Women Street Photographers: The Web Site, Instragram Account & Book That Amplify the Work of Women Artists Worldwide

It’s almost impossible not to wonder how reclusive artists of the past — like anonymous street photographer and Chicago nanny Vivian Maier — would fare in the age of Tumblr and Instagram. Would Maier have become internet famous? Would she have posted any of her photographs? The little we know about her makes it hard to answer the question. Maier lived a life of abstemious self-negation. “She never exhibited her work,” Alex Kotlowitz writes at Mother Jones, “she didn’t share her photos with anyone, except some of the children in her care.”

And yet, Maier was known to enjoy conversations about film and theater with knowledgeable people. One suspects that if she had been able to stay in touch with like minds, she might have been encouraged by a supportive community she couldn’t find anywhere else. We might imagine her, for example, submitting a select few photographs to Women Street Photographers, a project that began in 2017 as an Instagram account and has since “burgeoned into a website, artist residency, series of exhibitions, film series, and now a book published this month by Prestel,” Grace Ebert writes at Colossal.

For women street photographers living and working today, the project offers what founder Gulnara Samoilova says she needed and couldn’t find: “I soon began to realize that with this platform, I could create everything I had always wanted to receive as a photographer: the kinds of support and opportunities that would have helped me grow during those formative and pivotal points on my journey.” The project is international in scope, bringing together the work of 100 women from 31 countries, “a tiny sampling of what’s out there.”

In her introduction to the 224-page book, Samoilova describes the importance of such a collection:

Street photography is both a record of the world and a statement of the artist themselves: it is how they see the world, who they are, what captures their attention, and fascinates them. There’s a wonderful mixture of art and artifact, poetry and testimony that makes street photography so appealing. It’s both documentary and fine art at the same time, yet highly accessible to people outside the photography world.

There are Vivian Maiers around the world driven to document their surroundings, whether anyone ever sees their work or not. Maier made her photographs “for all the right reasons,” says Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick. “She made them because to not make them was impossible. She had no choice.” But perhaps she might have chosen to show her work if she had access to platforms like Women Street Photographers. We can be grateful for such outlets now: they offer perspectives that we can find nowhere else. Women Street Photographers will announce the winners of its inaugural virtual exhibition “on or around April 1.”

via Colossal

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

A Finnish Astrophotographer Spent 12 Years Creating a 1.7 Gigapixel Panoramic Photo of the Entire Milky Way

In the final, climactic scene of Japanese novelist Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country, the Milky Way engulfs the protagonist — an aesthete who keeps himself detached from the world, a universal perspective overtaking an insignificant individual.

We now know the Milky Way itself to be a minuscule part of the whole, just one of 100 to 200 billion galaxies. But until Edwin Hubble’s observations in 1924, it was thought to contain all the stars in existence.

The Milky Way-as-universe is a powerful image, and certainly more comprehensible than the universe as astronomers currently understand it. Its vastness can’t be compressed into a symbolic form like the via lactea, “Milky Way,” or as the Greeks called it, galaktikos kýklos, “milky circle.” Andy Briggs summarizes just a few of the ancient myths and legends:

To the ancient Armenians, it was straw strewn across the sky by the god Vahagn. In eastern Asia, it was the Silvery River of Heaven. The Finns and Estonians saw it as the Pathway of the Birds…. Both the Greeks and the Romans saw the starry band as a river of milk. The Greek myth said it was milk from the breast of the goddess Hera, divine wife of Zeus. The Romans saw the river of light as milk from their goddess Ops.

A barred spiral galaxy spinning around a “galactic bulge” with an empty center, a “monstrous black hole,” notes Space.com, “billions of times as massive as the sun”… the Milky Way remains an awesome symbol for a universe too vast for us to hold in our minds.

Witness, for example, the just-released image further up, a 1.7 gigapixel panoramic photo of the Milky Way, from Taurus to Cygnus, 100,000 pixels wide, pieced together from 234 panels by Finnish astrophotographer J-P Metsavainio, who began the project all the way back in 2009. “I can hear music in this composition,” he writes at his site, “from high sparks and bubbles at left to deep and massive sounds at right.”

Over 12 years, and around 1250 hours of exposure, Michael Zhang writes at Petapixel, Metsavainio “focused on different areas and objects in the Milky Way, shooting stitched mosaics of them as individual artworks.” As he began to knit the galactic clouds of stars and gasses together into a Photoshop panorama, he discovered a “complex image set which is partly overlapping with lots of unimaged areas between and around frames.” Over the years, he filled in the gaps, shooting the “missing data.” He describes his equipment and process in detail, for those fluent in the technical jargon. The rest of us can stare in silent wonder at more of Metsavainio’s work on his website (where you can also purchase prints) and Facebook, and let ourselves be overtaken by awe.

via Petapixel and Kottke

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

Alan Watts Reads “One of the Greatest Things Carl Jung Ever Wrote”

Carl Jung founded the field of analytical psychology more than a century ago, and many reference his insights into the human mind and condition still today. Alan Watts certainly did his bit to keep the Jungian flame alive, whatever the outward differences between a Swiss psychiatrist and an English interpreter of Taoism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, especially of the Zen variety. Both men believed in casting a wide spiritual net, all the better to expose the common core elements of seemingly disparate ancient traditions. And in so doing they could hardly afford to ignore the religious underpinnings of the European civilization, broadly speaking, from which they emerged. In fact, Watts became an ordained Episcopal priest at the age of 30 — though, owing to the complexities of his beliefs as well as his personal life, he resigned the ministry by age 35.

But Watts’ investment in certain tenets of Christianity endured, and he named as one of Jung’s greatest writings a lecture delivered to a Swiss clergy group. “People forget that even doctors have moral scruples and that certain patient’s confessions are hard even for a doctor to swallow,” begins the speech as Watts reads it aloud in the video above. “Yet the patient does not feel himself accepted unless the very worst in him is accepted too. No one can bring this about by mere words. It comes only through reflection and through the doctor’s attitude towards himself and his own dark side.” To help another person, in other words, one must first accept that person as he is; but to accept another person as he is first requires taking oneself straight, less-than-admirable qualities and all.

According to Watts, Jung himself demonstrated this rare self-awareness. “He knew and recognized what I sometimes call the element of irreducible rascality in himself,” says Watts in a talk of his own previously featured here on Open Culture. “He knew it so strongly and so clearly, and in a way so lovingly, that he would not condemn the same thing in others, and would therefore not be led into those thoughts, feelings, and acts of violence towards others which are always characteristic of the people who project the devil in themselves upon the outside, upon somebody else, upon the scapegoat.” As Jung puts it to his clerical audience, “In the sphere of social or national relations, the state of suffering may be civil war, and this state is to be cured by the Christian virtue of forgiveness and love of one’s enemies.”

What Christianity holds as true of the outer world goes just as well, Jung argues, for the inner one. “This is why modern man has heard enough about guilt and sin. He is sorely beset by his own bad conscience and wants, rather, to know how he is to reconcile himself with his own nature, how he is to love the enemy in his own heart and call the wolf his brother.” He “does not want to know in what way he can imitate Christ, but in what way he can live his own individual life, however meagre and uninteresting it may be.” Only by being allowed to follow this “egoism” to its conclusion of “complete isolation” can he “get to know himself and learn what an invaluable treasure is the love of his fellow beings”; it is only “in the state of complete abandonment and loneliness that we experience the helpful powers of our own natures.” Without knowing our own natures, we can hardly expect even the most time-tested belief systems to put an end to the civil wars inside us.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

How Norman Rockwell Used Photographs to Create His Famous Paintings: See Side-by-Side Comparisons

More than 40 years after Norman Rockwell’s death, the question of whether his paintings are realistic or unrealistic remains open for debate. On one hand, critical opinion has long dismissed his Saturday Evening Post-adorning visions of American life as sheerest fantasy. “A little girl with a black eye, an elderly woman saying grace with her grandson, a boy going to war: Rockwellian scenes represent a certain sentimental America — an ideal America, or at least Rockwell’s ideal,” says a 2009 NPR story on his work.

On the other hand, if Rockwell’s admirers give him a pass on this sentimentality, his detractors often turn a blind eye to his obvious technical mastery. Say what you will about his themes, the man might as well have been a camera.  Indeed, his process began with an actual camera. According to that NPR piece, he “used photos, taken by a rotating cast of photographers, to make his illustrations — and all of his models were neighbors and friends,” residents of his small town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

The cameramen included a German immigrant named Clemens Kalischer: “An artist-photographer himself, Kalischer was at odds with the tracing techniques and saccharine subject matter in Rockwell’s work. After all, Rockwell never painted freehand, and almost all of his paintings were commissioned by magazines and advertising companies.”

But “although he may not have clicked the shutter, Rockwell directed every facet of every composition,” as you can see by examining his paintings and reference photos together, featured as they’ve been on sites like Petapixel.

At Google Arts & Culture, you can scroll through a short exhibition of Rockwell’s late work on race relations in America that reveals how he had not just one but many photographs taken as source material for each painting, which he would then combine into a single image. This quasi-cinematic “editing” process brings to mind the “storyboarding” of Edward Hopper, who stands alongside Rockwell as one of the most American painters of the 20th century.

But while Hopper gave artistic form to the country’s alienation, Rockwell — whom history hasn’t remembered as a particularly happy man — created an “American sanctuary others wished to share.” And though neither Hopper nor Rockwell’s America may ever have existed, they were crafted from the pieces of American life the artists found everywhere around them.

via Petapixel/MessyNessy

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

Nikon Offers Free Online Photography Courses During the Holidays

A quick heads up. From November 23rd through December 31st, you can stream for free all classes offered by Nikon School Online. Normally priced at $15-$50 per course, this 10-course offering covers Fundamentals of Photography, Dynamic Landscape Photography, Macro Photography, Photographing Children and Pets, and more.

Finding the courses on the Nikon site is not very intuitive. To access the courses, click here and then scroll down the page until you see a yellow button that says “Watch Full Version.” From there you will get a prompt that allows you to sign up for the courses…

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. 

via PetaPixel

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How Errol Morris Became Obsessed with — and Figured Out — the Truth of a Famous War Photograph

Errol Morris didn’t go all the way to the Crimean Peninsula just because of a sentence written by Susan Sontag. “No,” he once explained to a friend, “it was actually two sentences.” Found in Regarding the Pain of Others, Sontag’s late book-length essay on war photography, these lines deal with the fact that “many of the canonical images of early war photography turn out to have been staged, or to have had their subjects tampered with.” Take Valley of the Shadow of Death, pioneering war photographer Roger Fenton’s famously desolate 1855 image from the Crimean War. Fenton actually shot this landscape twice: in one picture, “cannonballs are thick on the ground to the left of the road, but before taking the second picture — the one that is always reproduced — he oversaw the scattering of the cannonballs on the road itself.”

Or did he? Morris had his doubts — and, as the maker of such acclaimed documentaries on the nature of truth and its representation as The Thin Blue Line and Standard Operating Procedure and the author of the book Believing is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photographyhe clearly has an intellectual investment in the subject.

“I spent a considerable amount of time looking at the two photographs and thinking about the two sentences,” Morris writes in a 2007 New York Times blog post. “How did Sontag know that Fenton altered the landscape or, for that matter, ‘oversaw the scattering of the cannonballs on the road itself?'” How, for that matter, “did Sontag know the sequence of the photographs? How did she know which photograph came first?”

Unable to turn up any persuasive evidence, Morris launched an investigation of his own, interviewing experts, digging into Fenton’s letters, and eventually making his way to the Valley of the Shadow of Death itself (not to be confused with the other, better-known valley across which Tennyson’s Light Brigade charged). All of this Morris did in the name of finding out which came first, the photo with the cannonballs beside the road, or the one with the cannonballs on the road. You can hear him discuss this increasingly obsessive quest for the truth in the video above from Vox’s Darkroom, the series that previously gave us a breakdown of the very first faked photograph. But then, as this and other investigations by Morris into the relationship between images, language, and reality have underscored, there is no such thing as a true photograph.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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 Iconic Photography of Gordon Parks: An Introduction to the Renaissance American Artist

I felt the need for me to somehow or another, use humanity to get people to become aware of how people suffered. That was what drove me to it.

Poet, novelist, jazz pianist, classical composer, co-founder of Essence magazine, and first Black director of a major Hollywood film, based on a book he himself wrote…. Oh, and he also directed Shaft, the high watermark of Blaxploitation film and a production, says Evan Puschak, the Nerdwriter, above, “that helped to save MGM and the larger studio system from bankruptcy.” Gordon Parks lived “enough for ten lives,” but the resume above misses out on Parks’ “greatest contribution to American art in the 20th century… his photography.”

The self-taught Parks began taking pictures at 25, inspired by newsreel footage of the bombing of an American gunship. After seeing the film, he purchased his first camera and soon moved to Chicago, where he honed his craft in the early 40s and developed the skills that would bring him to the New Deal’s Farm Security Administration. There he worked under the legendary Roy Stryker, the former Columbia economist who also hired Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Edwin Rosskam, and other photographers who went on to have long careers in photojournalism.

None of these Depression-era government photographers neglected the Black experience in America; under Stryker’s direction, the FSA did its best to faithfully document working-class and poor Americans of all backgrounds. Before being commissioned to do so, however, Parks, the only Black photographer in the group, was already seeking out candid, intimate images of life on the South Side of Chicago. When he began working for the FSA, he produced one of the most iconic images of the period, “American Gothic,” a solo restaging of the Grant Woods painting featuring a cleaning woman named Ella Watson, broom in one hand, mop in the other.

Stryker, one of the most daring photo editors of the time, helped establish the bold documentary style that dominated in the coming decades of Look and Life magazines. But even he saw Parks’ “American Gothic” as too incendiary. As Parks remembers in a clip above, “he says, ‘Well, you’re getting the idea, but you’re going to get us all fired. (Laughs) He says, ‘This is a government agency, and that picture is an indictment against America.’” Parks did not get fired. Instead, he went on to work for the FSA’s successor, the Office of War Information, and photographed the Tuskegee Airmen.

Parks’ skills as an artist were wide-ranging: his vision took in everything. He documented the Black experience in the 20th century with more sensitivity and depth than any other photographer. His photo essay of a Harlem gang leader earned him the first staff appointment for a Black photographer at Life in 1948. He would go on to document the Civil Rights movement and both celebrated and ordinary people around the country and the world for the next several decades, returning often to the fashion photography in which he got his start. He was a renaissance artist with an activist’s heart. Parks once called the camera a “weapon against poverty and racism,” but he tended to wield it much more like a paintbrush.

You can view galleries of Parks’ photographic work at The Gordon Parks Foundation website.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness

Take a Digital Drive Along Ed Ruscha’s Sunset Boulevard, the Famous Strip That the Artist Photographed from 1965 to 2007

Ed Ruscha has lived nearly 65 years in Los Angeles, but he insists that he has no particular fascination with the place. Not everyone believes him: is disinterest among the many possible feelings that could motivate a painting like The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire? Nevertheless, the plainspoken Oklahoma-born artist has long stuck to his story, perhaps in order to let his often cryptic work speak for itself. Originally trained in commercial art, Ruscha has painted, printed, drawn, and taken photographs, the most celebrated fruit of that last pursuit being 1966’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip, a book that stitches his countless photographs of that famous boulevard — both sides of it — onto one long, continuous page.

Whatever you think of such a project, you can’t accuse it of a mismatch between form and substance. Nor can you call it a cynical one-off: between 1967 and 2007, Ruscha drove Sunset Boulevard with his camera no fewer than twelve times in order to photograph most or all of its buildings.

These include gas stations (an architectural form to which Ruscha has made the subject of its own photo book as well as one of his most famous paintings), drugstores, appliance dealers, Central American restaurants, karate schools, travel agencies, car washes, Modernist office towers, and two of the most characteristic structures of Los Angeles: low-rise, kitschily named “dingbat” apartment blocks and L-shaped “La Mancha” strip malls.

The mix of the built environment varies greatly, of course, depending on where you choose to go on this 22-mile-long boulevard, only a short stretch of which constitutes the “Sunset Strip.” It also depends on when you choose to go: not which time of day, but which era, a choice put at your fingertips by the Getty Research Institute’s Ed Ruscha Streets of Los Angeles Project, and specifically its interactive feature 12 Sunsets. In it you can use your left and right arrow keys to “drive” east or west (in your choice between a van, a VW Beetle, or Ruscha’s own trusty Datsun pickup), and your up and down button to flip between the year of the photo shoots that make up the boulevard around you.

Many longtime Angelenos (or enthusiasts of Los Angeles culture) will motor straight to the intersection with Horn Avenue, location of the much-mythologized Sunset Strip Tower Records from which the very American musical zeitgeist once seemed to emanate. The Sacramento-founded store was actually a latecomer to Los Angeles compared to Ruscha himself, and the building first appears in his third photo shoot, of 1973. The next year the ever-changing posters on its exterior walls includes Billy Joel’s Piano Man. About a decade later appear the one-hit likes of Loverboy, and in the twilight of the 1990s the street elevation touts the Beastie Boys and Rob Zombie. In 2007, Tower’s signature red and yellow are all that remain, the chain itself having gone under (at least outside Japan) the year before.

12 Sunsets’ interface provides two different methods to get straight from one point to another: you can either type a specific place name into the “location search” box on the upper right, or click the map icon on the middle left to open up the line of the whole street clickable anywhere from downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean. This is a much easier way of making your way along Sunset Boulevard than actually driving it, even in the comparatively nonexistent traffic of 1965. Nevertheless, Ruscha continues to photographically document it and other Los Angeles streets, using the very same method he did 55 years ago. The buildings keep changing, but the city has never stopped exuding its characteristic normality so intensely as to become eccentricity (and vice versa). What artist worthy of the title wouldn’t be fascinated?

Explore the Getty Research Institute’s Ed Ruscha Streets of Los Angeles Project here.

via Austin Kleon

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

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