隠し, or "The Spiriting-Away of Sen and Chihiro," it stands not only as the top-grossing film of all time at the Japanese box office, but one of the several undisputed masterpieces among Miyazaki's works.

Spirited Away tells the story of a ten-year-old girl who, lost in an abandoned amusement park, finds her way into a parallel world populated with the countless spirit creatures enumerated in the Japanese folk religion of shinto — which, as revealed in Wisecrack's video essay "The Philosophy of Hayao Miyazaki," figures heavily into some, and perhaps all of the master's work. As displeasing as the presence of religion, let alone a Japanese religion, may long have been to Chinese higher-ups, the Chinese public's enthusiasm for Miyazaki's films can hardly be disputed.

That powerful force could even return to Spirited Away the title of most successful Japanese animated film ever, which it held until Makoto Shinkai's Your Name came along in 2017. The marketing of Spirited Away's eighteen-year-late Chinese theatrical release, which includes this series of posters newly designed by artist Zao Dao, will certainly help give it a push. Every Ghibli enthusiast in China will certainly come out for it, and with luck, they may also be able to see the upcoming How Do You Live? — Miyazaki's next and perhaps final film, for whose production he came out of the latest of his retirements — in theaters along with the rest of the world.

via @MadmanFilms

Related Content:

The Philosophy of Hayao Miyazaki: A Video Essay on How the Traditional Japanese Religion Shinto Suffuses Miyazaki’s Films

Watch Hayao Miyazaki’s Beloved Characters Enter the Real World

How the Films of Hayao Miyazaki Work Their Animated Magic, Explained in 4 Video Essays

Watch Hayao Miyazaki Animate the Final Shot of His Final Feature Film, The Wind Rises

Hayao Miyazaki’s Masterpieces Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke Imagined as 8-Bit Video Games

The Simpsons Pay Wonderful Tribute to the Anime of Hayao Miyazaki

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

 

A Wild 40-Minute Race Down Alpe D’Huez

Damien Oton, winner of last summer's Megavalanche, mounted a camera on his helmet and recorded his race down Alpe D'Huez. Buckle in, and enjoy the exhilarating wild ride. Once you start, it's hard to stop.

via Metafilter

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

Scenes from HBO’s Chernobyl v. Real Footage Shot in 1986: A Side-By-Side Comparison

Audiences today can't get enough of history, especially history presented as a podcast or a prestige television series. Best of all is the historical prestige television series accompanied by its own podcast, currently exemplified by Chernobyl, HBO's five-episode dramatization of the events leading up to and the aftermath of the titular Soviet nuclear disaster. "The material culture of the Soviet Union is reproduced with an accuracy that has never before been seen in Western television or film — or, for that matter, in Russian television or film," The New Yorker's Masha Gessen writes of the show. "Soviet-born Americans — and, indeed, Soviet-born Russians — have been tweeting and blogging in awe at the uncanny precision with which the physical surroundings of Soviet people have been reproduced."

But along with all the praise for the accuracy on Chernobyl's surface has come criticism of its deeper conception of the time and place it takes as its setting: "its failure to accurately portray Soviet relationships of power," as Gessen puts it, or to acknowledge that "resignation was the defining condition of Soviet life. But resignation is a depressing and untelegenic spectacle. So the creators of Chernobyl imagine confrontation where confrontation was unthinkable."

Among the chilling truths of the real story of the Chernobyl disaster is how many people involved knew beforehand what could, and probably would, go wrong with the reactor that exploded on April 26, 1986. But Chernobyl, adhering to "the outlines of a disaster movie," instead pits a lone truth-teller against a set of self-serving, malevolent higher-ups.

Chernobyl creator and writer Craig Mazin is not unaware of this, as anyone who has listened to the miniseries' companion podcast knows. On each episode, Mazin discusses (with Peter Sagal from Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, incidentally) the complications of bringing such a complex event, and one that involved so many people, to the screen three decades later, and the inherent tradeoffs involved between historical faithfulness and artistic license. The video essay from Thomas Flight above combines clips from the Chernobyl podcast with not just clips from Chernobyl itself but the real-life source footage that inspired the show. The six-minute viewing experience showcases the often-astonishing recreations Chernobyl accomplishes even as it casts doubt on the possibility of ever truly recreating history on the screen. But watching creators take on that increasingly daunting challenge is precisely what today's audiences can't get enough of.

via BoingBoing

Related Content:

A Haunting Drone’s-Eye View of Chernobyl

The Animals of Chernobyl

200 Haunting Videos of U.S. Nuclear Tests Now Declassified and Put Online

A is for Atom: Vintage PR Film for Nuclear Energy

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Hear What’s Likely the Only Known Recording of Frida Kahlo’s Voice (1954)

Perhaps no artist in modern history, save Andy Warhol, has been so well documented, and self-documented, as Frida Kahlo, or has used documentary methods, surrealist and otherwise, to so unflinchingly confront ideas about disability, gender, sexuality, national identity, and relationships. These qualities make her the perfect celebrity artist for our times, but unlike the average 21st century star making art out of self-presentation, Kahlo’s voice has never been heard, though she lived in a time almost as saturated with mass media—of the radio, TV, and film variety—as our own.

That is, perhaps, until now, with the unearthing of what the National Sound Library of Mexico believes to be a recording of her voice, “taken from a pilot episode of 1955 radio show El Bachiller [“The Bachelor”],” writes Steph Harmon at The Guardian. The show “aired after her death in 1954,” likely the following year. Though the program does not introduce her by name, the presenter does refer to her as recently deceased, and she does read an essay about her husband Diego Rivera, which happens to be written by Frida Kahlo. The case seems fairly conclusive.

Previously the little evidence of what she sounded like came from written descriptions, such as French photographer Gisèle Freund’s characterization of her voice as “melodious and warm.” Hear for yourself what is very likely the recorded voice of Frida Kahlo in the audio above. In her typically florid yet unsparing style she paints a verbal portrait of Rivera full of unflattering physical detail and layers of emotion and admiration. In one English translation, she calls him “a huge, immense child, with a friendly face and a sad gaze.

Rivera's "high, dark, extremely intelligent and big eyes rarely hold still. They almost pop out of their sockets because of their swollen and protuberant eyelids—like a toad’s.” His huge eyes seem “built especially for a painter of spaces and crowds.” The Mexican muralist, she says is like “an inscrutable monster.” These are the words of a writer, we must remember, who was passionately in love with her subject, but who did not pretend to ignore his physical oddities. As she had practiced loving herself, she loved and admired Rivera because of his unique appearance, not in spite of it.

Researchers are making continuing efforts to verify that the voice on the recoding is Kahlo and searching through about 1,300 other episodes of the show, recorded for Televisa Radio, to find out if there are any more recordings of her. Given Frida’s flamboyant persona and minor art stardom in her lifetime, it’s hard to imagine we won’t hear more of her, if this is in fact her, as other archives reveal their secrets.

Related Content:

Frida Kahlo’s Passionate Love Letters to Diego Rivera

Discover Frida Kahlo’s Wildly-Illustrated Diary: It Chronicled the Last 10 Years of Her Life, and Then Got Locked Away for Decades

A Brief Animated Introduction to the Life and Work of Frida Kahlo

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Brilliant Colors of the Great Barrier Revealed in a Historic Illustrated Book from 1893

Paul Simon’s famous lyric about everything looking worse in black and white
is hardly a universal truth, but when it comes to William Saville-Kent's groundbreaking 1893 book The Great Barrier Reef of Australia: its products and potentialitiesthe assertion may have some merit.

Saville-Kent, a naturalist whose work in various British aquariums eventually led to a gig rebuilding depleted Tasmanian oyster beds, fell hard for the colorful fish, bêche-de-mer, corals, sponges, turtles, and other marine species he encountered in Australia.

He photographed the Great Barrier Reef while serving in Queensland as Commissioner of Fisheries. 48 of his images were published in the aforementioned book, offering readers an unprecedented armchair tour of a coral reef, albeit in black and white.

 

While Saville-Kent definitely achieved his goal of furthering the public’s awareness of the reef, he also upstaged himself by including 16 color lithographs inspired by his original watercolors.

These plates, by London-based lithographers Riddle and Couchman—whose work usually ran toward portraits of well-born gentlemen—exude a lively Seussian appeal.

Saville-Kent’s carefully captured fish, echinoderms, and anemones literally pale in comparison to the bright specimens the lithographers, who presumably lacked his firsthand experience of the forms they were depicting, brought to such vibrant life in the back of the book.

These days, alas, the Great Barrier Reef resembles Saville-Kent's photos more closely than those gorgeous lithographs, the victim of back-to-back bleaching events brought on by pollution-related climate change.

Saville-Kent is buried at All Saints Churchin Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire, England. His grave is decorated with coral.

Browse a digital copy of The Great Barrier Reef of Australia: its products and potentialities here.

via The Public Domain Review

Related Content:

Ernst Haeckel’s Sublime Drawings of Flora and Fauna: The Beautiful Scientific Drawings That Influenced Europe’s Art Nouveau Movement (1889)

Two Million Wondrous Nature Illustrations Put Online by The Biodiversity Heritage Library

New Archive Digitizes 80,000 Historic Watercolor Paintings, the Medium Through Which We Documented the World Before Photography

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, June 17 for another monthly installment of her public domain-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.





  • Great Lectures

  • FREE UPDATES!

    GET OUR DAILY EMAIL

    Get the best cultural and educational resources on the web curated for you in a daily email. We never spam. Unsubscribe at any time.



    FOLLOW ON SOCIAL MEDIA

  • About Us

    Open Culture scours the web for the best educational media. We find the free courses and audio books you need, the language lessons & educational videos you want, and plenty of enlightenment in between.


    Advertise With Us

  • Archives

  • Quantcast