Behold Félix Nadar’s Pioneering Photographs of the Paris Catacombs (1861)

As a tourist in England, one may be persuaded to pick a piece of merchandise with the now-ubiquitous slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On,” from a little-displayed World War II motivational poster rediscovered in 2000 and turned into the 21st-century's most cheeky emblem of stiff-upper-lip-ness. Travel across the Channel, however, and you’ll find another version of the sentiment, drawn not from war memorabilia but the ancient warning of memento mori.

“Keep Calm and Remember You Will Die” say magnets, key chains, and other souvenirs emblazoned with the logo of the Paris Catacombs, a major tourist attraction that sells timed tickets “to manage the large queue that forms daily outside the nondescript entrance on the Place Denfert-Rochereau (formerly called the Place d’Enfer, or Hell Square),” writes Allison Meier at Public Domain Review. Still profoundly creepy, the Catacombs were once as forbidding to descend into as their walls of skulls and bones are to gaze upon, requiring visitors to carry flaming torches into their depths.

When pioneering photographer Félix Nadar “descended into this ‘empire of death’ in the 1860s artificial lighting was still in its infancy.” Using Bunsen batteries “and a good deal of patience,” Nadar captured the Catacombs as they had never been seen. He also documented the completion of “artistic facades” of skulls and long bones, built “to hide piles of other bones,” notes Strange Remains, from an estimated six million corpses exhumed from overcrowded Parisian cemeteries in the 18th and 19th centuries.




Nadar (the pseudonym of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, born 1820), helped turn the Catacombs into the globally famous destination they became. His “subterranean photographs,” writes Matthew Gandy in The Fabric of Space: Water, Modernity, and the Urban Imagination, “played a key role in fostering the growing popularity of sewers and catacombs among middle-class Parisians, and from the 1867 Exposition onward the city authorities began offering public tours of underground Paris.” The Catacombs became, in Nadar's own words, "one of those places that everyone wants to see and no one wants to see again."

Visitors came seeking the grim fascinations they had seen in Nadar’s photos, taken during a “single three-month campaign,” Meier notes, sometime in 1861, after the photographer “pioneered new approaches to artificial light.” The project was an irresistible photographic essay on the leveling force of mortality. In an essay titled “Paris Above and Below,” published in the 1867 Exposition guide, Nadar described the “egalitarian confusion of death,” in which “a Merovingian king remains in eternal silence next to those massacred in September ’92.”

The ancient and the modern dead, peasants, aristocrats, victims of the Revolutionary terror all piled together, “every trace implacably lost in the unaccountable clutter of the most humble, the anonymous.” The huge necropolis initially had no shape or order. Its 19th century redesign reflected that of the Parisian streets above. In 1810, Napoleon authorized quarries inspector Héricart de Thury to undertake a renovation that accounted for what Thury called “the intimate rapport that will surely exist between the Catacombs and the events of the French Revolution.”

This “rapport” not only included the “mass burial of the victims of the 1792 September Massacres” Nadar references in his essay, but also, Meier points out, the arrangement of bones in “patterns, rows, and crosses; altars and columns were installed below the earth. Plaques with evocative quotations were added to encourage visitors to reflect on mortality.” Because of the long exposure times the photographs required, Nadar used mannequins to stand in for the living workers who completed this work. The only living body he captured was his own, in the self-portrait above.

Learn more about the history of the Catacombs and Nadar’s now-legendary photographic project at Public Domain Review and see many more memento mori images here.

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

The Very First Picture of the Far Side of the Moon, Taken 60 Years Ago

Sixty years ago, mankind got its very first glimpse of the far side of the Moon, so called because it faces away from the Earth. (And as astronomers like Neil DeGrasse Tyson have long taken pains to point out to Pink Floyd fans, it isn't "dark.") Taken by the Soviet Union, that first photo may not look like much today, especially compared to the high-resolution color images sent back from the surface itself by China's Chang’e-4 probe earlier this year. But with the technology of the late 1950s, even the technology commanded by the Soviets' then-world-beating space program, the fact that it was taken at all seems not far short of miraculous. How did they do it?

"This photograph was taken by the Soviet spacecraft Luna 3, which was launched a month after the Luna 2 spacecraft became the first man-made object to impact on the surface of the Moon," explains astronomer Kevin Hainline in a recent Twitter thread. "Luna 2 followed Luna 1, the first spacecraft to escape a geosynchronous Earth orbit." Luna 3 was designed to take photographs of the Moon, hardly an uncomplicated prospect: "To take pictures you have to be stable on three-axes. You have to take the photographs remotely. AND you have to somehow transfer those pictures back to Earth." The first three-axis stabilized spacecraft ever sent on a mission, Luna 3 "had to use a little photocell to orient towards the Moon so that now, while stabilized, it could take the pictures. Which it did. On PHOTOGRAPHIC FILM."




Even those of us who took pictures on film for decades have started to take for granted the convenience of digital photography. But think back to all the hassle of traditional photography, then imagine making a robot carry them out in space. Once taken Luna 3's photos "were then moved to a little CHEMICAL PLANT to DEVELOP AND DRY THEM." (In other words, "Luna 3 had a little 1 Hour Photo inside.") Then they continued into "a device that shone a cathode ray tube, like in an older TV, through them, towards a device that recorded the brightness and converted this to an electrical signal." You can read about what happened then in more detail at Damn Interesting, where Alan Bellows describes how the spacecraft sent "the lightness and darkness information line-by-line via frequency-modulated analog signal — in essence, a fax sent over radio."

Soviet Scientists could thus "retrieve one photographic frame every 30 minutes or so. Due to the distance and weak signal, the first images received contained nothing but static. In subsequent attempts in the following few days, an indistinct, blotchy white disc began to resolve on the thermal paper printouts at Soviet listening stations." As Luna 3's photos became clearer, they revealed, as Hainline puts it, that "the backside of the moon was SO WEIRD AND DIFFERENT" — covered in the craters, for example, which have become its visual signature. For a modern-day equivalent to this achievement, we might look not just to Chang’e-4 but to the image of a black hole captured by the Event Horizon Telescope this past April — the one that led to an abundance of articles like "In Defense of the Blurry Black Hole Photo" and "We Need to Admit That the Black Hole Photo Isn’t Very Good." Astrophotography has come a long way, but at least back in 1959 it didn't produce quite so many takes.

via Kottke

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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 or on Facebook.

Beautiful New Photo Book Documents Patti Smith’s Breakthrough Years in Music: Features Hundreds of Unseen Photographs

Patti Smith is always surprising her fans with new work and new opportunities to admire her commitment to art and activism. If she isn’t publishing another memoir, or leading 250 people in a protest song, she’s showing her photographs, which she’s taken since the 60s, with Polaroid cameras and a German Minox 35EL. “I am not a photographer,” she says, “yet taking pictures has given me a sense of unity and personal satisfaction. They are relics of my life. Souvenirs of my wandering.” She surprised her fans once again by putting her treasury of pictures on Instagram.

But as comfortable as Smith has been behind the camera, she has been even more relaxed in front of it: “widely regarded as a style icon,” writes Stephanie Eckardt at W magazine, “she’s been a magnet for photographers almost immediately” after she arrived in New York “to hang around CBGB's and pose for Robert Mapplethorpe.”




She appeared in plenty of photos with Mapplethorpe when the two were just kids. Photographer Frank Stefanko captured her bohemian lounging in the 60s and 70s in stark black and white. (When he first encountered her in South Jersey, he says, she looked like “the bad guy walking into a saloon in an old Western movie.”)

“There are many photographers who have photographed Patti who are wonderful artists,” writes Lynn Goldsmith, whose own striking photographic record of Smith’s career is now being published in a new book by Taschen titled Before Easter After. (The book will be released in November.) Unlike Goldsmith, however, “they did not do documentary as well as concert as well as studio work with her. So that enabled Patti and I to have a narrative in the book that we could share with people of what was going on at that time.”

Smith describes what was going on with her usual casual lyricism:

We traipsed the path of rock ‘n’ roll, savouring its swagger, yet dodging the pitfalls. [Lynn] witnessed formative nights at CBGBs, gaining ground across America, my accident in a Tampa arena, and the struggle to rise again.

She refers to her fall offstage in 1977 while the band toured their album Radio Ethiopia. She broke her neck and spent the year recovering. Goldsmith captured the tragic event: “I saw her nearing the edge of the stage, but I thought she knew what she was doing because she always did this turning dervish on that song, where she spun and spun and spun.”  The following year, the band released Easter, their third and “most widely known and distributed” album, notes AnOther, and Goldsmith nervously shot Smith onstage at CBGBs in a neck brace.

The photographer surprised Smith by asking her longtime friend Sam Shepard to write a poem for the book inspired by the 1977 photo above. And at the book’s October 8th launch party, which included Henry Rollins, Rosanna Arquette, Moon Zappa, and John Densmore, Smith surprised her 150 guests by playing a set of songs “inspired by Goldsmith’s previous unseen photographs of the transformative period documented in the book,” writes Taschen. “She ended her set with her best-known hit ‘Because the Night’ from the album Easter… joined in song by every person in the room.”

The book is available in a pricey edition from Taschen (you can pre-order it here) and, coming soon, even pricier, numbered Art Editions. Here’s hoping they’ll surprise Patti Smith fans for the holidays with a paperback.

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

The First Faked Photograph (1840)

The photograph was invented in the early 19th century, but who invented it? Histories of photography point to several different independent inventors, most of them French: Nicéphore Niépce, for example, who in 1826 made the first work recognizable as a photograph, or more famously Louis Daguerre, honored for his invention of the daguerreotype photographic process by the French Academy of Sciences and the Académie des Beaux Arts in 1839. But what about Daguerre's contemporary Hippolyte Bayard, who had also been developing and refining his own form of photography? After going unacknowledged by the Academy, he had only one option left: suicide.

The Vox Darkroom video above tells the story of Bayard's 1840 Self Portrait as a Drowned Man, which depicts exactly what its title suggests: Bayard's corpse, retrieved from the water and propped up unclaimed at the morgue. "The Government which has been only too generous to Monsieur Daguerre, has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard, and the poor wretch has drowned himself," reads the note on the back of the photograph. "Oh the vagaries of human life....!"

A sorry tale, to be sure, and of a kind not unknown in the history of invention. But wait: how could a dead man shoot a "self-portrait"? And if indeed "no-one has recognized or claimed him," as the note adds, who would have bothered to write the note itself?

Bayard, still very much alive, made Self Portrait as a Drowned Man as a kind of artistic stunt, the latest in a series of self-portraits testing his photographic process. The "morgue" shot contains some of the artifacts in its predecessors, including a garden statue, a floral vase, and Bayard's signature broad straw hat. (Even the expression of death was of a piece with his previous self-portraits: the long exposure time meant he'd had to hold absolutely still with his eyes closed in all of them as well.) Until his death in 1887 — long after Daguerre had passed — Bayard continued experimenting with photography, creating reality-departing images including "double self portraits." If he couldn't go down as the inventor of the photograph, at least he could go down as the inventor of the fake photograph — a still-relevant invention, to say the least, given our increasingly complicated relationship with the truth in the 21st century.

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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 or on Facebook.

Cy Kuckenbaker’s Time Collapse Videos Let You See Daily Life As You’ve Never Seen It Before

There are apps to track the number of daily minutes you habitually fritter away on social media, but can your smartphone help you get a handle on the automotive color preferences of midday San Diego drivers?

Or the number of planes landing at San Diego International Airport on the day after Thanksgiving?

Or, for that matter, the traffic patterns of non-professional surfers hoping to catch a wave at at Point Loma?

No, but filmmaker Cy Kuckenbaker can.




His "time collapse” videos stemmed from a desire to get to know the city in which he lives with the same vigor he brought to bear as a Peace Corps volunteer in his 20s, exploring Iraq, Africa, and Eastern Europe.

This impulse might lead others to join a club, take a class, or check out restaurants in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

For Kuckenbaker, it means setting up his camera for a fixed shot, uncertain if his experiment will even work, then spending hours and hours in the editing room, removing the time between events without altering the speed of his subjects.

It’s a form that requires a lot of patience on the part of its creator.

He estimates that he spent 2 hours editing for every second of Midday Traffic Time Collapsed and Reorganized by Color: San Diego Study #3, above, providing him ample time to listen to the following audiobooks (get your free Audible trial here):

Revolution 1989 by Victor Sebestyen

How Music Works by David Byrne

Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

1493 by Charles Mann

1491 by Charles Mann

With the Old Breed by E. Sledge

The Emperor of Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Each car was keyed out of the original shot, then ranked and reinserted based on color. 28 of the raw footage’s 462 didn’t make the cut due to erratic shape or movement. See if you can spot them in the extremely ordinary-looking original footage, below. Extra credit for spotting the empty Gatorade bottle that made it into every frame of the compression:

His studies may not reveal much about his home city to the average tourist, but Kuckenbaker himself is able to interpret the numbers in ways that go beyond mere quantity and averages, such as San Diegans’ apparent vehicular color preference:

Nationally, red is a more popular color than blue. But not San Diego. San Diego, there’s more blue than red, so it’s like, you know, an outlier. And I thought about that for a while and it’s like, personally, the way I understand the city, that makes sense to me. The sort of tone of the city, the attitude of the city—it’s an ocean city. I can see why people would think, “Well, I live in San Diego. Why would I have a red… I want a blue car!”

His Point Loma compression boiled an hour's surfing down to 2 minutes and 15 seconds that KPBS’ David Wagner heralded as “a surfer's wildest dream come true, a fantasy break where perfect waves roll in one after another like clockwork, no lulls in between.”

The raw footage and Kuckenbaker’s documentation of the After Effects technique used to composite the waves speaks to a slightly more tedious reality. No word on what audio books got him through this one, though he goes into the technical specs and quotes Joseph Conrad on his blog.

The compression of the nearly 70 arriving Black Friday flights that kicked off Kuckenbaker’s San Diego-based time collapses in 2012 feels a bit martial, especially if Ride of the Valkyries just happens to be playing in the background. It makes me worry for San Diego, and also wish for a Kuckenbaker to come collapse time in my town.

See more of Cy Kuckenbaker’s Time Collapse videos here.

via Twisted Sifter

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

People Pose in Uncanny Alignment with Iconic Album Covers: Discover The Sleeveface Project

We've all heard a great deal over the past twenty years or so about the death of the album. This talk seems to have begun with the emergence of the downloadable individual song, a technology that would finally allow us consumers to purchase only the tracks we want to hear and avoid paying full price for "filler." But against these odds, the long-playing album has persisted: artists still record them and listeners, at least dedicated listeners, still buy them, sometimes even on vinyl.

Somehow the album has remained culturally relevant, and a fair bit of the credit must go to its cover. It didn't take long after the introduction of the 12-inch, 33 1/3-RPM vinyl record in 1948 for the marketing purposes of its large outer sleeve to become evident, and the past 71 years have produced many a memorable image in that form. Few platforms could be as representative of our digital age as Instagram, but it is on Instagram that the album cover has recently received homage from across the globe.

"Sleeveface is an amusing participatory photo project in which people from all over the world strategically pose with matching album covers," writes Laughing Squid's Lori Dorn, "creating the illusion that the original picture is complete."

Browse the tags #sleeveface and #sleevefacesunday (for everything on the internet eventually gets its day) on Instagram and you'll see a variety of tribute poses, some of them uncannily well-aligned, to musicians whose faces we all know not least because they've appeared on iconic album covers: Bruce Springsteen to Bob Marley, Simon and Garfunkel to Iggy and the Stooges, Leonard Cohen to Freddie Mercury, Janis Joplin to Adele.

All those famous names have undergone the sleeveface treatment, and quite a few of them have undergone it more than once. Many of us have grown familiar indeed with these albums, and surely even those of us who've never listened to them start-to-finish probably know at least a couple of their songs. But even if you've never heard so much as a measure of any of them, you've almost certainly seen their covers — and may well, at one time or another, have been tempted to hold them up in front of your own face to see how they lined up. Popular music shows us how much we have in common, but so does its packaging.

via Laughing Squid

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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 or on Facebook.

Enjoy Dazzling & Dizzying 360° Virtual Tours of Los Angeles Landmarks

Remember when armchair travel meant a book, a magazine, a handful of postcards, or the occasional after-dinner slideshow of the neighbors’ vacation photos?

Those were the days.

The throngs of travel “influencers”—both professional and aspirant—have taken much of the fun out of living through others’ visits to far-flung locales. The focus seems to have shifted from imagining ourselves in their shoes to feeling oppressed by their highly-staged, heavily-filtered Instagram-perfect existence.




Photographer Jim Newberry's dazzling, dizzying 360° photos of Los Angeles, like the views of Echo Park, Chinatown, East L.A., and Downtown, above, offer armchair travelers transportation back to those giddy pre-influencer days.

(Angelinos and other LA-versed visitors will enjoy swooping through City of Angels landmarks as if rotating on the no-parallax point, too.)

The Chicago transplant admits that it took a while for him to find his Los Angeles groove:

After being disabused of my Midwestern, anti-L.A. views, I've found that the city has much more to offer than I had imagined, but the gems of Los Angeles often don't reveal themselves readily; it takes a bit of legwork to seek out the best spots, and well worth it. Mountains, beaches, vibrant urban life, tons of museums, gorgeous nature.

While easy-to-use "one-shot" 360 cameras exist, Newberry prefers the quality afforded by using a high-resolution non-360 camera with a wide angle lens, mounted on a panoramic tripod head that rotates it in such a way as to prevent perspective errors.

With the equipment set up in the center of the room, he shoots four photos, spaced 90° apart. Another shot is aimed directly downward toward the floor.

Panoramic software helps to stitch the images together for a "spherical panorama,” giving viewers an experience that’s the digital equivalent of swiveling their heads in awe.

Newberry’s roving lens turns Lee Lawrie’s Zodiac ChandelierDean Cornwell’s California history murals, and the decorative ceiling stencils of the Central Public Library’s Grand Rotunda into a gorgeous kaleidoscope.

The Taoist Thien Hau Temple in Chinatown is a more recent attraction, founded in the 1980s in a former Christian church. Community members raised funds to build the larger temple, above, dedicating it in 2006 as a shrine to Mazu, the goddess of the sea, protector of fisherman and sailors.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology, a self-described “educational institution dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and the public appreciation of the Lower Jurassic,” served as Newberry’s point of entry, when management okayed his request to shoot 360° photos there:

It's a very special place—my panoramic photos are no match for an in-person visit. Unlike many other museums these days, the Museum of Jurassic Technology doesn't normally allow photography, and there's not many photos of the place to be found. 

(In return for permission to shoot the museum’s Fauna of Mirrors murals, rooftop courtyard, and Tula Tea Room, Newberry agreed to maintain its mysterious aura by limiting the publication of those photos to his Panoramic Eye site. Feast your eyes here.)

The photographer is looking forward to working with more museums, creating 3-dimensional documentation of exhibits.

His interest in the ephemeral has also spurred him to create virtual tours of local landmarks on the verge of being torn down. Entries in the ongoing Lost Landmarks series include Los Feliz’s Good Luck Bar (RIP), Tom Bergin's Pub (above, spared at the last minute when the Los Angeles Conservancy declared it an Historic-Cultural Monument), and the Alpine Village, currently for sale in neighboring Torrance.

Begin your explorations of Jim Newberry’s Panoramic Eye 360° virtual tours of Los Angeles, including the Griffith Park Observatorythe St. Sophia Cathedral, and the Everything Is Terrible! store here.

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Ayun Halliday is the author of seven books, including No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Lateand the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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