Filmmaker Wim Wenders Explains How Mobile Phones Have Killed Photography

Smartphones have made us all photographers — or maybe they've made it so that none of us is a photographer. A century ago, merely possessing and knowing how to use a camera counted as a fairly notable accomplishment; today, nearly all of us carry one at all times whether we want to or not, and its operation demands no skill whatsoever. "I do believe that everybody's a photographer," says celebrated filmmaker Wim Wenders, director of movies like The American FriendParis, Texas and Wings of Desire, in the BBC clip above. "We're all taking billions of pictures, so photography is more alive than ever, and at the same time, it's more dead than ever."

Wenders made this claim at an exhibition of his Polaroid photographs, which we've previously featured here on Open Culture. In a sense, the Polaroid camera — easy to use, near-instant results, and highly portable by the standards of its era — was the smartphone camera of the 20th century, but Wenders doesn't draw the same kind of inspiration from phone shots as he did from Polaroids. "The trouble with iPhone pictures is that nobody sees them," he says, and one glance at the speed with which Instagram users scroll will confirm it. "Even the people who take them don't look at them anymore, and they certainly don't make prints."

Having worked in cinema for around half a century now (and for a time with the late cinematographer Robby Müller, one of the most respected and idiosyncratic in the industry), Wenders has seen firsthand how our relationship to the image has changed in that time. "I know from experience that the less you have, the more creative you have to become," he says, asked about the preponderance of photographic filters and apps. "Maybe it's not necessarily a sign of creativity that you can turn every picture into its opposite." Still, he has no objection to camera-phone culture itself, and even admits to taking selfies himself — with the caveat that "looking into the mirror is not an act of photography."

If selfie-taking and everything else we do with the cameras in our smartphones (to say nothing of the image manipulations we perform) isn't photography, what is it? "I'm in search of a new word for this new activity that looks so much like photography, but isn't photography anymore," Wenders says. "Please, let me know if you have a word for it." Some commenters have put forth "fauxtography," an amusing enough suggestion but not one likely to satisfy a creator like Wenders who, in work as in life, seldom makes the obvious choice.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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.

Rare Photos of Frida Kahlo, Age 13-23

“Before they were famous” photos are a clickbait staple, especially if they reveal a heretofore unseen side of someone whose image is tightly controlled:

The smoldering activist-actress-director as a gawky, open-faced sophomore, her hair moussed to the very limits of her modeling school test shots?

The rising political star, pimple-faced and center-parted, posing with the other three members of his high school’s Dungeons and Dragons Club?

What about evergreen art star Frida Kahlo?

Though her husband, muralist Diego Rivera, was the one who urged her to adopt the traditional Tehuana dress of their native Mexico as a uniform of sorts, Frida engineered her image by placing herself center stage in dozens of allegorical, intimate self-portraits.

Much of her work alludes to the horrific accident she suffered at 18, and the tortuous treatments and surgeries she underwent as a result for the rest of her life.

It shaped the way she saw herself, and, in turn, the way we see her. Her enduring appeal is such that even those who aren’t overly familiar with her work feel they have a pretty good handle on her, thanks to her ubiquity on totebags, apparel, and various gift related items—even Frida Kahlo action figures and paper dolls.

We know this lady, right?

What a pleasure to get to know her better. A collection of photos that has recently come to light introduces us to a younger, more candid Frida—both before and after the accident, when she returned to her studies at National Preparatory School.

Taken together with the portraits made by her photographer father, they show early evidence of the forceful personality that would dominate and define her public image, Mary Jane-style pumps with socks, a middy blouse, and a variety of blunt bobs aside.

Some of the later photos in this batch speak to her increasing interest in distinguishing herself from her female peers. Her experiments in cross dressing ensured she would stand out in every group photo, a dashing figure in suit, tie, and slicked back hair.

Though this period of her life is less a matter of public record, it gets its due in the 2017 graphic novel Frida: The Story of Her Life by Vanna Vinci. Some of the others in these photos, including her sisters and her first boyfriend, Alejandro Gómez Arias, appear as characters, as does Death in the form of printmaker José Guadalupe Posada’s La Calavera Catrina—perhaps the only image formidable enough to hold its own against the fabulous Frida.

Frida Kahlo The Story of Her Life p. 22-23

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

French Bookstore Blends Real People’s Faces with Book Cover Art

You can lead the I-generation to a bookstore, but can you make them read?

Perhaps, especially if the volume has an eye-catching cover image that bleeds off the edge.

If nothing else, they can be enlisted to provide some stunning free publicity for the titles that appeal to their highly visual sense of creative play. (An author’s dream!)

France's first indie bookstore, Bordeaux’s Librairie Mollat, is reeling ‘em in with Book Face, an irresistible selfie challenge that harkens back to DJ Carl MorrisSleeveface project, in which one or more people are photographed “obscuring or augmenting any part of their body or bodies with record sleeve(s), causing an illusion.”

The results are proliferating on the store’s Instagram, as fetching young things (and others) apply themselves to finding the best angles and costumes for their lit-based Trompe-l’œil masterstrokes.

…even the ones that don’t quite pass the forced perspective test have the capacity to charm.

…and not every shot requires intense pre-production and precision placement.

Hopefully, we’ll see more kids getting into the act soon. In fact, if some youngsters of your acquaintance are expressing a bit of boredom with their vacances d’été, try turning them loose in your local bookstore to identify a likely candidate for a Book Face of their own.

(Remember to support the bookseller with a purchase!)

Back stateside, some librarians shared their pro tips for achieving Book Face success in this 2015 New York Times article. The New York Public Library’s Morgan Holzer also cites Sleeveface as the inspiration behind #BookfaceFriday, the hashtag she coined in hopes that other libraries would follow suit.

With over 50,000 tagged posts on Instagram, looks like it’s caught on!

See Librairie Mollats patrons’ gallery of Book Faces here.

Readers, if you’ve Book Faced anywhere in the world, please share the link to your efforts in the comments section.

via This is Colossal/Hyperallergic

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. In honor of her son’s 18th birthday, she invites you to Book Face your baby using The Big Rumpus, her first book, for which he served as cover model. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Color Film Was Designed to Take Pictures of White People, Not People of Color: The Unfortunate History of Racial Bias in Photography (1940-1990)

In the history of photography and film, getting the right image meant getting the one which conformed to prevalent ideas of humanity. This included ideas of whiteness, of what colour — what range of hue — white people wanted white people to be. 

- Richard Dyer, White: Essays on Race and Culture

As the bride in the 2014 Interracial Wedding Photographer skit (see below) on her titular sketch comedy TV show, comedian Amy Schumer cast herself in a small but essential background role. She is for all practical purposes a living Shirley card, an image of a young white woman that was for years the standard photography techs used to determine “normal” skin-color balance when developing film in the lab.

The Shirley card—named for its original model, Kodak employee Shirley Page--featured a succession of young women over the years, but skin tone-wise, the resemblance was striking.

As described by Syreeta McFadden in a Buzzfeed essay that also touches on Carrie Mae Weems' 1988 four-panel portrait, Peaches, Liz, Tamika, Elaine, a color wheel meme featuring actress Lupita Nyong'o, and artists Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin's 2013 project that trained an apartheid-era Polaroid ID2 camera and nearly 40-year-old film stock on dark-skinned South African subjects as a lens for examining racism:

She is wearing a white dress with long black gloves. A pearl bracelet adorns one of her wrists. She has auburn hair that drapes her exposed shoulders. Her eyes are blue. The background is grayish, and she is surrounded by three pillows, each in one of the primary colors we're taught in school. She wears a white dress because it reads high contrast against the gray background with her black gloves. "Color girl" is the technicians' term for her. The image is used as a metric for skin-color balance, which technicians use to render an image as close as possible to what the human eye recognizes as normal. But there's the rub: With a white body as a light meter, all other skin tones become deviations from the norm.

This explains why the portrait session McFadden’s mom set up in a shopping mall studio chain yielded results so disastrous that McFadden instinctively gravitated toward black-and-white when she started taking pictures. Grayscale did a much better job of suggesting the wide variety of multicultural skin tones than existing color film.

In her 2009 paper "Looking at Shirley, the Ultimate Norm: Colour Balance, Image Technologies and Cognitive Equity," Concordia University media and communication studies professor Lorna Roth went into the chemistry of inherent, if unconscious, racial bias. The potential to recognize a spectrum of yellow, brown and reddish skin tones was there, but the film companies went with emulsions that catered to the perceived needs of their target consumers, whose hides were noticeably lighter than those of black shutterbugs also seeking to document their family vacations, milestones, and celebrations.

Industry progress can be chalked up to pressure from vendors of wood furniture and chocolate, who felt their dark products could look better on film.

Oprah Winfrey and Black Entertainment Television were early adopters of cameras equipped with two computer chips, thus enabling them to accurately portray a variety of individual tones simultaneously.

Who knew that Amy Schumer sketch, below, would turn out to have such historic significance? Once you know about the Shirley card, the comedy becomes even darker. Generations of real brides and grooms, whose skin tones fell to either side of Schumer’s TV groom, DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest fame, failed to show up in their own wedding photos, through no fault of their own.

via Vox

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

New Archive of Middle Eastern Photography Features 9,000 Digitized Images

From Shamoon Zamir, a literature professor at NYU Abu Dhabi, comes a "research archive of historical and contemporary photography from the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA)," designed to be  fully accessible to the public. We're told:

Today, Akkasah: The Center for Photography at NYU Abu Dhabi boasts an archive of 62,000 images from the UAE and across the MENA region – of which 9,000 are already digitized and available online -- the only of its kind in the Middle East. These images offer new insights into the history and rapid transformation of the UAE and the broader Arab world. They include historical collections ranging from the nineteenth century to the late twentieth, covering a variety of themes and topics, from early images of the Holy Lands and from the Ottoman Empire, to images from family albums, institutional archives and the history of Egyptian cinema.

You can visit the collection of images here, which is itself divided into a few key areas: Historical CollectionsContemporary Projects, and Photo Albums.

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Patti Smith, The Godmother of Punk, Is Now Putting Her Pictures on Instagram

As evidenced by her Instagram feed the Godmother is just like you and me. She posts pictures of her kids.

She gives her mom a Mothers Day shout out…

She celebrates her friends’ birthdays, posts selfies, travel shots, and pet pics

She’s not above self-promotion if the situation warrants.

But the accompanying captions set punk's poet laureate apart. No LOLs here.  It’s clear that the award-winning author of Just Kids  and M Train thinks about her content, carefully crafting each post before she publishes. Each is a bite-sized reflection, a page-a-day meditation on what it means to be alive:

This is day two of my Venice report.

I bummed around thinking of 

Venice in the seventies. It had

a strong Rasta vibe with Reggae

music drifting from the head shops

and boom boxes on the beach. 

Burning Spear and Jimmy Cliff

and Bob Marley. Venice has an 

ever changing atmosphere but 

I always like walking around, 

anonymous, just another freak. 

On Pacific next to the Cafe Collage

I had steamed dumplings and 

ginger tea at Mao’s Kitchen. 

The food is great and reasonable.

Because it was early it was 

nearly empty. Since I was awake

since 4am i was nearly hypnotized 

by the turning of their overhead 

fan. Before I left they gave me a

fortune cookie. It was a true one.

Reflecting my past and certainly 

my future. A very good day.

Follow Patti Smith on Instagram here.

via W Magazine

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her solo show Nurse!, in which one of Shakespeare’s best loved female characters hits the lecture circuit to set the record straight premieres in June at The Tank in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Enter an Archive of Over 95,000 Aerial Photographs Taken Over Britain from 1919 to 2006

As deep as we get into the 21st century, many of us still can't stop talking about the 20th. That goes especially for those of us from the West, and specifically those of us from America and Britain, places that experienced not just an eventful 20th century but a triumphant one: hence, in the case of the former, the designation "the American Century." And even though that period came after the end of Britain's supposed glory days, the "Imperial Century" of 1815-1914, the United Kingdom changed so much from the First World War to the end of the millennium — not just in terms of what lands it comprised, but what was appearing and happening on them — that words can't quite suffice to tell the story.

Enter Britain from Above, an archive of over 95,000 pieces of aerial photography of Britain taken not just from the air but from the sweep of history between 1919 and 2006. Its pictures, says its about page, come from "the Aerofilms collection, a unique aerial photographic archive of international importance.

The collection includes 1.26 million negatives and more than 2000 photograph albums." Originally created by Aerofilms Ltd, an air survey set up by a couple veterans of World War I and later expanded to include smaller collections from the archives of two other companies, it "presents an unparalleled picture of the changing face of Britain in the 20th century" and "includes the largest and most significant number of air photographs of Britain taken before 1939."

Here you see just four selections from among those 95,000 images from the Aerofilms collection digitized by the four-year-long Britain from Above project with the goal of conserving its "oldest and most valuable" photographs. At the top of the post, see bomb damaged and cleared areas to the east of St Paul's Cathedral, London, 1947. Then wingwalker Martin Hearn does his daredevilish job in 1932. Below that, a nearly abstract pattern of housing stretches out around St. Aidan's Church in Leeds in 1929, the light ship Alarm passes the SS Collegian in Liverpool Bay in 1947; and Scotland's Loch Leven passes through the Mam na Gualainn in that same year.

Attaining a firm grasp of a place's history often requires what we metaphorically call a "view from 30,000 feet," but in the case of one of the leading parts of the world in as technologically and developmentally heady a time as the 20th century, we mean it literally. Enter the Britain from Above photo archive here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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.

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