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.

Tsarist Russia Comes to Life in Vivid Color Photographs Taken Circa 1905-1915

History escapes us. Events that changed the world forever, or should have, slide out of collective memory. If we’re pointing fingers, we might point at educational systems that fail to educate, or at huge historical blind spots in mass media. Maybe another reason the recent past fades like old photographs may have to do with old photographs.

The present leaps out at us from our ubiquitous screens in vivid, high-resolution color. We are riveted to the spectacles of the moment. Perhaps if we could see history in color—or at least the small but significant sliver of it that has been photographed—we might have somewhat better historical memories. It’s only speculation, who knows? But looking at the images here makes me think so.

Although we can date color photography back as early as 1861, when physicist James Clerk Maxwell made an experimental print with color filters, the process didn’t really come into its own until the turn of the century. (It wouldn’t be until much later in the 20th century that mass-producing color photographs became feasible.) One early master of the art, Russian chemist and photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, used Maxwell’s filter process and other methods to create the images you see here, dating from between 1905 and 1915.

You can see hundreds more such images—over 2000, in fact—at the Library of Congress’ collection, digitally recreated from color glass negatives for your browsing and downloading pleasure or historical research. “I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a photograph from the past and felt its subjects come alive so vividly,” writes Messy Nessy, “as if they’ve almost blinked at me, as if it were just yesterday.”

Clearly the clothing, architecture, and other markers of the past give away the age of these pictures, as does their faded quality. But imagine this latter evidence of time passed as an Instragram filter and you might feel like you could have been there, on the farms, churches, waterways, gardens, forests, city streets, and drawing rooms of Imperial Russia during the doomed last years of the Romanovs.

Several hundred of the photos in the archive aren't in color. Prokudin-Gorskii, notes the LoC, “undertook most of his ambitious color documentary project from 1909 to 1915.” Even while traveling around photographing the countryside, he made just as many monochrome images. Because of our cultural conditioning and the way we see the world now we are bound to interpret black-and-white and sepia-toned prints as more distant and estranged.

Prokudin-Gorskii took his most famous photo, a color image of Leo Tolstoy which we’ve featured here before, in 1908. It granted him an audience with the Tsar, who afterward gave him “a specially equipped railroad-car darkroom,” Messy Nessy notes, and “two permits that granted him access to restricted areas.” After the Revolution, he fled to Paris, where he died in 1944, just one month after the city’s liberation.

His surviving photos, plates, and negatives had been stored in the basement of his Parisian apartment building until a Library of Congress researcher found and purchased them in 1948. His work in color, a novelty at the time, now strikes us in its ordinariness; an aid “for anyone who has ever found it difficult to connect with historical photographs.” Still, we might wonder, "what will they think of our photographs in a hundred years time?”

I suspect a hundred years from now, or maybe even 20 or 30, people will marvel at our quaint, primitive two-dimensional vision, while strolling around in virtual 3D recreations, maybe chatting casually with holographic, AI-endowed historical people. Maybe that technology will make it harder for the future to forget us, or maybe it will make it easier to misremember.

Enter the Library of Congress Prokudin-Gorskii archive here.

via Messy Nessy

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

A Dazzling Aerial Photograph of Edinburgh (1920)

The British photographer Alfred Buckham (1879–1956) came of age during the early history of flight and served, starting in 1917, as a reconnaissance photographer for the Royal Naval Air Service. Apparently a better photographer than pilot, Buckham "crashed nine times before he was discharged from the Royal Naval Air Service as a hundred per cent disabled," writes the National Galleries Scotland website. (At the age of 39, he damaged his voice box and had to breathe out of a tracheotomy tube for the rest of his life.) But, nonetheless, his passion for aerial photography continued unabated.

In 1920, Buckham captured this rather splendid aerial photo of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. It's his chef d'oeuvre. About the photograph, the National Galleries writes:

Buckham’s aerial view of Edinburgh has become one of the most popular photographs in our collection. The view is taken from the west, with the castle in the foreground and the buildings of the Old Town along the Royal Mile gradually fading into a bank of mist with the rocky silhouette of Arthur’s Seat just visible in the distance. Buckham was always keen to capture strong contrasts of light and dark, often combining the skies and landscapes from separate photographs to achieve a theatrical effect. As he does here, he some­times collaged or hand-painted the form of a tiny aircraft to enhance the vertiginous effect. Yet accuracy remained a concern; Buckham later professed a particular fond­ness for his view of Edinburgh, ‘because it presents, so nearly, the effect that I saw’.

If you follow these links, you can see a wider selection of Buckham's photographs, including Sunshine, and Showers; The Storm Centre; Sunset over the Pentlands Range; The Forth Bridge; Volcano: Crater of Popocatepetl; and more.

via Kottke

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A Shazam for Nature: A New Free App Helps You Identify Plants, Animals & Other Denizens of the Natural World

Do you ever long for those not-so-long-ago days when you skipped through the world, breathless with the anticipation of catching Pokémon on your phone screen?

If so, you might enjoy bagging some of the Pokeverse’s real world counterparts using Seek, iNaturalist’s new photo-identification app. It does for the natural world what Shazam does for music.

Aim your phone’s camera at a nondescript leaf or the grasshopper-ish-looking creature who’s camped on your porch light. With a bit of luck, Seek will pull up the relevant Wikipedia entry to help the two of you get better acquainted.

Registered users can pin their finds to their personal collections, provided the app’s recognition technology produces a match.

(Several early adopters suggest it’s still a few houseplants shy of true functionality…)

Seek’s protective stance with regard to privacy settings is well suited to junior specimen collectors, as are the virtual badges with which it rewards energetic uploaders.

While it doesn’t hang onto user data, Seek is building a photo library, composed in part of user submissions.

(Your cat is ready for her close up, Mr. DeMille…)

(Ditto your Portobello Mushroom burger…)

Download Seek for free on iTunes or Google Play.

via Earther/My Modern Met

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

Google Launches Three New Artificial Intelligence Experiments That Could Be Godsends for Artists, Museums & Designers

You'll recall, a few months ago, when Google made it possible for all of your Facebook friends to find their doppelgängers in art history. As so often with that particular company, the fun distraction came as the tip of a research-and-development-intensive iceberg, and they've revealed the next layer in the form of three artificial intelligence-driven experiments that allow us to navigate and find connections among huge swaths of visual culture with unprecedented ease.

Google's new Art Palette, as explained in the video at the top of the post, allows you to search for works of art held in "collections from over 1500 cultural institutions," not just by artist or movement or theme but by color palette.

You can specify a color set, take a picture with your phone's camera to use the colors around you, or even go with a random set of five colors to take you to new artistic realms entirely.

Admittedly, scrolling through the hundreds of chromatically similar works of art from all throughout history and across the world can at first feel a little uncanny, like walking into one of those houses whose occupant has shelved their books by color. But a variety of promising uses will immediately come to mind, especially for those professionally involved in the aesthetic fields. Famously color-loving, art-inspired fashion designer Paul Smith, for instance, appears in another promotional video describing how he'd use Art Palette: he'd "start off with the colors that I've selected for that season, and then through the app look at those colors and see what gets thrown up."

In collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art, Google's Art Recognizer, the second of these experiments, uses machine learning to find particular works of art as they've variously appeared over decades and decades of exhibition. "We had recently launched 30,000 installation images online, all the way back to 1929," says MoMA Digital Media Director Shannon Darrough in the video above. But since "those images didn't contain any information about the actual works in them," it presented the opportunity to use machine learning to train a system to recognize the works on display in the images, which, in the words of Google Arts and Culture Lab's Freya Murray, "turned a repository of images into a searchable archive."

The formidable photographic holdings of Life magazine, which documented human affairs with characteristically vivid photojournalism for a big chunk of the twentieth century, made for a similarly enticing trove of machine-learnable material. "Life magazine is one of the most iconic publications in history," says Murray in the video above. "Life Tags is an experiment that organizes Life magazine's archives into an interactive encyclopedia," letting you browse by every tag from "Austin-Healey" to "Electronics" to "Livestock" to "Wrestling" and many more besides. Google's investment in artificial intelligence has made the history of Life searchable. How much longer, one wonders, before it makes the history of life searchable?

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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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