How Aladdin Sane Became the Most Expensive Album Cover Ever — and David Bowie’s Defining Image

If you search for David Bowie on Spotify, a familiar icon pops up: the man himself, eyes closed, made up with a deathly-looking pallor and a red-and-blue lighting bolt across his face. This is the photo on the front of Bowie’s sixth album, 1973’s Aladdin Sane. “Perhaps more iconic than the music inside,” says the narrator of the Trash Theory video essay above, “it stands as the Mona Lisa of album covers.” It was also, at the time of production, the most costly album cover of all time: this was at the behest of Bowie’s manager Tony Defries, who suspected that sparing no expense on the image would motivate RCA, his label, to spare no expense promoting the album itself.

One might call this a bold move for an artist like Bowie, who had only just made it big. In the early years of his career he’d racked up failure after failure: with 1971’s Hunky Dory, a kind of declaration of commitment to musical and artistic “changes,” he had a succès d’estime, but not until the following year did he become a bona fide star.


The vehicle for that transformation was the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which introduced the listening public to its title character, an androgynous rocker from outer space. Throughout his subsequent year and a half of touring Bowie took the stage in full Ziggy glam regalia, inhabiting the character so fully that he eventually began to question his own sanity.


Though young British audiences couldn’t get enough of Ziggy and the Spiders, reactions across the United States were rather less enthusiastic. There, says the Trash Theory narrator, “they were not the type of British rock that rock radio played: hard-hitting, riff-heavy behemoths like Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones. But this indifference was shaping what Bowie wanted to do next.” His experience of America inspired a new, harder-edged persona, Aladdin Sane. Ziggy Stardust “was a vision of the best a rock star could be, an inspirational figure, while Aladdin was more about fame’s darker underbelly, filtered through imagined Americana and futuristic nostalgia” — and the character needed a look to match.

Shot by Brian Duffy, described in the San Francisco Art Exchange vide0 above as “a very eccentric and incredible photographer,” the Aladdin Sane cover was printed with a seven-color system unprecedented in the medium. (Up to that point, four-color had been the standard.) According to Trash Theory, Bowie described makeup artist Pierre Laroche’s lightning bolt “as representative of schizophrenia, and more specifically, his split feelings about his 1972 American tour.” (The shape came from the logo on a National Panasonic rice cooker in Duffy’s studio.) Though the result has become, in the words of curator Victoria Broackes, “probably the most recognizable symbol in rock and roll,” Bowie never actually assumed this look onstage; ahead of him, there still lay four more decades of changes to go through.

Related content:

The Story of Ziggy Stardust: How David Bowie Created the Character that Made Him Famous

David Bowie Songs Reimagined as Pulp Fiction Book Covers: “Space Oddity,” “Heroes,” “Life on Mars” & More

David Bowie Paper Dolls Recreate Some of the Style Icon’s Most Famous Looks

50 Years of Changing David Bowie Hair Styles in One Animated GIF

Lego Video Shows How David Bowie Almost Became “Cobbler Bob,” Not “Aladdin Sane”

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.

Organized Chaos!: Watch 33 Videos Showing How Saturday Night Live Gets Made Each Week

Who do you think of when you think of Saturday Night Live?

The original cast? 

Creator Lorne Michaels?

Whoever hosted last week’s episode?

What about the guy who makes and holds the cue cards?

Wally Feresten is just one of the backstage heroes to be celebrated in Creating Saturday Night Live, a fascinating look at how the long-running television sketch show comes together every week.

Like many of those interviewed Feresten is more or less of a lifer, having come aboard in 1990 at the age of 25.

He estimates that he and his team of 8 run through some 1000 14” x 22” cards cards per show. Teleprompters would save trees, but the possibility of technical issues during the live broadcast presents too big of a risk.


This means that any last minute changes, including those made mid-broadcast, must be handled in a very hands on way, with corrections written in all caps over carefully applied white painter’s tape or, worst case scenario, on brand new cards.

(After a show wraps, its cards enjoy a second act as dropcloths for the next week’s painted sets.)

Nearly every sketch requires three sets of cue cards, so that the cast, who are rarely off book due to the frequent changes, can steal glances to the left, right and center.

As the department head, Feresten is partnered with each week’s guest host, whose lines are the only ones to be written in black. Betty White, who hosted in 2010 at the age of 88, thanked him in her 2011 autobiography.

Surely that’s worth his work-related arthritic shoulder, and the recurrent nightmares in which he arrives at Studio 8H just five minutes before showtime to find that all 1000 cue cards are blank.

Costumes have always been one of Saturday Night Live’s flashiest pleasures, running the gamut from Coneheads and a rapping Cup o’Soup to an immaculate recreation of the white pantsuit in which Vice President Kamala Harris delivered her victory speech a scant 3 hours before the show aired.

“A costume has a job,” wardrobe supervisor Dale Richards explains:

It has to tell a story before (the actors) open their mouth…as soon as it comes on camera, it should give you so much backstory.

And it has to cleave to some sort of reality and truthfulness, even in a sketch as outlandish as 2017’s Henrietta & the Fugitive, starring host Ryan Gosling as a detective in a film noir style romance. The gag is that the dame is a chicken (cast member Aidy Bryant.)

Richards cites actress Bette Davis as the inspiration for the chicken’s look:


Because you’re not going to believe it if the detective couldn’t actually fall in love with her. She has to be very feminine, so we gave her Bette Davis bangs and long eyelashes and a beautiful bonnet, so the underpinnings were very much like an actress in a movie, although she did have a chicken costume on.

The number of quick costume changes each performer must make during the live broadcast helps determine the sketches’ running order.

Some of the breakneck transformations are handled by Richards’ sister, Donna, who once beat the clock by piggybacking host Jennifer Lopez across the studio floor to the changing area where a well-coordinated crew swished her out of her opening monologue’s skintight dress and skyscraper heels and into her first costume.

That’s one example of the sort of traffic the 4-person crane camera crew must battle as they hurtle across the studio to each new set. Camera operator John Pinto commands from atop the crane’s counterbalanced arm.

Those swooping crane shots of the musical guests, opening monologue and goodnights (see below) are a Saturday Night Live tradition, a part of its iconic look since the beginning.

Get to know other backstage workers and how they contribute to this weekly high wire act in a 33 episode Creating Saturday Night playlist, all on display below:

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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Google App Uses Machine Learning to Discover Your Pet’s Look Alike in 10,000 Classic Works of Art


Does your cat fancy herself a 21st-century incarnation of Bastet, the Egyptian Goddess of the Rising Sun, protector of the household, aka The Lady of Slaughter?

If so, you should definitely permit her to download the Google Arts & Culture app on your phone to take a selfie using the Pet Portraits feature.

Remember all the fun you had back in 2018 when the Art Selfie feature mistook you for William II, Prince of Orange or the woman in “Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen Painting a Portrait of His Wife”?


Surely your pet will be just as excited to let a machine-learning algorithm trawl tens of thousands of artworks from Google Arts & Culture’s partnering museums’ collections, looking for doppelgängers.

Or maybe it’ll just view it as one more example of human folly, if a far lesser evil than our predilection for pet costumes.

Should your pet wish to know more about the artworks it resembles, you can tap the results to explore them in depth.

Dogs, fish, birds, reptiles, horses, and rabbits can play along too, though anyone hailing from the rodent family will find themselves shut out.

Mashable reports that “uploading a stock image of a mouse returned drawings of wolves.”

We can’t blame your pet snake for fuming.

Ditto your Vietnamese Pot-bellied pig.

Though your pet ferret probably doesn’t need an app (or a crystal ball) to know what its result would be. Better than an ermine collar, anyway…


If your pet is game and falls within Pet Portraits approved species parameters, here are the steps to follow:

  1. Launch the Google Arts & Culture app and select the Camera button. Scroll to the Pet Portraits option.
  2. Have your pet take a selfie. (Or alternatively, upload a saved image.)
  3. Give the app a few seconds (or minutes) to return multiple results with similarity percentages.

Download the Google Arts & Culture app here.

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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Mystical Photographs Taken Inside a Cello, Double Bass & Other Instruments

All images by Adrian Borda

“If God had designed the orchestra,” remarks a character in Rick Moody’s Hotels of North America, “then the cello was His greatest accomplishment.” I couldn’t agree more. The cello sounds sublime, looks stately… even the word cello evokes regal poise and grace. If orchestral instruments were chess pieces, the cello would be queen: shapely and dignified, prime mover on the board, majestic in symphonies, quartets, chamber pop ensembles, post rock bands….

With all its many sonic and aesthetic charms, I didn’t imagine it was possible to love the cello more. Then I saw Romanian artist Adrian Borda’s magnificent photos taken from inside one. The photo above, Borda tells us at his Deviant Art page, was taken from inside “a very old French cello made in Napoleon’s times.” It looks like the belly of the HMS Victory mated with the nave of Chartres Cathedral. The light descending through the f-holes seems of some divine origin.

Borda has also taken photos from inside an old double bass (above), as well as a guitar, sax, and piano. The stringed orchestral instruments, he says, yielded the best results. He was first inspired by a 2009 ad campaign for the Berliner Philharmoniker that “captured the insides of instruments,” writes Twisted Sifter, “revealing the hidden landscapes within.” Without any sense of how the art director created the images, Borda set about experimenting with methods of his own.


He was lucky enough to have a luthier friend who had a contrabass open for repairs. Later he traveled to Amiens, where he found the French cello, also open. “To achieve these shots,” Twisted Sifter notes, “Borda fit a Sony NEX-6 camera equipped with a Samyang 8mm fisheye lens inside the instrument and then used a smart remote so he could preview the workflow on his phone.” Depending on the angle and the play of light within the instrument, the photos can look eerie, somber, ominous, or angelic—mirroring the cello’s expressive range.

Borda gives the cello interior shot above the perfect title “A Long, Lonely Time….” Its play of smoke and light is ghostly noir. His photo below, of the inside of a saxophone, pulls us into a haunted, alien tunnel. If you want to know what’s on the other side, consider the strange surrealist worlds of Borda’s main gig as a surrealist painter of warped fantasies and nightmares. Unlike these photos, his paintings are full of lurid, violent color, but they are also filled with mysterious musical motifs. See more of Borda’s interior instrument photos at Deviant Art and Twister Sifter.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2018.

Related Content:

Watch a Luthier Birth a Cello in This Hypnotic Documentary

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

Why the U.S. Photographed Its Own World War II Concentration Camps (and Commissioned Photographs by Dorothea Lange)

During World War II, the United States put thousands and thousands of its own citizens into concentration camps. The wartime internment of Japanese Americans is a well-known historical event, and also an unusually well-documented one — not just in the sense of having been documented copiously, but also with exceptional power and artistry. Much of that owes to the astute photographic observer of early 20th-century America Dorothea Lange, who had already won acclaim for her Great Depression-symbolizing Migrant Mother.

Published in 1936, Migrant Mother was taken under the auspices of the U.S. Resettlement Administration and Farm Security Administration. In 1941, Lange abandoned a Guggenheim Fellowship to throw in with another government organization, the War Relocation Authority, and turn her lens on the interned. “After Japan’s bombing of the U.S. navy base at Pearl Harbor, a surprise attack that left over 2,000 Americans dead, Japanese Americans became targets of violence and increased suspicion,” says the narrator of the Vox Darkroom video above. Fearing the emergence of a “fifth column,” the government arranged the relocation of 120,000 Japanese Americans who had been living on the west coast into remote camps.


“The Roosevelt administration wanted to frame the removal as orderly, humane, and above all, necessary.” Hence the creation of the WRA, a department charged with handling the removal, “and more importantly, documenting it, through propaganda films, pamphlets and news photographs.” The project could hardly have made a more prestigious hire than Lange, who proceeded to photograph “the rapid changes happening in Japanese American communities, including Japanese-owned farms and businesses shutting down.” Her work (see various examples here) captured the final days, even hours, of an established multi-generational society about to be dismantled by the mass evacuation.

The Army disapproved of the narrative created by Lange’s candid photos, many of which were seized and impounded. The offending images depicted armed U.S. soldiers overseeing the removal process, “temporary prisons used while the concentration camps were built,” food lines at the assembly centers, and Japanese Americans in U.S. military uniform. Releasing Lange from the program after just four months, the WRA kept most of her photos out of the public eye. They stayed out of it until a series of exhibitions in the 1970s, which revealed the true nature of the concentration camps. That term is most associated with the Holocaust, to whose sheer destruction of humanity the Japanese American internment cannot, of course, be compared. But as Lange’s photographs show, just having the moral high ground over Nazi Germany is nothing to brag about.

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478 Dorothea Lange Photographs Poignantly Document the Internment of the Japanese During WWII

Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Clem Albers & Francis Stewart’s Censored Photographs of a WWII Japanese Internment Camp

How Dorothea Lange Shot Migrant Mother, Perhaps the Most Iconic Photo in American History

Dr. Seuss Draws Anti-Japanese Cartoons During WWII, Then Atones with Horton Hears a Who!

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.

A 110-Year-Old Book Illustrated with Photos of Kittens & Cats Taught Kids How to Read

 

Unlike our 21st-century cat memes and other such online feline-based entertainments, children’s author Eulalie Osgood Grover’s 1911 work, Kittens and Cats: A First Reader was intended to educate.

Its related poems will almost certainly strike those of us whose understanding of feline attitude has been shaped by LOLCatsGrumpy Cat, the existential Henri, Talking Kitty Cat’s acerbic Sylvester, and the mordant 1970s TV spokescat Morris as sweet to the point of sickly. But it boasts six hundred vocabulary words, a rhyme structure that promotes reading aloud, and a note to teachers with suggestions for classroom activities.

Grover explained how her feline cast of characters would win over even the most reluctant reader, inspiring “much the same delight to the little reader of juvenile fiction, as do adventure and romance to the grown-up reader”:

In one respect kittens take precedence over dolls. They are alive. They must be treated kindly. They will not bear the abuse and neglect given to many beautiful dolls. They demand attention and companionship, and they return a real devotion in return for kindness and care. Therefore we love them and especially do our children love them and delight in stories of them.

The loosely structured story concerns a grand party thrown by the Queen of the Cats. Following some breathless preparations, the guests take turns introducing themselves to her majesty, though unlike T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939), there’s not much that could be cobbled into a hit musical.

Grover fleshes out the narrative with callbacks to a number of cat-rich nursery rhymes — Hickory Dickory DockThree Little KittensHey Diddle DiddleAs I Was Going to St. IvesDing Dong Bell

One lace-bonneted character is reminiscent of Tom Kitten’s mother, Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit, and her unsuccessful attempts to wrangle her rambunctious offspring into clothing fit for “fine company,” though the wit falls somewhat short of Beatrix Potter’s.

Headgear abounds, as do restrictive buntings that must’ve been a great help when dealing with uncooperative models and long exposures.

Although the photographer is uncredited, the images are likely the work of Harry Whittier Frees, a “pioneer of the anthropomorphic kitten photograph genre” as per the New York Daily News. In his introduction to his far more ambitiously posed 1915 work, The Little Folks of Animal Land, Frees alluded to his process:

The difficulties of posing kittens and puppies for pictures of this kind have been overcome only by the exercise of great patience and invariable kindness. My little models receive no especial training, and after their daily performance before the camera they enjoy nothing more than a good frolic about the studio.

That’s a pleasant thought, though historian and postcard collector Mary L. Weigley tells a somewhat different tale in an article for Pennsylvania Heritage, describing how only 3/10 of his negatives could be published, and his work was so “challenging, time-consuming and nerve-wracking” that he took 9 months out of every year to recuperate.

Cats!

Download a free copy of Eulalie Osgood Grover’s Kittens and Cats here.

via Public Domain Review

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

Behold the Photographs of John Thomson, the First Western Photographer to Travel Widely Through China (1870s)

In the early 1860s, a few Westerners had seen China — but nearly all of them had seen it for themselves. The still-new medium of photography had yet to make images of everywhere available to viewers everywhere else, which meant an opportunity for traveling practitioners like John Thomson. “The son of a tobacco spinner and shopkeeper,” says BBC.com, ” he was apprenticed to an Edinburgh optical and scientific instrument manufacturer where he learned the basics of photography.”

In 1862 Thomson sailed from Leith “with a camera and a portable dark room. He set up in Singapore before exploring the ancient civilizations of China, Thailand — then known as Siam — and Cambodia.” It is for his extensive photography of China in the late 1860s and early 1870s that he’s best known today.


First lavishly published in a series of books titled Illustrations of China and Its People (now available to read free online at the Yale University Library: volume one, volume two, volume three, volume four), they now constitute some of the earliest and richest direct visual records of Chinese landscapes, cityscapes, and society as they were in the late 19th century.

“The first Western photographer to travel widely through the length and breadth of China,” Thomson brought his camera on journeys “far more extensive than those undertaken by most Westerners of his generation,” extending “beyond the relative comfort and safety of the coastal treaty ports.” Those words come from scholar of the 19th-century Allen Hockley, whose five-part visual essay “John Thomson’s China” at MIT Visualizing Cultures provides a detailed overview and historical contextualization of Thomson’s work in Asia.

Thomson’s photographs, writes Hockley, “fall into two broad categories: scenic views and types. Views encompassed both natural landscapes and built environments. They could be panoramic, taking in large swaths of scenery, or they might highlight specific natural phenomena or individual structures.”

Types “focused on the manners and customs of Chinese people and tended to highlight the defining features of gender, age, class, ethnicity, and occupation.” A century and a half later, both Thomson’s views and types have given scholars in a variety of disciplines much to discuss.

“It is clear from his commentary to Illustrations of China that, however sympathetic he was towards Chinese people, he could often be superior and high-handed,” writes Andrew Hiller at Visualizing China. “If Thomson never sought to question the validity of Britain’s presence, his attitude towards China was ambivalent. Whilst critical of what he saw as the corruption and obfuscation of Qing officials, he nevertheless could see the country’s potential.”

Thomson also helped others to see that potential — or at least those who could afford to buy his books, whose prices matched the quality of their production. But today, thanks to online archives like Historical Photographs of China and Wellcome Collection, they’re free for everyone to behold. China itself has become much more accessible since Thomson’s day, of course, but it’s famously a much different place than it was 25 years ago, let alone 150 years ago. The land through which he traveled — and of which he took so many of the very earliest photographs — is now infinitely less accessible to us than it ever was to his fellow Westerners of the 19th century.

Hear a lecture on Thomson’s photography in China from the University of London here.

via Flashbak

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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.

Meet Tsuneko Sasamoto, Japan’s First Female Photojournalist and Now, at 107, Japan’s Oldest Living Photojournalist

You should never become lazy. It’s essential to remain positive about your life and never give up. You need to push yourself and stay aware, so you can move forward. 

— Tsuneko Sasamoto

Sound advice whether one is interested in sustaining a creative practice or remaining vigorous as one ages.

Photographer Tsuneko Sasamoto is an excellent poster child for both. Born in Tokyo in 1914, shortly after the beginning of the first World War, she is Japan’s first female photojournalist and — at 107, its oldest living photojournalist.


Her traditional father thwarted her hopes of becoming a painter, but early encounters with a black-and-white film by Man Ray and the work of Margaret Bourke-White suggested that photography might prove a similarly fulfilling path.

By 1940, she was able to parlay a job as a part-time illustrator on the local news pages at Tokyo Nichinichi Shimbun (now known as the Mainichi Shimbun) into a probationary gig as a shooter, though as a young woman, she was constrained by gender expectations.

Unlike her male counterparts, she was not allowed to document WWII at the front. Instead, she was charged with special interest stories of a patriotic nature and portraits of diplomatic envoys. She deeply resented her professionally mandated uniform — skirts and heels that occasionally hampered her from getting the shot.

Her ambition benefited from a stubbornly defiant streak. An article in The Japan Times details how she weathered discriminatory comments, resisted male family members’ scripts, and, in 1947, piped up to ask General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, if he would grant her a redo when her camera malfunctioned at the ribbon cutting ceremony he was attending.

Other subjects from her eight decades-long career:

Student protesters

The wives of coal miners who were on strike against the then-largest coal mine in Japan

Young women training to be geisha

The Imperial Family

Socialist Party head Inejiro Asanuma the day before his 1960 assassination

A who’s who of Japanese novelists, poets, and artists

The 2011 earth quake and tsunami

And, for her exhibit 100 Women at the Japanese Camera Industry Institute, she included some notable survivors of the Meiji and early Showa eras, such as Queen of the Blues, Noriko Awaya. As Sasamoto recalled:

I photographed her toward the end of her life when she was in her eighties and bedridden. I was one of the few allowed to see her at that time, I think because I was born in the Taisho era (1912-26) and she felt I could understand her…. She kept telling me, ‘I am not formidable.’

Shortly after turning 100, Sasamoto weighed in on digital cameras — their lighter weight made them easy to carry around, but their functions were difficult to understand.

As for her health regimen: maintaining contact with family and friends, a daily piece of chocolate, a glass of red wine every night, and way more red meat than recommended.

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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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