A few weeks ago, Snapchat released a new addition to its face-altering filters that have become a signature of the service. But instead of surrounding your face with flower petals or giving you a funny hat, the new photo filter added slanted eyes, puffed cheeks and large front teeth. A number of Snapchat users decried the filter as racist, arguing it was the outcome of not having enough people of color building the product. In a tech world that hires mostly white men, the absence of diverse voices means that companies can be blind to design decisions that are discriminatory or hurtful to their customers.
The company countered that they meant to represent anime characters and deleted the filter within a few hours. They also said that they’ve recently hired someone to lead their diversity recruiting efforts.
If maps are the visual manifestation of a design process, then designers can quite literally put discrimination on paper. Take, for instance, 1930’s-era redlining maps, which color coded neighborhoods based on their “desirability” to banks and investors. Areas with the lowest rating were outlined in red — and often traced inner city black neighborhoods. The effects are still visible today.
Architects and real estate developers also play a role in discriminatory design. For example: designing buildings with separate entrances for affordable-housing tenants and market-rate tenants. So-called “poor doors” were banned in New York City, but are still being installed elsewhere.
It’s likely that as long as humans and their institutions hold prejudices and bias, their designs will reflect them. But some progress is possible. Two decades ago architect Ronald Mace imagined a new standard, in which anything humans make — a new piece of technology, a public park, a household product — is usable by everyone. He called this idea “universal design.” One way to help us get there? Make sure the design process itself is also accessible to all.
Lena Groeger is an investigative journalist and developer at ProPublica, where she makes interactive graphics and other data-driven projects. She also teaches design and data visualization at The New School and CUNY and is on the board of the Society for News Design. Before joining ProPublica in 2011, Groeger covered health and science at Scientific American and Wired magazine. She is particularly excited about the intersection of cognitive science and design, as well as creating graphics and news apps in the public interest.
Steve Buscemi’s roles in movies like In the Soup, The Big Lebowski, and Ghost World have associated him for life with a certain kind of character: awkward, ineffectual, and even slightly creepy, but nevertheless strangely endearing. But types and the actors who play them can, and usually do, diverge, and that goes especially for Buscemi. He may have made his name portraying a host of loser-ish men, but his skill at bringing them and other characters to distinctive life have kept him a highly successful performer for decades now. And what did he do before that? Why, he fought fires — and he didn’t hesitate to do it again after becoming famous.
Unilad’s Alex Watt quotes a post on the Brotherhood of Fire Facebook page which reveals how the Boardwalk Empire star entered his other profession: “In 1976 Steve Buscemi took the FDNY civil service test when he was just 18 years old,” became a firefighter a few years later, and for four years “served on one of FDNY’s busiest, Engine Co. 55.” He returned to that very same engine after September 11, 2001, “and for several days following Brother Steve worked 12-hour shifts alongside other firefighters digging and sifting through the rubble from the World Trade Center looking for survivors.”
Though he avoided publicizing his brief return to firefighting at the time, Buscemi has spoken openly about it since, as he does in the CBS Sunday Morning clip at the top of the post. Many who hear the story of a high-profile actor putting his life on hold and rushing right into a disaster site might rush right to the urban legend site Snopes, which doesn’t just verify it, but also collects some of Buscemi’s own words about his firefighting days. He started, he recalls, when he “was living in Manhattan, working as a furniture mover during the day, doing stand-up comedy at night and looking for a change. I liked the job — the guys I worked with and the nature of the work. I think I would have been happy doing it if I hadn’t had a greater passion for acting.”
Buscemi’s firefighting experience and ability to appear onscreen come together in A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY, the documentary just above. Co-produced by Buscemi himself, the film goes “behind the scenes” of the New York City Fire Department, showing just what it takes to put out the blazes of America’s most demanding city. (You can see Buscemi talking about his experience during 9/11 around the 43 minute mark.) The “good job” of the title, one retired firefighter explains, means “a really tough fire.” And no matter what kind of “job,” Buscemi says, “they’re all frightening. Any time you go into a burning building, there’s the potential for disaster. I never had any real close calls, though there’s no such thing as a routine fire.” No doubt he keeps himself mentally prepared for another — just in case.
When the Romans pushed their way north into the German provinces, they built (circa 90 AD) The Saalburg, a fort that protected the boundary between the Roman Empire and the Germanic tribal territories. At its peak, 2,000 people lived in the fort and the attached village. It remained active until around 260 AD.
Somewhere during the 19th century, The Saalburg was rediscovered and excavated, then later fully reconstructed. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site and houses the Saalburg Museum, which contains many Roman relics, including a 2,000 year old shoe, apparently found in a local well.
If you think the Italians have mastered the craft of making shoes, well, they don’t have much on their ancestors. According to the site Romans Across Europe, the Romans “were the originators of the entire-foot-encasing shoe.” The site continues:
There was a wide variety of shoes and sandals for men and women. Most were constructed like military caligae, with a one-piece upper nailed between layers of the sole. Many had large open-work areas made by cutting or punching circles, triangles, squares, ovals, etc. in rows or grid-like patterns. Others were more enclosed, having only holes for the laces. Some very dainty women’s and children’s shoes still had thick nailed soles.
The image above, which puts all of the Roman’s shoe-making skill on display, comes to us via Reddit and imgur.
And then there's the Bloomberg Terminal, which hit the market in December 1982.
Unlike the PC or the Mac, the Terminal has always catered to a niche—investors and other finance professionals—which is why most people have never seen one in person. But it's one of the industry's few truly enduring successes. It's mattered so much that a current Bloomberg Terminal setup is one of a handful of artifacts in "Tools of the Trade," a new display at Silicon Valley's Computer History Museum that traces the history of financial technology, beginning with the tokens used by ancient Sumerians to track the trading of items such as sheep, which eventually led to the invention of the clay tablet.
"We start the story 10,000 years ago, which is why we have the clay tokens," says Computer History Museum Curator Dag Spicer. "There’s a reason we put them right beside the Bloomberg Terminal, to give you the alpha and omega of trading. Trading, as a human activity, is something that’s been with human civilization since the beginning."
This is the Bloomberg Terminal's second museum appearance this year: The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History included two Terminal keyboards in an exhibit on American enterprise, including one that belonged to legendary bond trader Bill Gross.
The Bloomberg Terminal of today—which, speaking more precisely, is a service known as Bloomberg Professional—provides more than 325,000 subscribers with everything from an array of information on financial matters to a chat system to the ability to actually execute trades. It processes 60 billion pieces of information from the market a day. Yet it's still recognizable as a descendant of its 1982 progenitor, just as a 2015 MacBook retains the DNA of the 128K model from 1984.
The tale of its creation is one of a scrappy little company engaging in technological innovation, but it's not the classic born-in-a-garage startup story. Michael Bloomberg had been a general partner at investment bank Salomon Brothers, where he was forced into a job heading IT development and then pushed out of the company altogether. In 1981, at the age of 39, he took his $10 million severance and started a company called Innovative Market Systems, later to become Bloomberg LP. IMS called its product Market Master at first, and the 20 original units went into service at Merrill Lynch at the end of 1982.
Technology companies had been working on bringing automation to the stock market for years, with gadgetry such as the Telequote III dating to the late 1960s. But Bloomberg's timing was fortuitous, even though the company got going during a raging recession. In the 1980s, stock exchanges from New York to Tokyo were going electronic, a prerequisite for a truly sophisticated online service for traders. It's what enabled not only the Terminal but other devices such as 1984's way-before-its-time QuoTrek, a wireless handheld gizmo for investors.
Big companies such as Dow Jones and Reuters were eager to take advantage of this revolution in financial information, too. But just like today, being small, focused, and unburdened by legacy concerns was an advantage. "Bloomberg was this new startup that was nimble, that was experimenting, that was battling against the Goliaths of the time," says Marguerite Gong Hancock, executive director of the Computer History Museum's Center for Entrepreneurs.
Michael Bloomberg himself talked like the startup guys of later decades when the New York Times interviewed him for a May 1982 article about launching companies during an economic downturn. "This is an interesting time," he said. ''You can't go out and start a steel mill, but the position of the business cycle and the rate of technological change are such that people can go and start small companies when they have a few people with good ideas."
As Bloomberg's 1997 memoir Bloomberg on Bloomberg notes, Merrill Lynch owned 30% of his company in the early years and benefited from an exclusivity agreement that prevented Bloomberg from selling Terminals to Merrill Lynch's major rivals. In the late 1980s, Bloomberg successfully lobbied Merrill Lynch to end this restriction, whereupon it began to grow by 25% to 30% a year. It also upgraded the Terminal on an ongoing basis with new technologies: color, for instance, in 1991, and flat-panel displays five years later.
One of the odd things about the moniker "Bloomberg Terminal" is that it's a nickname rather than an official brand. ("People often refer to the 'Bloomberg Terminal' when speaking about the Bloomberg Professional service," explains the Bloomberg website, which doesn't have any choice but to confront the issue.) And enduring though the nickname is, it's a wildly insufficient way to describe what the company offers today.
A terminal, after all, is a piece of dedicated, all-in-one hardware for connecting to a network. That's what Bloomberg once sold. But 20 years ago, it began to let subscribers access the service from a PC. Today, the hardware aspect of the service is a suite of accessories—a custom keyboard with keys such as EQUITY, GOVT, and NEWS, the credit card-sized B-Unit fingerprint scanner, a slick, optional dual-screen display—that customize Windows PCs for use with Bloomberg Professional.
Still, there's something . . . well, terminal-like about Bloomberg Professional's interface. In 2015 as in 1982, the investment pros who use the service like to gorge on data, so screens are dense with text, much of it in tabular form, complemented with charts where appropriate. The default is still amber characters on a black background, a color scheme that was commonplace in the early days of computing—and that remains easy on the eyes even though it was long ago supplanted almost elsewhere else by black text on a white backdrop.
This is an area where milliseconds count.
Bloomberg Professional does get quite graphical in spots: For instance, it offers a feature that lets you track ships carrying commodities as they travel around a map, a bit of intelligence that can be very valuable to a trader. It's still about data: "You can see the position of every ship in the world," says Zach Haehn, head of R&D for Bloomberg's San Francisco operation. "What they're carrying, how fast they're going, where they're going." (Four hundred years ago, Dutch merchants used telescopes to gaze at distant ships for the same reason—a fact noted in the Computer History Museum's "Tools of the Trade" exhibit.)
Though it's now possible to use the service on any Internet-connected PC—as well as on wireless devices such as smartphones and tablets—the fact that Bloomberg operates its own private network, isolated from the flaky, insecure Internet, remains core to the concept. "When it started out, [the Bloomberg service] was basically a time-sharing system, with terminals," says Computer History Museum curator Marc Weber. "It was in the '90s that it became truly networked. Most of the private networks have disappeared. This is one of the few [that remains], and finance is clearly one of the areas where people value the privacy, security, and speed. This is an area where milliseconds count."
"Our network is really about control," says Shawn Edwards, Bloomberg's CTO. "It's about being able to manage our own system and have fine grain control. It's expensive, but it's worth it to us."
When Haehn gave me a demo of Bloomberg Professional, the biggest surprise wasn't what the service could do, but how fast it did it. Screens crammed with information popped into place with such alacrity that it almost felt like a mocked-up simulation. But it was real live data being streamed over Bloomberg's private network.
As an engineering challenge, the need for speed isn't just about introducing new features without performance degradation. "It's getting worse," says Vlad Kliatchko, Bloomberg's head of R&D. "The volume is going up. The crazy speed requirements are going up. We used to put data in front of humans, and only needed to do it so fast. Now many of our systems are connected to customers' computers, which like to see things faster than humans."
Bloomberg has 4,000 engineers and makes tweaks to its service on a daily basis. But in some respects, it must make them without it being too painfully obvious that anything's different. "We have an incredibly loyal user base," says Edwards. "They're very motivated in what they're doing with the terminal. It can be a challenge even changing a font ever so slightly. People will notice it and complain. At the same time, if we don't change and evolve, we'll fall behind. It's a really interesting balancing act."
Keeping up with users' expectations requires the company to take advantage of the latest trends impacting software engineering. For example, it's been aggressively adopting open technologies such as the Hadoop big-data framework and Solr search platform. Just as important, it wants to have a shot at hiring world-class developers—the type of folks who, if they weren't helping to shape the future of the Bloomberg service, might be working at Google, Facebook, or some red-hot startup.
With this in mind, the company opened a West Coast Technology Hub last May in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood, on two floors of the Pacific Telephone & Telephone Building, a 1925 Art Deco gem that was the city's first skyscraper. The presence lets the company hire engineers from a rich talent pool and generally strengthen its ties with the Bay Area tech community.
For Bloomberg, insinuating itself into a geeky culture 3,000 miles from its New York home base is an ongoing effort. "Most [job candidates] don’t know a lot about us," explains Haehn. "They know about us from a TV perspective, a media perspective, a news perspective. They might have been to our website or our iPhone app. And they don’t even do their homework before the interview, which tells you a lot about the way the developer market is right now. They’re just like, ‘Whatever.'"
"But every once in awhile, I meet [someone] at a hardware company or a networking company," he says. "And they know everything about us. They’re like, ‘Oh yeah, you guys have pushed us to the limit.’ They’re impressed."
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It could save the US economy tens of billions of dollars a year, and its proponents claim it will save or extend millions of lives. The Wall Street Journal called it “radical.” Major industry giants lobbied against its implementation and warned of mass consumer confusion and uncertain scientific validity. It took years to crawl through one of the largest bureaucracies in the US government, and represents the largest update to that department’s public policy in more than two decades.
The subject at hand? A new version of the familiar Nutrition Facts label, which sits on every packaged food product sold in the US. Late last week the FDA finally announced a new food labeling regime, and it takes aim squarely at a new public enemy #1: Sugar.
The news came last Friday, the weekday all politically sensitive news goes to die. I’d have missed it myself had it not, by pure coincidence, come out one day after I sat down to interview my first guest on the Shift Dialogs, a new video series we’re producing with our partners at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center.
My guest was Dr. Jordan Shlain, a peripatetic and entrepreneurial physician who has started several health-related businesses and has taken an active stand against processed sugar through a foundation he founded with Dr. Robert Lustig, a noted pediatric endocrinologist who has seen the devastating effects of childhood diabetes firsthand. Lustig’s 90-minute lecture, “Sugar, the Bitter Truth,” has nearly 6.5 million views on YouTube and has been called “sugar’s tobacco moment.”
Shlain is also a close friend, so he was willing to put up with all the hiccups and warts inherent to shooting the pilot of a new series. Toward the end of our conversation Shlain and I discussed his foundation, the Institute for Responsible Nutrition, and he noted that new FDA regulations were coming soon. The next day, the news dropped.
And the news is stunning. Among other changes, the FDA is requiring all food manufacturers to identify and call out all “added sugars” in their products. Previously, these added sugars were hidden in the “Total Carbohydrates” section of the label, and only naturally occurring sugars were called out. Take a look at the FDA-provided comparison of sugar labels — I’ve circled the massive shift in sugar content:
That’s a twelve-fold increase in reported sugars. The processed food industry regularly adds an extraordinary amount of sugar to our diet — but until last week, consumers weren’t informed of that fact. Here’s the Wall Street Journal on added sugar in the American diet:
“Government health officials recommend eating no more than 50 grams of added sugars — or the equivalent of 12.5 teaspoons of granulated sugar — a day, based on a 2,000 calorie diet. However, the FDA estimates Americans on average consume the equivalent of 20 teaspoons through added sugars like honey, high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners.”
Put another way, the average American consumes 60% more sugar than they should — and that’s based on US figures. Other health organizations suggest we should limit our sugar intake to six teaspoons a day, or less than half the amount recommended by the FDA. Lustig and Shlain were blunt when I asked about the impact of sugar in our society: They called it a massive public health and financial crisis. More than a third of all people in the US have diabetes-related diseases, and our healthcare system has ballooned to consume nearly 20 percent of our overall GDP, with healthcare costs are rising far faster than either real income or overall GDP.
That’s simply not sustainable — and it augurs a massive shift in consumer behavior and business practices. The food industry is the largest sector of the global economy, estimated by the World Bank to comprise ten percent of all economic output. And the largest food companies — Coca Cola, Nestlé, and General Mills, for example — have developed sophisticated economies of scale based on the chemistry of processed sugars. Sugar not only makes food taste better, it also helps foods retain their texture and form during transport and storage.
Because sugar is a fundamental building block of the worldwide food system, it’s also one of the most heavily subsidized by governments. We’ve built our society on sugar — and we’re now realizing that our approach is killing us, both physically and financially.
So while a label seems like an afterthought, the FDA news is actually a significant milestone. Nearly 8 in 10 Americans use food labels as a shopping guide. When the new labeling system goes into effect — in summer of 2018 — the impact on the food industry will be massive.
We live in an age of data. Food labels are a window into the data ecosystem that comprises the food industry, and that window just got a bit more transparent. Kudos to the FDA, and to the food industry itself, which fought the regulations tooth and nail, but in the end, capitulated to the reality of the facts on the ground. The new leaders of the food industry will be those who do more than simply bend to a new labeling regime, but instead focus on innovation and transparency to earn the newly informed public’s business by creating the next generation of healthier and more sustainable food products.
The video above is a short preview of my conversation with Dr. Shlain, who also edits a publication called Tincture. The Shift Dialogs will debut next month.
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Land of Smiles is a quiet, surreal exploration of Thailand’s everyday architecture and landscapes.
I have spent a considerable amount of time in Thailand over the past five or so years (my wife is from Bangkok). Still, I remain an outsider and am fascinated by many aspects of the landscape that most Thais would never think twice about. The images featured here focus on the accidentally sculptural fluorescent bulb streetlights and nightscapes of rural Thailand.
Land of Smiles takes you on a walking tour in a dream-state. This is Thailand as few people will ever see it (especially in light of the political turmoil and chaos of the past decade).
Crete’s strategic location exposed the island to siege and piracy continuously during the centuries. This fact pushed local people to the mountainous interior of the island to protect themselves from the pirates’ assaults across the seaside.
More or less until the 1970’s, when tourism appeared here, the Cretans’ character, life and customs were much more related to the mountains rather than the sea. These photos are a kind of observation at the dyadic nature of the Minotaur’s island, this key-shaped mountain that was planted in the Mediterranean sea.
Since the first stirrings of the internet, artists and curators have puzzled over what the fluidity of online space would do to the experience of viewing works of art. At a conference on the subject in 2001, Susan Hazan of the Israel Museum wondered whether there is “space for enchantment in a technological world?” She referred to Walter Benjamin’s ruminations on the “potentially liberating phenomenon” of technologically reproduced art, yet also noted that “what was forfeited in this process were the ‘aura’ and the authority of the object containing within it the values of cultural heritage and tradition.” Evaluating a number of online galleries of the time, Hazan found that “the speed with which we are able to access remote museums and pull them up side by side on the screen is alarmingly immediate.” Perhaps the “accelerated mobility” of the internet, she worried, “causes objects to become disposable and to decline in significance.”
Fifteen years after her essay, the number of museums that have made their collections available online whole, or in part, has grown exponentially and shows no signs of slowing. We may not need to fear losing museums and libraries—important spaces that Michel Foucault called “heterotopias,” where linear, mundane time is interrupted. These spaces will likely always exist. Yet increasingly we need never visit them in person to view most of their contents. Students and academics can conduct nearly all of their research through the internet, never having to travel to the Bodleian, the Beinecke, or the British Library. And lovers of art must no longer shell out for plane tickets and hotels to see the precious contents of the Getty, the Guggenheim, or the Rijksmuseum. For all that may be lost, online galleries have long been “making works of art widely available, introducing new forms of perception in film and photography and allowing art to move from private to public, from the elite to the masses.”
Even more so than when Hazan wrote those words, the online world offers possibilities for “the emergence of new cultural phenomena, the virtual aura.” Over the years we have featured dozens of databases, archives, and online galleries through which you might virtually experience art the world over, an experience once solely reserved for only the very wealthy. And as artists and curators adapt to a digital environment, they find new ways to make virtual galleries enchanting. The vast collections in the virtual galleries listed below await your visit, with close to 2,000,000 paintings, sculptures, photographs, books, and more. See the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum (top), courtesy of the Google Cultural Institute. See Van Gogh’s many self-portraits and vivid, swirling landscapes at The Van Gogh Museum. Visit the Asian art collection at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries. Or see Vassily Kandinsky’s dazzling abstract compositions at the Guggenheim.
And below the list of galleries, find links to online collections of several hundred art books to read online or download. Continue to watch this space: We’ll add to both of these lists as more and more collections come online.
Cover of ‘Bruno Munari: Square Circle Triangle’ (click to enlarge)
“A circle drawn by hand showed the skill of Giotto,” Munari writes in the 1964 La Scoperta del Cerchio (The Discovery of the Circle). “The first thing a child draws looks like a circle. People spontaneously arrange themselves in a circle when they need to observe something close up, and this led to the origin of the arena, the circus, and the stock exchange trading posts.”
Munari had published La Scoperta del Quadrato (The Discovery of the Square) a few years earlier in 1960, and then La Scoperta del Triangolo (The Discovery of the Triangle)— specifically the equilateral triangle — in 1976. The books are fascinating to explore together in this new reissue, which guards Munari’s original black-and-white design in a square-shaped book. Munari created over 60 books for various audiences during his lifetime (they were chronicled in last year’s Munari’s Books by art historian Giorgio Maffei), and he mainly intended the shape books for fellow designers. “Knowing everything about this simple, basic shape, in all its aspects and formal and structural possibilities, is a great help to designers,” he writes in Triangle. However, there’s a broad appreciation possible for this eccentric exploration of the three shapes through Munari’s omnivorous approach. He never nails down what any of the shapes are, yet looks at every aspect of what they mean, where they appear, and even their significance in language. In Square, he writes:
As tall and as broad as a man with his arms outstretched, the square has always been used, from the oldest writings and rock engravings made by early man, to signify the idea of an enclosure, a house, a village. Enigmatic in its simplicity, in the monotonous repetition of its four sides, its four identical corners, it can generate a whole series of interesting figures.
Pages from ‘Bruno Munari: Square Circle Triangle’
Pages from ‘Bruno Munari: Square Circle Triangle’
The subjects are all arranged alphabetically (according to their Italian names), adding a level of objectivity; Square, for instance, begins with the Hellenistic plan of the Agora of Ephesus and a 1951 Josef Albers painting, and concludes with a sculptural model by Mary Vieira and blocky Chinese calligraphy by Wang Hsi-Chih. Much of the information can feel random, with just two pages in Square including the Chinese character for mouth, the Sumerian word for house, the square Tokyo home of architect Makoto Masuzawa, the proportions of a French cathedral, and a photograph of the early computer “electric brain.”
Still there are symbolic patterns that emerge, such as the circle that often “deals with the divine.” Munari includes the sun disk of the Egyptian god Ra, the ouroboros biting its tale symbolizing eternity, a Raphael painting of the Madonna, magic circles, a Gothic rose window, and the crown of thorns. He also can never resist a bit of whimsical wit, and at the end of Circle throws in a monowheel — a circular bicycle.
Even if you’re not a designer, the trilogy on shapes encourages a closer look at the repeating structures around us and their deep human and natural histories, in which the simple square can simultaneously be an ancient symbol with “the power to drive out the plague,” and the boundaries for a game of chess.
Pages from ‘Bruno Munari: Square Circle Triangle’ (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Pages from ‘Bruno Munari: Square Circle Triangle’
Roof Covering (courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press)
Pages from ‘Bruno Munari: Square Circle Triangle’ (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Pages from ‘Bruno Munari: Square Circle Triangle’
Tangents (courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press)
Pages from ‘Bruno Munari: Square Circle Triangle’ (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Boschin (courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press)
Electronic Brain (photo by Eredi Ugo Mulas)
Banana (courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press)
Folding Chair (courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press)
People Like Us: The Cult of The Rocky Horror Picture Show by Lauren Everett Preface by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, introduction by Lauren Everett, with additional essays by the performers 140 pages, 8.5 x 11" Offset soft-cover $25 US
"My book is a collection of environmental portraiture, documentary images, and text that explore the vibrant DIY sub-culture surrounding the ultimate cult movie. Though there have been many titles about the film itself, this is the first and only photography series ever to focus on the remarkable story of the folks who have been the driving force behind the film's unprecedented 40 year theatrical run, and the community they have forged."
When I realized that New York was a cesspit filled with the viscera of broken dreams, I decided that the time had come for me to move to beautiful, sunny Los Angeles.
When I arrived in L.A. and realized that it was creatively dead, had a withered husk for a soul, and considered ombré the height of culture, I took the first plane back to New York.
Of course, my plane landed in a sea of overstressed, overworked rat kings fornicating with cockroaches and three of my exes. So I bought a used Prius and drove cross-country straight to L.A., because in L.A. people go on hikes.
On my first hike in L.A., I had to talk to someone who’d never read Joan Didion and who’d had—get this—plastic surgery. Before he could say “juice cleanse,” I had ridden a fixed-gear bicycle right back to the Big Apple.
My bike wouldn’t fit in my two-inch-wide urine-soaked apartment in Sunset Park, so I found someone to take over my lease and I rode a Segway all the way to Hollywood, eating local fruits and reciting positive affirmations as I rolled merrily along.
At my first party in Los Angeles, I heard the word “agent” more than fifteen thousand times. (I tried to keep a tally, but my fingers started bleeding, so I stopped.) People went on “generals” and never returned. I knew I needed to get back to where the real people were, the people of substance and letters, who understood the Struggle.
So I took the secret subway train that goes from L.A. to New York. It was O.K. until 3:30 P.M., when a gang of youths attacked me, emotionally. Somehow I arrived in one piece, but it was the middle of winter, so I sat alone in my apartment until spring. During that time, my hair fell out and my skin fell off.
I hitchhiked to L.A. at the first opportunity. When I arrived, the people were sun-kissed and the rampant depression was barely noticeable compared with New York. You can hide all manner of mental illness with a solid tan and veneers. I hopped in my car, got on the 405, and headed to the beach. I was stuck in traffic for six years.
By the time I got back to New York, I was very old. I was twenty-seven. I was too old for the constant partying I assumed people did. I was too old to keep pretending I’d read all the articles and listened to all the bands. Pretending to like things was a young person’s game. I just needed a change.
And L.A., city of vapid angels, provided that change. No one cared if I’d read anything or listened to anything, or whether I even had eyes or ears, as long as I didn’t get the part of Surprised Waitress No. 2 over them. Everything was fine until all the yoga made my bones dissolve.
Skinless and boneless, I jiggled back to New York, but everyone kept making me feel so ashamed of being a blob. I threw on my comfiest sweatpants, poured what was left of me into a Vitamix, and shipped myself to L.A.
Halfway between New York and L.A., I imploded. I am so much happier now. ♦
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When humanity is immortal because of gene-repairing nanobots in all our fast food, we'll need something to do to pass the time. Watching infinite episodes of Friends written by a computer and acted out in virtual reality seems like a good start, and, thanks to cartoonist and software developer Andy Herd, we're pretty much halfway there.
[Scene: Monica and Rachel's, Monica and Phoebe are dancing.]
Van Damme: I'll go in a crap.
Monica: Keep talking!
Phoebe: Wow lady! You're just gonna come over to him jumpy. (They start to cry.)
Chandler: So, Phoebe likes my pants.
Monica: Chicken Bob!
Chandler: (in a muffin) (Runs to the girls to cry) Can I get some presents.
Isn't it flawless? Isn't it everything you'd expect? You've got the late-'90s guest star, the sexual tension, Monica's famous wacky catchphrases, and random outbursts of crying. Here are some more of Herd's scripts, which he posted on Twitter on Monday night:
i fed a recurrent neural network with the scripts for every episode of friends and it learned to generate new scenes pic.twitter.com/RIPvYuzEJM
Herd, who makes the web comic Pandyland, says that a lot of what his neural network creates is still gibberish, but that he hopes to improve its output in the future. He told The Daily Beast he'll "maybe make it public one day" if it gets good enough, or start experimenting with other TV shows. "Maybe Frasier or Seinfeld," says Herd. "Or maybe mash them all together and create The Perfect Sitcom."
Ho Hai Tran, “The Great Wall, Glendale Heights, IL, USA ” (all photos courtesy Ho Hai Tran and Chloe Cahill)
While our love for pizza will never die, the dine-in locations of the red-roofed Pizza Hut have been gradually shuttering across the world. Still, even if they no longer house cheesy, greasy goodness, their iconic hut-shaped forms endure, dotting the landscape as buildings for new businesses. For the past two years, freelance photographer Ho Hai Tran has been traveling the world, hunting down these shells of former Pizza Huts and photographing nearly 100 of them. The series of images in his forthcoming, Kickstarter-funded book, Pizza Hunt, is an homage to a particular period of the fast food chain’s history, one that introduced an unexpected architectural design that spread globally.
The former flatbread eateries now exist as Chinese restaurants, liquor stores, pawn shops, gospel churches, and funeral homes, but certain lasting or repurposed architectural elements remain that hint to days when patrons gathered around sticky tables to double-fist doughy slices and hunks of cheesy bread.
Cover of ‘Pizza Hunt’ by Ho Hai Tran and Chloe Cahill (click to enlarge)
“The huts vary from the slightly altered to the drastically transformed but were all originally built in the same image,” Tran told Hyperallergic. “Some of the tell-tale features of the hut are the trapezoidal windows and the two-tiered shingled roof.”
Pizza Hut’s first location — which opened on June 15, 1958 and now exists on the Wichita State University campus — was actually just a small brick building, where a shortage of space on its entryway sign in addition to its architecture dictated the brand name. As the chain expanded and competing businesses emerged, however, its founders decided to set Pizza Hut apart with a new and unique design. As e-zine Dairy River explains in a heavily researched essay on Pizza Hut’s famous roof, a local architect Richard D. Burke takes responsibility for coming up with the red, pavilion-style roof. His design dates to around 1964, and it popped up just about everywhere, from Anchorage, Alaska, to Alimos, Greece.
Ho Hai Tran, “Olsens Funerals , Revesby, NSW, Australia”
Many of those red roofs are now repainted and many buildings disguised, but Tran, along with creative director and editor Chloe Cahill, combed Google Maps, mined existing online research, and spoke with locals to confirm a business’ original pizzeria status. Some are still easily recognizable, like the Pizza Hut-turned pagoda-style Chinese restaurant in Illinois that tweaked its roof with a teal paint job and upturned edges; or “Copycat,” a copy store in Pennsylvania that stays true to its name and pretty much adheres to the structure of the pizza parlor. Others, like Olsens Funerals in Australia, bear faint resemblance to Burke’s design, requiring much more digging into history.
Ho Hai Tran, “Copycat , California, PA, USA”
“Pizza Hunt” isn’t the first compendium devoted to the enduring legacy of the hut-like diner, although it will be the first printed publication on the topic that is self-compiled. Since 2008, the blog Used to Be a Pizza Hut has been crowdsourcing photographs to document the current nature of the franchise’s old establishments. Like Pizza Hunt, its archives reveal the significance of Pizza Hut’s architecture not only in building the pie giant’s brand but also in creating a now-distant experience that predates the arrival of delivery services.
“The Pizza Hunt is a celebration of the golden era of dine-in fast food,” Tran said. “For anyone who’s ever made a mountain of mini marshmallows on their self-serve sundae, maxed out on free refills at the drink fountain or driven past a hut and felt its strange allure – this book’s for you.”
Ho Hai Tran, “Vacant, West Palm Beach, FL, USA”
Ho Hai Tran, “Church of Our Savior, Boynton Beach, FL, USA”
Ho Hai Tran, “Los Burritos Mexicanos, St. Charles, IL, USA”
Limited edition book with custom pizza box clamshell
Market and Accessories Director: Kyle Anderson
Fashion Director: Nina Garcia
Editor and Chief: Anne Fulenwider Photo Director: James Morris Photographer: Mitch Feinberg
Heidi: How did this project evolve?
Mitch: I have a wonderful relationship with Marie Claire. It is one of the few American fashion magazines that treat fashion still life pages as an opportunity to advance passionate editorial views on accessories and not simply as a vehicle to please advertisers. Their Market and Accessories Director Kyle Anderson, Fashion Director Nina Garcia and Editor and Chief Anne Fulenwider all take a direct interest in demanding that the pages are strong and fresh. For a still life photographer, this is a thrilling context in which to make new work.
Months before a final art due date, Kyle sends me jpegs of the next accessories story. The story subject might be based on a color, a design direction, materials or a cultural reference. It’s usually my responsibility to come up with a visual solution, although occasionally he or someone else will have a few suggestions. I pitch just one idea, including swipes from industrial sites or stores that refer to the environments I want to create. I do not like to make drawings or send “finished” images — it is better to keep things loose so that I have room for spontaneity. Once I send the pitch everyone weighs in and we go from there.
For the Haute Tech story, Kyle mentioned that he had a fine jewelry December story in search of an idea. Fine jewelry can be a tedious editorial subject because designs generally do not evolve much from year to year and diamonds are unforgiving in poor lighting conditions — a tough subject to make fresh.
I have been involved with a couple of technology projects and developed an appreciation for a well-designed circuit board. Apple’s boards, in particular, are very fine, all black, with an absolute, maniacal fidelity to minimalism. I immediately thought of making boards that in some way reflected or enhanced the design direction of the jewelry. Kyle worked hard to find pieces that would mesh well with the concept — no animals or organic designs, for example.
How long did the project take and tell us about your process with the engineer? The editors loved the idea and I got to work in July. We all figured no one had done this, at least not at this scale. My original intention was to design and order the prototype boards myself. I spent a day or so learning the nomenclature and general design principles. I already knew that board design can be devilishly difficult in the details, but straightforward designs are fairly easily to execute. There is a very large community of amateur board designers associated with platforms like Arduino, as well as many foundries that specialize in prototyping. I downloaded one of the popular free software packages and set to work. I started with a good drawing I had already made in Photoshop for the first design – the black Chopard board. Then I hit an unexpected wall. Circuit board software is designed to make circuit boards, not pretty patterns. Duh. A user first builds a schematic with all the components and only then moves on to “routing”, finding the shortest, most efficient paths to lay the “wires” between all the components. Clearly, I was not going to easily figure out how to build a schematic that would allow me to “route” the wires in a predetermined pattern.
Help was needed. I spent a considerable amount of time on tech blogs and the Web looking for an engineer that had both an aesthetic view on the world and the technical skills required. I came across one man, a fellow in England named Saar Drimer, who had a circuit board design company called Boldport. He had gone so far as to write a program that allowed him to import illustrator files into a circuit board-friendly design environment. I emailed him almost immediately. He quickly understood my project. I had found my guy.
I’d imagine the sketches were fairly in-depth in order to create the final “working boards,” tell us about that exchange.
We encountered many technical difficulties. I had to visit the jewelers and carefully measure the dimensions so that the jewelry would fit perfectly into the designs. This was very difficult to figure out, as cutouts also had to be drawn up for the rings and earrings. The magazine was extraordinarily helpful in opening doors, and we were lucky none of the pieces were sold before the shoot. Saar started with my drawings but soon added his own special sauce, making the boards more credible. By the end, we were going back and forth with very rough drawings and he took it from there. It was a lot of work for him, as he also had to design and solder functioning boards with the LEDs. I was also lucky he had a very good foundry in the UK that was willing to work hard on the quality and color of the shadow masks (the non-metallic surface of the boards). We spent about six weeks start to finish. The shoot took just two days, up in my Connecticut studio. There is almost no retouching, just a little cleaning up. I’m old school, I like my images real. We both feel that we executed something new, perhaps opening the door to new designs with circuit boards as a functional, aesthetic material.
How do your ideas manifest? I wish I knew. they just pop in unexpectedly. On a long walk, in the shower, at an exhibition, anywhere, really. I read a lot, I look at design blogs, magazines, many non-photographic sources. Unless there is a specific request I stay away from my colleagues’ Websites; too many voices in a photographer’s head can be deafening.
What was your break, meaning how did you get started? Everyone has a breakthrough project though we all see you as superstar out of the womb. Thank you. I do not know if I was a superstar out of the womb; I’ve been told that I produced a lot of spit up in my early years. Unless you are Guy Bourdin, many years of work will be required before you find a strong voice. That might be daunting to hear, but I think the best photographers love the process of making photographs. Your voice will come, sometime soon, hopefully. In the meantime, I suggest you make images simply for the joy of it. I have always felt that way, even during the years when my career was uncertain. As in all creative endeavors, this is a tough business. Do it because you love it. Still life photography has always felt like the best way to express myself, I have enjoyed a lifetime exploring how that happens.
What is another creative outlet for you? Three years ago my wife and I moved to a small farm in Connecticut. I have learned a lot about fencing (not the epee kind), black bears (don’t run), and wild turkeys (not happy when challenged). More than enough new outlets for a guy who spent 28 years in Paris.
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The stars look close at hand in Neil Folberg’s cosmic nighttime photos, made in the deserts of Israel and the Sinai Peninsula and on view in “Celestial Nights,” an exhibition at The Dryansky Gallery in San Francisco up until January 17. Set among ruins and natural landscapes, the images suggest the radiant glow of a world lit by starlight. Like the work of the great 19th century landscape photographers such as Gustave Le Gray, the photos, originally made in the late 1990s and early 2000s, are composites of sky and earth. Folberg used the technology available at the time to create “a “digital negative” which enabled [him] to produce the images as silver gelatin prints,” reads a statement from the gallery. “As a result of new technology, Folberg has been able to revisit and digitally remaster the images bringing them closer to his original vision.”
Folberg was born in San Francisco and studied with Ansel Adams before moving to Israel in the 1970s, and the dramatic landscape of the Middle East has been a recurring theme in his work. The inspiration for the series came from spending time on the Sinai Peninsula while working on an earlier project. “I felt it was the greatest and most wonderful adventure I could imagine, wandering through the wadis, listening to the wind, feeling the stones or sand underfoot, sleeping outdoors below a sky of blazing stars,” Folberg said in a 2009 interview. “It began to feed on my imagination and reveal my inner character. The harsh daylight can often hide things as well as reveal them. During the day we feel all powerful, at night we begin to realize the vastness of the universe and one becomes aware of its scale and one’s limitations and our place in it. Between the finite and the infinite, the known and the unknown…to capture it on film is what drove me to create ‘Celestial Nights.'”
You know the sound of the theremin, that weird, warbly whine that gets a solo in the Beach Boy’s “Good Vibrations” and signals mystery, danger, and otherworldly portent in many classic sci-fi films and the original intro theme to Doctor Who. It has the distinction of being not only the very first electronic instrument but also the only instrument in history one plays without ever touching any part of it. Instead, the theremin player makes hand motions, like the conductor of an invisible choir, and the device sings. You can see this yourself above, as the instrument’s inventor, LéonTheremin, demonstrates his thereminvox, as he called it at the time, in 1954. Speaking in Russian, with English subtitles, Theremin describes how the “instrument of a singing-voice kind” works “by means of influencing an electromagnetic field.”
Theremin originally invented the instrument in 1919 and called it the Aetherphone. He demonstrated it for Vladimir Lenin in 1922, and its futuristic sound and design made quite an impression on the ailing communist leader. Theremin then brought the device to Europe (see a silent newsreel demonstration here) and to the U.S. in 1927, where he debuted it at the Plaza Hotel and where classical violinist Clara Rockmore, soon to become the most devoted proponent and player of the theremin, first heard it. Although many people thought of Theremin’s invention as a novelty, Rockmore determined that it would be taken seriously. She apprenticed herself to Theremin, mastered the instrument, and adapted and recorded many a classical composition, like Tchaikovsky’s “Berceuse,” above. More than anyone else, Rockmore made the theremin sing as its inventor intended.
The origin story of the theremin, like so many invention stories, involves a happy accident in the laboratory. Just above, Albert Glinsky, author of the history Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage, describes how Theremin inadvertently created his new instrument while devising an audible technique for measuring the density of gases in a chemistry lab. The first iteration of the instrument had a foot pedal, but Theremin wisely decided, Glinsky says, that “it would be so much more intriguing to have the hands purely in the air,” manipulating the sound from seemingly nowhere. Although there are no frets or strings or keys, no bow, slide, or other physical means of changing the theremin’s pitch, its operation nonetheless requires training and precision just like any other musical instrument. If you’re interested in learning the basics, check out the tutorial below with thereminist Lydia Kavina, playing a ‘thereamini’ designed by synthesizer pioneer Moog.
In his day, Theremin lived on the cutting edge of scientific and musical innovation, and he hoped to see his instrument integrated into the world of dance. While working with the American Negro Ballet Company in the 1930s, the inventor fell in love with and married a young African-American dancer named Lavinia Williams. He was subsequently ostracized from his social circle, then he either abruptly picked up and left the U.S. for the Soviet Union in 1938 or, more likely, as Lavinia alleged, he was kidnapped from his studio and whisked away. Whatever the case, Theremin ended up in a Gulag laboratory called a sharaska, designing listening devices for the Soviet Union. Thereafter, he worked for the KGB, then became a professor of physics at Moscow State University.
Theremin never gave up on his electronic instruments, inventing an electronic cello and variations on his theremin during a 10-year stint at the Moscow Conservatory of Music. He gave his final theramin demonstration in the year of his death, 1993, at age 97. (See him playing above in 1987 with his third wife Natalia.) To learn much more about the inventor’s fascinating life story, be sure to see Steven M. Martin’s 1993 documentary Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey.
The monolithic concrete that forms some of our most creative 20th-century architectural heritage is in danger of disappearing. Brutalism, that heftily named form of modernism that favors right-angles and a palette with the colors of a storm, is facing demolition and decay around the world, whether the Birmingham Central Library in England demolished this month, or Chicago’s Prentice Women’s Hospital torn down last year.
SOSBrutalism is a new initiative for raising awareness of the preservation of “our beloved concrete monsters.” A collaboration between Wüstenrot Foundation, Deutsche Architekturmuseum (DAM), and Uncube, it’s aimed at growing a database of the world’s Brutalist architecture, with over 700 entries so far. In April of 2017, the project will culminate with an exhibition at DAM in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
“By showing the phenomenal diversity of forms and shapes, and presenting remarkable, imaginative, or outrageous examples of this wonderful style, we try to create a sense of wonder and admiration for those buildings and sway people from preconceived notions of a kind of oppressive, dull, gloomy, unattractive architecture that is not worthy of preservation,” Oliver Elser, a curator at DAM, told Hyperallergic.
The online database encourages crowd interaction for photographs, history, and preservation status (with color categories from red to blue depending on threat of demolition), with endangered buildings and their preservation campaigns being a major focus.
SOSBrutalism database (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)
There are entries for the 1973 terraced La Pyramide by Rinaldo Olivieri on the Ivory Coast, which is mostly abandoned and deteriorating; the USSR-era Buzludzha Memorial in Bulgaria, a sort of UFO-shaped behemoth in the Balkan mountains, vacant since 1991; and the surreal (and infamous) 1960 El Helicoide by Jorge Romero Gutiérrez in Caracas, Venezuela, which has endured stretches of abandonment, squatting, shadowy government surveillance operations, and political prisoner housing. While a recurring theme is a lack of maintenance, practical use, and the impact of decay, there are other risks like a chapel in Lebanon damaged by a missile.
Felix Torkar, curatorial assistant at DAM, noted that Brutalism “still suffers from a particularly bad reputation,” with its heavy name derived from Le Corbusier’s “béton brut” meaning exposed or raw concrete. He added that some of SOSBrutalism’s entries were discovered through “‘the 10 ugliest buildings of xyz’ listicles.”
“In theory, exposed concrete is a great, long-lasting material, but it requires a certain amount of maintenance,” Torkar explained. “Most architects had optimistic projections — this was largely before the 1973 oil crisis — for maintenance budgets and future upkeep, which, in a lot of cases, never materialized. This is especially true with large-scale public housing projects, some of which pretty much started immediately decaying in record time after being completed — one more reason for Brutalism’s bad image.”
Their database is riddled with recent losses like the modular 1971 Orange County Government Center by Paul Rudolph in Goshen, New York, and the 1970 Stage Center by John MacLane Johansen in Oklahoma City that mixed colorful farm catalogue elements with its concrete. Yet there are examples of successful contemporary use, such as Gordon Bunshaft’s circular 1974 Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum, and Marcel Breuer’s 1961 St. John’s Abbey Church in Collegeville, Minnesota, with its sculptural bell tower.
SOSBrutalism is only one of a number of recent actions of Brutalism appreciation, including the Brutalist London Map from Blue Crow Media and the Twentieth Century Society, which includes a walking tour of 50 of the city’s buildings, or more playful projects like Zupagrafika’s paper cut-out models of London’s brutalist architecture. Like these projects, SOSBrutalism is encouraging a recognition of the modernist concrete architecture in our everyday lives, and how it represents design history, and gives the cityscapes a distinct character.
“Since we’ve started this project, we’ve noticed in ourselves that once you start looking in your own city you start noticing all those wonderful concrete monsters you’ve been walking by for years,” Elser said. “In the long run, we think that if you know and remember certain styles and buildings, you’re more likely to appreciate them and get attached to them, rather than tearing them down.”
Paul Shiakallis, “Vicky” (2014) (all photos courtesy Paul Shiakallis and used with permission)
Beavis and Butt-head, in their AC/DC and Metallica t-shirts, might best sum up the stereotypical metalhead in the popular Western imagination: a young white dude who likes headbanging and hates authority, found mostly in American cities or in Nordic countries with long, dark winters and plenty of old churches to burn. But South African photographer Paul Shiakallis’s series Leather Skins, Unchained Hearts provides a visual alternative to this image. He documents the leather-clad women of Botswana’s metal subculture, called “Marok,” which translates to “rocker” in Setswana.
Last year, Shiakallis met a couple of Queens, as female Marok fans like to call themselves, at a gig in Gaborone, Botswana’s capital. As their Queen alter-egos, these women go by names like Onalenna Angelovdarkness, Amokian Lordess, and Phoenix Tonahs Slaughter. “They had this confidence and freedom about them — they could just let go without feeling they were going to be reprimanded,” Shiakallis tells Hyperallergic.
Paul Shiakallis, “Bontle Sodah Ramotsietsane,” 2014
This type of self-expression is rare for women in Botwana’s conservative patriarchal society. Since mainstream culture often perceives metal as “satanic,” many women of the Marok movement wear more traditional clothing by day and only reveal their brutal alter-egos in their Facebook photos, posing in full metal regalia, often in front of trees outside at night. “I believe facebook allows u to be who u are. only girls who believe in themselvs and aint afraid to express themselves can be rockers, [sic]” one Queen, Phoenix Tonahs Slaughter, told Shiakallis. “They don’t tend to pose aggressively like the men do, so I liked that they showed a softer side to the Marok movement,” Shiakallis says.
Shiakallis began photographing these Queens in their homes, a project that proved more difficult than he’d expected. “Every portrait I took almost never happened,” Shiakallis says. “Sometimes, the Queens’ boyfriends or husbands would thwart the shoots,” since they didn’t want their partners to be photographed by, or even in the presence of, another male. “Some Queens were reluctant to pose for photographs, wary about where the images would end up, as they’re still ‘coming out’ as rockers.”
Paul Shiakallis, “Debbie Baone Superpower” (2014)
In bullet belts, spiked cuffs, leather jackets, bandanas, and Iron Maiden t-shirts, the women in Shiakallis’ photographs resemble characters from post-apocalyptic cinema, like the road warriors from Mad Max. Marok fashion fuses the styles of 1970s and ’80s heavy metal (specifically, from the cover of Motorhead’s Ace of Spades); the tasseled leather jackets and black boots of Botswana’s sizeable biker community; and the cowboy hats, spurs, and vests worn by many of the country’s rural farmers. Posing against backdrops of rural villages, pastel-painted bedrooms, and cozy living rooms, these Queens highlight how the Marok subculture is a kind of fantasy world, an escape from the confines of tradition and domesticity.
Skinflint, Metal Orizon, Wrust, Crackdust, Overthrust, and Amok are some of Botswana’s biggest metal bands, but since the Marok scene is very small, they only play shows every few months. “When they do have a show, rockers from all around Botswana make the effort to show up, even if they have to travel 700km from another town,” Shiakallis says. At festivals or shows with big lineups, the Morok tend to unite beforehand to “march for a cause.” They first donate to an elected charity, then march together, led by Marok men dragging chains on the ground as the parade of metalheads mount each others’ shoulders and play fight in “ritualistic dances.” “It’s a very surreal sight,” Shiakallis says.
Paul Shiakallis, “Bonolo” (2014)
Paul Shiakallis, “Katie Dekesu” (2014)
Paul Shiakallis, “Distant Hill” (2014)
Paul Shiakallis, “Millie Hans” (2014)
Paul Shiakallis, “From Mokatse Boulder” (2014)
Paul Shiakallis, “Phoenix Tonahs Slaughter” (2014)
When Jon Pertwee reincarnated into Tom Baker in 1974, the Fourth Doctor of popular sci-fi show Doctor Who ditched the foppish look of velvet jackets and frilly shirts, and went for the “Romantic adventurer” style, with floppy felt hat, long overcoats and, most iconically, his multicolored scarf.
Fan legend has it that costume designer James Acheson picked up a load of multi-color wool and asked knitter Begonia Pope to create a scarf, and Pope, perhaps mishearing, used *all* the wool, resulting in a scarf that ran 12 feet long. The mistake was perfect, and suddenly many UK grandmothers were being asked by their grandchildren to recreate their hero’s look.
The above memo isn’t dated, but comes from sometime in the early ‘80s when the BBC sent detailed instructions to a fan’s mother on making the scarf. (Click here, then click again, to view the document in a larger format.) The colors include camel, rust, bronze, mustard, grey, green and purple and should be knitted with size four needles (that’s #9 US size). The requests must have come regularly, because a similar memo is reprinted from many years later to another fan’s family.
The original scarf only lasted a few episodes, then was altered, replaced, and subtly changed as the show went on. There were stunt scarves for stand-ins.
Come Season 18, costume designer June Hudson rethought the entire costume and streamlined the colors to three: rust, wine, and purple, to match the Doctor’s more swashbuckling look. It also became the longest scarf of the series, some 20 feet.
The following year, the Doctor reincarnated again into a cricket-jumper and striped trouser-wearing young blonde man. The Scarf Years were over.
For a very in-depth look at the scarves, including Pantone color references and wool brands, there is nothing better than DoctorWhoScarf.com. So, get knitting, Who-vians!
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.
It was something of a Christmas ritual at Hunter S. Thompson’s Colorado cabin, Owl Farm. Every year, his secretary Deborah Fuller would take down the Christmas tree and leave it on the front porch rather than dispose of it entirely. That’s because Hunter, more often than not, wanted to set it on fire. In 1990, Sam Allis, a writer for then formidable TIME magazine, visited Thompson’s home and watched the fiery tradition unfold. He wrote:
I gave up on the interview and started worrying about my life when Hunter Thompson squirted two cans of fire starter on the Christmas tree he was going to burn in his living-room fireplace, a few feet away from an unopened wooden crate of 9-mm bullets. That the tree was far too large to fit into the fireplace mattered not a whit to Hunter, who was sporting a dime-store wig at the time and resembled Tony Perkins in Psycho. Minutes earlier, he had smashed a Polaroid camera on the floor.
Hunter had decided to videotape the Christmas tree burning, and we later heard on the replay the terrified voices of Deborah Fuller, his longtime secretary-baby sitter, and me off-camera pleading with him, “NO, HUNTER, NO! PLEASE, HUNTER, DON’T DO IT!” The original manuscript of Hell’s Angels was on the table, and there were the bullets. Nothing doing. Thompson was a man possessed by now, full of the Chivas Regal he had been slurping straight from the bottle and the gin he had been mixing with pink lemonade for hours.
The wooden mantle above the fireplace apparently still has burn marks on it today. It’s one of the many things you can check out when Owl Creek starts running museum tours in the near future.
Hellen van Meene’s quiet pictures of women and girls posed in mostly empty rooms or among exotic plants suggest undercurrents of fairytale and allegory, drawing from myth, art history, and horror movies to make seductively simple pictures that are by turns unsettling and playful. Her work is on view in “Five,” her fittingly-named fifth show at Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York until January 23. The images call to mind classical painting, especially that of fellow Dutchman Vermeer, whose delicate window light van Meene often evokes, along with references to Ingres and Velasquez. Hans Christian Andersen is a source for an image of a woman asleep atop a pile of mattresses. Other references are more modern – in another, a girl levitates above a couch, her dress falling elegantly beneath her in a nod to The Exorcist.
While the subjects of van Meene’s photos seem to reveal something about themselves, her aim is not represent each individual. “People keep asking me if portraiture is what I really do,” van Meene has said in an interview. There are people in her photos, “but they’re not really ‘portraits’,” she says. “It’s not that I am aiming to make a precise document of the person in front of me. It’s rather more like a translation of someone I see in front of me, and whom I translate into something different.”