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.

Photographer Puts Her Archive of Photos Documenting the 1970s New York Punk Scene on Instagram: Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Lydia Lunch, Tom Verlaine, and Even Jean Michel Basquiat

Just when you think the fabled downtown New York 70s punk scene centered around CBGBs has no more secrets to offer, another homegrown documentarian appears to show us photographs (on Instagram) we’ve never seen and tell some pretty nifty stories to go along with them. Julia Gorton came to New York from her native Delaware in 1976 and used a Polaroid camera to capture her firsthand encounters with legends like Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, David Byrne, Tom Verlaine, Iggy Pop, Richard Hell, and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks’ Lydia Lunch (below), “a natural for the glamorous black-and-white photos I liked to make,” she says, and a “a real partner” in Gorton’s enterprise and her most-photographed subject.

In Christina Cacouris’ interview with Gorton at Garage, we learn that the photographer “ended up meeting Tom’s mom [Television singer and guitarist Tom Verlaine] at the flea market in Wilmington [Delaware]. She was a proud mom who played her son’s single on a cassette player in the back of her station wagon while she sold things on a folding table.”

Exactly this kind of intimacy and family atmosphere pervades Gorton’s work in the punk clubs, downtown streets, and record stores. Like most of the performers onstage, Gorton was a relative amateur, learning her craft alongside the musicians and artists she photographed. “You didn’t need to be perfect before you started,” she says.

Although she found her lack of technical ability frustrating, in hindsight, Gorton says, “images that I perceived at the time as failures actually represent the true character of the time period more honestly and powerfully than the images I thought were ‘successful.’” In many cases, however, it has taken 21st century digital technology to unearth some of her most revealing shots.

The cost of film prohibited her from taking multiple exposures, and the darkness of CBGBs left many prints too murky. Using Photoshop, Gorton has been able to revisit many of these seemingly failed attempts, like the moody portrait above of Tom Verlaine. “I was able to scan and finally pull him out of the shadows of decades past,” she muses.

Along with the glamour of her portraits, Gorton’s candid shots of the period capture downtown legends in rare moments and poses. (Check out John Cale above at CBGBs, for example, or Jean Michel Basquiat, then known as SAMO, dancing on the right, below.) Shot while she was a student at the Parsons School of Design, Gorton’s photos of the punk, New Wave, and No Wave scene were the beginning of her long career as a photographer, illustrator, and graphic designer.

On her Instagram feed, 70s and 80s images mix in with her current projects, and the juxtaposition of contemporary musicians and artists with their counterparts from 40 years ago gives a sense of the long continuity reflected in Gorton’s engagement with street art and underground rock culture. Explore her photo collection here.

via Vice

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

Wim Wenders Explains How Polaroid Photos Ignite His Creative Process and Help Him Capture a Deeper Kind of Truth

Wim Wenders began his prolific feature filmmaking career in 1970, and nearly half a century later — having directed such cinephile favorites as Alice in the CitiesThe American FriendParis, Texas, and Wings of Desire along the way — he shows no signs of slowing down. Known for his collaboration with cinematographers, and with Robby Müller in particular, Wenders has worked in everything from black-and-white 16-millimeter film, when he first started out, to digital 3D, which he's spent recent years putting to a variety of cinematic ends. But we can trace all of his visions back, in one way or another, to the humble Polaroid instant camera.

"Every movie starts with a certain idea," says Wenders in the short "Photographers in Focus" video above, and the Polaroid was just a collection of constant ideas." The auteur speaks over images of some of the Polaroids he's taken throughout his life, relating his history with the medium.

"My very first Polaroid camera was a very simple one. Mid-sixties. I was 20, and I used Polaroid cameras exclusively until I was about 35 or so. Most of them I gave away, because when you took Polaroids, people were always greedy and wanted them because it was an object, it was a singular thing."

Wenders describes his Polaroids as "very insightful into the process of my first six, seven movies, all the movies I did through the seventies," the era in which he mastered the form of the road movie first in his native Germany, then in the much-mythologized United States. He not only shot Polaroids in preparation, but during production, snapping them casually, much as one would on a genuine road trip. "Polaroids were never so exact about the framing. You didn't really care about that. It was about the immediacy of it. It's almost a subconscious act, and then it became something real. That makes it such a window into your soul as well." Polaroid photographs, as Wenders sees them, capture a deeper kind of truth. It's no surprise, then, even in age of the 3D digital camera, to see them making a comeback.

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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.

Virginia Woolf’s Personal Photo Album Digitized & Put Online by Harvard: See Candid Snapshots of Woolf, Her Family, and Friends from the Bloomsbury Group

Some writers are restless by nature, roaming like Ernest Hemingway or Henry Miller, settling nowhere and everywhere. Others are homebodies, like William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. Their fiction reflects their desire to nest in place. Strolling the grounds of Faulkner’s Rowan Oak one sweltering summer, I swear I saw the author round a corner of the house, lost in thought and wearing riding clothes. Visitors to Virginia Woolf’s home in the village of Rodmell in East Sussex have surely had similar visions.

Woolf’s home contains her writing life within the lush garden grounds and cottage walls of the 17th century Monk’s House—Virginia and Leonard’s retreat, then permanent home, from 1919 until her suicide by drowning in the nearby River Ouse in 1941.

Even in death she belonged to the house; Leonard buried her ashes beneath an elm in the Monk’s House garden. Although Leonard was the gardener, “there are very few entries” in Virginia’s diary “which do not mention the garden.”

But there are many other ways to meet the author of Mrs. Dalloway and Jacob’s Room than traveling to her writer’s lodge, a tidy, tiny house on the Monk’s House grounds that served as her office. Like an avid Instragrammer—or like my mother and probably yours—Woolf kept careful record of her life in photo albums, which now reside at Harvard’s Houghton Library. The Monk’s House albums, numbered 1-6, contain images of Woolf, her family, and her many friends, including such famous members of the Bloomsbury group as E.M. Forster (above, top), John Maynard Keynes, and Lytton Strachey (below, with Woolf and W.B. Yeats, and playing chess with sister Marjorie). Harvard has digitized one album, Monk’s House 4, dated 1939 on the cover. You can view its scanned pages at their library site.

There are vacation photos and family photos; landscapes and photos of pets; clippings from newspapers and magazines; and, of course, the garden. The albums span the period 1890 to 1947 (including additions by Leonard after Virginia’s death). Many of the photos are labeled, many are not. Many of the albums’ pages are left blank. The photographs are arranged in no particular order. The net effect is that of a life recollected in pregnant images laced with lacunae, a psychological theme of so much of Woolf’s writing. Woolf, writes Maggie Humm, “believed that photographs could help her to survive those identity-destroying moments of her own life—her incoherent illnesses.”

But photography was also a means for cultivating relationships. Woolf “skillfully transformed friends and moments into artful tableaux, and she was surrounded by female friends and family who were also energetic photographers,” including her sister, Lady Ottoline Morrell, her friend and lover Vita Sackville-West, and her great aunt Julia Margaret Cameron. She “frequently invited friends to share her reflections. The letters and diaries describe a constant exchange of photographs, in which the photographs become a meeting-place, a conversation, aide-mémoires, and sometimes mechanisms of survival and enticement.”

Unlike Monk’s House, a world built and shared with her husband, Woolf’s albums represent her own personal network of relationships. They serve as memorials and meditations after the deaths of those close to her. “Photographs of friends were important memento mori,” such as the portrait of poet Julian Bell, above, her nephew, who was killed in the Spanish Civil War. The photos document gatherings and important life events among her social circle. They perform all the tasks of ordinary photo albums, and more—showing us the “chain of perceptions” of which personal identity is made in Woolf’s modernist vision, with repetitions and sequences centered around familiar objects like her favorite chair.

For fans, avid readers, critics, and literary historians, the photographs provide a visual record of a life we come to know so well through the letters, diaries, and romans à clef. Writing to her sister, Woolf once described painting a portrait “using dozens of snapshots in the paint.” Visit her photo album here at the Harvard Library site, and flip through the pages of her life in snapshots.

via @HarvardTheatre

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

Google’s Free App Analyzes Your Selfie and Then Finds Your Doppelganger in Museum Portraits

Having the ability to virtually explore the history, back stories, and cultural significance of artworks from over a thousand museums generates nowhere near the excitement as a feature allowing users to upload selfies in hopes of locating an Instagram-worthy doppelgänger somewhere in this vast digital collection.

On the other hand, if this low-brow innovation leads great hordes of millennials and iGen-ers to cross the thresholds of museums in over 70 countries, who are we to criticize?

So what if their primary motivation is snapping another selfie with their Flemish Renaissance twin? As long as one or two develop a passion for art, or a particular museum, artist, or period, we’re good.

Alas, some disgruntled users (probably Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers) are giving the Google Arts & Culture app (iPhone-Android) one-star reviews, based on their inability to find the only feature for which they downloaded it.

Allow us to walk you through.

After installing the app (iPhone-Android) on your phone or tablet, scroll down the homepage to the question “Is your portrait in a museum?”

The sampling of artworks framing this question suggest that the answer may be yes, regardless of your race, though one need not be a Guerilla Girl to wonder if Caucasian users are drawing their matches from a far larger pool than users of color…

Click “get started.” (You’ll have to allow the app to access your device’s camera.)

Take a selfie. (I suppose you could hedge your bets by switching the camera to front-facing orientation and aiming it at a pleasing pre-existing headshot.)

The app will immediately analyze the selfie, and within seconds, boom! Say hello to your five closest matches.

In the name of science, I subjected myself to this process, grinning as if I was sitting for my fourth grade school picture. I and received the following results, none of them higher than 47%:

Victorio C. Edades’ Mother and Daughter (flatteringly, I was pegged as the daughter, though at 52, the resemblance to the mother is a far truer match.)

Gustave Courbet’s Jo, la Belle Irlandaise (Say what? She’s got long red hair and skin like Snow White!)

Henry Inman’s portrait of President Martin Van Buren’s daughter-in-law and defacto White House hostess, Angelica Singleton Van Buren (Well, she looks ….congenial. I do enjoy parties…)

 and Sir Anthony van Dyck’s post-mortem painting of Venetia, Lady Digby, on her Deathbed (Um…)

Hoping that a different pose might yield a higher match I channeled artist Nina Katchadourian, and adopted a more painterly pose, unsmiling, head cocked, one hand lyrically resting on my breastbone… for good measure, I moved away from the window. This time I got:

Joseph Stella’s Boy with a Bagpipe (Maybe this wasn’t such a hot idea with regard to my self-image?)

Cipriano Efsio Oppo Portrait of Isabella (See above.)

Adolph Tidemand’s Portrait of Guro Silversdatter Travendal (Is this universe telling me it’s Babushka Time?)

Johannes Christiann Janson’s A Woman Cutting Bread (aka Renounce All Vanity Time?)

and Anders Zorn’s Madonna (This is where the mean cheerleader leaps out of the bathroom stall and calls me the horse from Guernica, right?)

Mercifully, none of these results topped the 50% mark, nor did any of the experiments I conducted using selfies of my teenage son (whose 4th closest match had a long white beard).

Perhaps there are still a few bugs to work out?

If you’re tempted to give Google Arts and Culture’s experimental portrait feature a go, please let us know how it worked out by posting a comment below. Maybe we're twins, I mean, triplets!

If such folderol is beneath you, please avail yourself of the app’s original features:

  • Zoom Views - Experience every detail of the world’s greatest treasures
  • Virtual Reality - Grab your Google Cardboard viewer and immerse yourself in arts and culture
  • Browse by time and color - Explore artworks by filtering them by color or time period
  • Virtual tours - Step inside the most famous museums in the world and visit iconic landmarks
  • Personal collection - Save your favorite artworks and share your collections with friends
  • Nearby - Find museums and cultural events around you
  • Exhibits - Take guided tours curated by experts
  • Daily digest - Learn something new every time you open the app
  • Art Recognizer - Learn more about artworks at select museums by pointing your device camera at them, even when offline
  • Notifications - subscribe to receive updates on the top arts & culture stories

Download Google Arts and Culture or update to Version 6.0.17 here (for Mac) or here (for Android).

Note: We're getting reports that the app doesn't seem to be available in every geographical location. If it's not available where you live, we apologize in advance.

via Good Housekeeping

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

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