Wednesday, April 30, 2008

china's emerging middle class

this month’s edition of national geographic is focussed on china. one of the best articles i’ve read in natgeo for a long time is available on line and deserves a read. entitled “gilded age, gilded cage” it describes in detail the life of a girl facing many of the same pressures that girls of similar age in north america and europe are experiencing. if that rocks your world-view then you need to read on because china has changed dramatically and fast and dated misconceptions about that country need to be shelved, shredded, tossed in the rubbish.
the focus of the article is fifteen year-old zhou jiaying or as she is now known - “bella”. in the course of the article, she reveals all the social, academic, and familial pressures of her life in an all-too-familiar tale in which the past and the future collide in the present of her unfolding life. at the close of the article bella writes: “I sit in my middle-class classroom, and the teacher wants us to say goodbye to childhood. I feel at a loss. Happiness is like the twinkling stars suffusing the night sky of childhood. I want only more and more stars. I don’t want to see the dawn.”

here then is the story of a fifteen year-old chinese
middle-class girl in 2008.

the author of this article, leslie t. chang lived in china for a decade. her book factory girls will be coming out in october of 2008.

while you’re here, you might also be interested in seeing time magazine’s short photo essay on beijing’s . . .transformation.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

the soulful sounds of daptone records

daptone records - home of soul, funk, and gospel, rose out of the ashes of descor records. featuring the incredible soul powerhouse backup band, the dap-kings, daptone also features such stellar acts as the sugarman three, the budos band, the poets of rhythm, the daktaris, the mighty imperials, lee fields, charles bradley, binky griptite, and naomi davis. top of the daptone stable for me though is the incredible singer sharon jones who with her backup band the dap-kings, tears up sixties and seventies soul and funk like nothing i’ve heard since that time.

but first, let’s take a tour of the daptone recording studio . . .

sharon jones and the dap-kings “100days, 100nights” . . .

sharon jones rehearsal of a james brown medley . . .

sharon jones and the dap-kings live . . . i’ll say that in this rare instance, the dap-kings are the stars of this track . . .

if you like what you hear and want to know more or see more or even buy some music then drop in on daptone records.

Monday, April 28, 2008

dell: the greening of the computer

i’ll start this by stating unequivocably that i am a mac user. always have been and likely always will be. having said that, the product described here is making a statement in an area that is important to me and i feel deserves major props for what it is. a statement that will hopefully resonate and see similar responses - perhaps better looking responses - throughout the industry.

a few nights ago, i was surfing through the news channels when i came across an interview with dell's ceo michael dell during which he mentioned his speech earlier in the day at the fortune green conference.

as a sidebar to his interview, dell unveiled a computer with a bamboo casing.

(images courtesy of earth2tech)
dell described the computer as being “81 percent smaller than a standard desktop, using 70 percent less power and comprised of materials made from recycled materials like old bottles, milk jugs and detergent cases”. dell didn’t provide the name of the new computer, but he did say, with his head turned slightly sideways and avoiding eye-contact with the interviewer and the camera, that the product would come out later this year and would likely range in price betwen $500 and $700.

i hope that dell follows through on this, not because i'll buy their product, but because it will pave the way for the other majors to take more pronounced steps along the path towards green~greener electronics - apple included!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

frank stockton: the lady, or the tiger?

frank stockton is one of those people you hear about who managed to forge himself an amazing career and reputation against the wishes and will of his father. i first came across the writing of stockton when guitarist robert fripp and toyah willcox released a recording of ”the lady, or the tiger” as a fundraiser for the american society for continuous education. on the flip side was the sequel (which strangely in its written-form) has not enjoyed the same degree of fame as “the lady, or the tiger”) entitled “the discourager of hesitancy”. on the basis of those two stories i bought a collection of stockton’s writing and discovered a writer who had a sharp and insightful wit and a genius for creating improbable yet fantastic stories that often left me facing a conundrum of sorts.

"the lady, or the tiger" was a huge success for stockton and was first published in "the century", vol.25, no.1, (november 1882). that it has remained as popular and as relevant now as it was then, is a testament to it's innate qualities. for those with ten minutes to spare who appreciate lovely writing, here is the complete text of “the lady, or the tiger”.
in the very olden time there lived a semi-barbaric king, whose ideas, though somewhat polished and sharpened by the progressiveness of distant latin neighbors, were still large, florid, and untrammeled, as became the half of him which was barbaric. he was a man of exuberant fancy, and, withal, of an authority so irresistible that, at his will, he turned his varied fancies into facts. he was greatly given to self-communing, and, when he and himself agreed upon anything, the thing was done. when every member of his domestic and political systems moved smoothly in its appointed course, his nature was bland and genial; but, whenever there was a little hitch, and some of his orbs got out of their orbits, he was blander and more genial still, for nothing pleased him so much as to make the crooked straight and crush down uneven places.

     among the borrowed notions by which his barbarism had become semified was that of the public arena, in which, by exhibitions of manly and beastly valor, the minds of his subjects were refined and cultured.      but even here the exuberant and barbaric fancy asserted itself. the arena of the king was built, not to give the people an opportunity of hearing the rhapsodies of dying gladiators, nor to enable them to view the inevitable conclusion of a conflict between religious opinions and hungry jaws, but for purposes far better adapted to widen and develop the mental energies of the people. this vast amphitheater, with its encircling galleries, its mysterious vaults, and its unseen passages, was an agent of poetic justice, in which crime was punished, or virtue rewarded, by the decrees of an impartial and incorruptible chance.

     when a subject was accused of a crime of sufficient importance to interest the king, public notice was given that on an appointed day the fate of the accused person would be decided in the king's arena, a structure which well deserved its name, for, although its form and plan were borrowed from afar, its purpose emanated solely from the brain of this man, who, every barleycorn a king, knew no tradition to which he owed more allegiance than pleased his fancy, and who ingrafted on every adopted form of human thought and action the rich growth of his barbaric idealism.

     when all the people had assembled in the galleries, and the king, surrounded by his court, sat high up on his throne of royal state on one side of the arena, he gave a signal, a door beneath him opened, and the accused subject stepped out into the amphitheater. directly opposite him, on the other side of the enclosed space, were two doors, exactly alike and side by side. it was the duty and the privilege of the person on trial to walk directly to these doors and open one of them. he could open either door he pleased; he was subject to no guidance or influence but that of the aforementioned impartial and incorruptible chance. if he opened the one, there came out of it a hungry tiger, the fiercest and most cruel that could be procured, which immediately sprang upon him and tore him to pieces as a punishment for his guilt. the moment that the case of the criminal was thus decided, doleful iron bells were clanged, great wails went up from the hired mourners posted on the outer rim of the arena, and the vast audience, with bowed heads and downcast hearts, wended slowly their homeward way, mourning greatly that one so young and fair, or so old and respected, should have merited so dire a fate.

     but, if the accused person opened the other door, there came forth from it a lady, the most suitable to his years and station that his majesty could select among his fair subjects, and to this lady he was immediately married, as a reward of his innocence. It mattered not that he might already possess a wife and family, or that his affections might be engaged upon an object of his own selection; the king allowed no such subordinate arrangements to interfere with his great scheme of retribution and reward. the exercises, as in the other instance, took place immediately, and in the arena. another door opened beneath the king, and a priest, followed by a band of choristers, and dancing maidens blowing joyous airs on golden horns and treading an epithalamic measure, advanced to where the pair stood, side by side,
and the wedding was promptly and cheerily solemnized. then the gay brass bells rang forth their merry peals, the people shouted glad hurrahs, and the innocent man, preceded by children strewing flowers on his path, led his bride to his home.

     this was the king's semi-barbaric method of administering justice. its perfect fairness is obvious. the criminal could not know out of which door would come the lady; he opened either he pleased, without having the slightest idea whether, in the next instant, he was to be devoured or married. on some occasions the tiger came out of one door, and on some out of the other. the decisions of this tribunal were not only fair, they were positively determinate: the accused person was instantly punished if he found himself guilty, and, if innocent, he was rewarded on the spot, whether he liked it or not. There was no escape from the judgments of the king's arena.

     the institution was a very popular one. when the people gathered together on one of the great trial days, they never knew whether they were to witness a bloody slaughter or a hilarious wedding. this element of uncertainty lent an interest to the occasion which it could not otherwise have attained. thus, the masses were entertained and pleased, and the thinking part of the community could bring no charge of unfairness against this plan, for did not the accused person have the whole matter in his own hands?

     this semi-barbaric king had a daughter as blooming as his most florid fancies, and with a soul as fervent and imperious as his own. as is usual in such cases, she was the apple of his eye, and was loved by him above all humanity. among his courtiers was a young man of that fineness of blood and lowness of station common to the conventional heroes of romance who love royal maidens. this royal maiden was well satisfied with her lover, for he was handsome and brave to a degree unsurpassed in all this kingdom, and she loved him with an ardor that had enough of barbarism in it to make it exceedingly warm and strong. this love affair moved on happily for many months, until one day the king happened to discover its existence. he did not hesitate nor waver in regard to his duty in the premises. the youth was immediately cast into prison, and a day was appointed for his trial in the king's arena. this, of course, was an especially important occasion, and his majesty, as well as all the people, was greatly interested in the workings and development of this trial. never before had such a case occurred; never before had a subject dared to love the daughter of the king. in after years such things became commonplace enough, but then they were in no slight degree novel and startling.

     the tiger-cages of the kingdom were searched for the most savage and relentless beasts, from which the fiercest monster might be selected for the arena; and the ranks of maiden youth and beauty throughout the land were carefully surveyed by competent judges in order that the young man might have a fitting bride in case fate did not determine for him a different destiny. of course, everybody knew that the deed with which the accused was charged had been done. he had loved the princess, and neither he, she, nor any one else, thought of denying the fact; but the king would not think of allowing any fact of this kind to interfere with the workings of the tribunal, in which he took such great delight and satisfaction. no matter how the affair turned out, the youth would be disposed of, and the king would take an aesthetic pleasure in watching the course of events, which would determine whether or not the young man had done wrong in allowing himself to love the princess.

     the appointed day arrived. from far and near the people gathered, and thronged the great galleries of the arena, and crowds, unable to gain admittance, massed themselves against its outside walls. the king and his court were in their places, opposite the twin doors, those fateful portals, so terrible in their similarity.

     all was ready. The signal was given. a door beneath the royal party opened, and the lover of the princess walked into the arena. tall, beautiful, fair, his appearance was greeted with a low hum of admiration and anxiety. half the audience had not known so grand a youth had lived among them. No wonder the princess loved him! what a terrible thing for him to be there!

     as the youth advanced into the arena he turned, as the custom was, to bow to the king, but he did not think at all of that royal personage. his eyes were fixed upon the princess, who sat to the right of her father. had it not been for the moiety of barbarism in her nature it is probable that lady would not have been there, but her intense and fervid soul would not allow her to be absent on an occasion in which she was so terribly interested. from the moment that the decree had gone forth that her lover should decide his fate in the king's arena, she had thought of nothing, night or day, but this great event and the various subjects connected with it. possessed of more power, influence, and force of character than any one who had ever before been interested in such a case, she had done what no other person had done - she had possessed herself of the secret of the doors. She knew in which of the two rooms, that lay behind those doors, stood the cage of the tiger, with its open front, and in which waited the lady. through these thick doors, heavily curtained with skins on the inside, it was impossible that any noise or suggestion should come from within to the person who should approach to raise the latch of one of them. but gold, and the power of a woman's will, had brought the secret to the princess.

     and not only did she know in which room stood the lady ready to emerge, all blushing and radiant, should her door be opened, but she knew who the lady was. it was one of the fairest and loveliest of the damsels of the court who had been selected as the reward of the accused youth, should he be proved innocent of the crime of aspiring to one so far above him; and the princess hated her. often had she seen, or imagined that she had seen, this fair creature throwing glances of admiration upon the person of her lover, and sometimes she thought these glances were perceived, and even returned. now and then she had seen them talking together; it was but for a moment or two, but much can be said in a brief space; it may have been on most unimportant topics, but how could she know that? the girl was lovely, but she had dared to raise her eyes to the loved one of the princess; and, with all the intensity of the savage blood transmitted to her through long lines of wholly barbaric ancestors, she hated the woman who blushed and trembled behind that silent door.

     when her lover turned and looked at her, and his eye met hers as she sat there, paler and whiter than any one in the vast ocean of anxious faces about her, he saw, by that power of quick perception which is given to those whose souls are one, that she knew behind which door crouched the tiger, and behind which stood the lady. he had expected her to know it. he understood her nature, and his soul was assured that she would never rest until she had made plain to herself this thing, hidden to all other lookers-on, even to the king. the only hope for the youth in which there was any element of certainty was based upon the success of the princess in discovering this mystery; and the moment he looked upon her, he saw she had succeeded, as in his soul he knew she would succeed.

     then it was that his quick and anxious glance asked the question: "which?" it was as plain to her as if he shouted it from where he stood. There was not an instant to be lost. the question was asked in a flash; it must be answered in another.

     her right arm lay on the cushioned parapet before her. she raised her hand, and made a slight, quick movement toward the right. no one but her lover saw her. every eye but his was fixed on the man in the arena.

     he turned, and with a firm and rapid step he walked across the empty space. every heart stopped beating, every breath was held, every eye was fixed immovably upon that man. without the slightest hesitation, he went to the door on the right, and opened it.

     now, the point of the story is this: did the tiger come out of that door, or did the lady ?

     the more we reflect upon this question, the harder it is to answer. it involves a study of the human heart which leads us through devious mazes of passion, out of which it is difficult to find our way. think of it, fair reader, not as if the decision of the question depended upon yourself, but upon that hot-blooded, semi-barbaric princess, her soul at a white heat beneath the combined fires of despair and jealousy. she had lost him, but who should have him?

     how often, in her waking hours and in her dreams, had she started in wild horror, and covered her face with her hands as she thought of her lover opening the door on the other side of which waited the cruel fangs of the tiger!

     but how much oftener had she seen him at the other door! how in her grievous reveries had she gnashed her teeth, and torn her hair, when she saw his start of rapturous delight as he opened the door of the lady! how her soul had burned in agony when she had seen him rush to meet that woman, with her flushing cheek and sparkling eye of triumph; when she had seen him lead her forth, his whole frame kindled with the joy of recovered life; when she had heard the glad shouts from the multitude, and the wild ringing of the happy bells; when she had seen the priest, with his joyous followers, advance to the couple, and make them man and wife before her very eyes; and when she had seen them walk away together upon their path of flowers, followed by the tremendous shouts of the hilarious multitude, in which her one despairing shriek was lost and drowned!

     would it not be better for him to die at once, and go to wait for her in the blessed regions of semi-barbaric futurity?

     and yet, that awful tiger, those shrieks, that blood!

     her decision had been indicated in an instant, but it had been made after days and nights of anguished deliberation. she had known she would be asked, she had decided what she would answer, and, without the slightest hesitation, she had moved her hand to the right.

     the question of her decision is one not to be lightly considered, and it is not for me to presume to set myself up as the one person able to answer it. and so I leave it with all of you: which came out of the opened door - the lady, or the tiger?


for some interesting wordplay loosely based on the premise of “the lady, or the tiger” visit pandora bot’s website. visit here if you would like to read "the lady, or the tiger. if you’re hooked and want to know what happens next then you need to read sequel “the discourager of hesitancy”.
another wonderful stockton story entitled “griffin and the minor canon” can be found here.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

chris jordan: an unnatural disaster

a while ago i featured the photography of chris jordan. at that time i was particularly drawn to his gallery of images entitled “intolerable beauty: portraits of american mass consumption.”

i recently returned to see what else chris has been doing and came across his powerful photo gallery of images of the devastation that accompanied hurricane katrina this was a well-documented event from the earliest warnings of the imminent arrival of katrina, through its landing and then the human nightmare and unfolding crisis of post katrina new orleans.

jordan’s photographs reinforce the incredible destruction both material and spiritual that took place and underscore the continuing sorrow and loss that has resulted from what on the face of things was a truly powerful natural disaster but which (as time has revealed) was also a human disaster both in cause and consequence.

jordan’s images capture intimacies that cause the viewer to be immersed in the tragedy and yet, you will not see one person in any of the pictures. it is the more powerful depiction of objects, of simple treasures damaged and forgotten, that reaches beyond the lens and through the screen to draw the viewer to reflect on their own fortune and fragility in the face of nature.

the double entendre of the gallery’s title should not be lost. visit chris jordan’s website and scroll down to “in katrina’s wake: portraits of loss from an unnatural disaster”.

Friday, April 25, 2008

the sixteenth late friday night eclectic buffet

friday evening - a sprinkling of rain, the driveway packed with street-hockey playing boys, and in the background, ash ra tempel's release "gin rose" is playing.

tonight then, let's start with a little piece on rain.


i opened my eyes
and looked up at the rain,
and it dripped in my head
and flowed into my brain,
and all that I hear as I lie in my bed
is the slishity-slosh of the rain in my head.

i step very softly,
i walk very slow,
i can't do a handstand--
i might overflow,
so pardon the wild crazy thing I just said--
i'm just not the same since there's rain in my head.
shel silverstein

when it's raining outside - in the late night - it's a sound that fills me with the strangest joy - probably because it is a sound that has more to do with warmer times, and also because i love rain. as much as i love the sun. i love the sound of it on the roofs and on the windows.

it all began for me in an armstrong-siddeley with my family on a trip to wales. the rain beat on the roof of that very old car as we ate a sandwich picnic bought at market that day. tomatoes and cheese and bread. i was so powerfully touched by that sound and the feeling of us all being together and safe inside that car. even now when i tuck my son into bed and he asks for the window to be open so that he can hear the rain i know deep inside me - he knows exactly what i know. the deliciousness of the sound and feeling of rain.

the impressionists had a sense of (among almost everything) the sensuality of rain, and here’s a lovely example . . .
camille pissarro
the road: rain effect (the versailles road at louveciennes)

back to the very present and especially to an artist who has some very lovely cool work on her blog. becca stadtlander has a really lovely collection of her illustrations going on at becca stadtlander illustration . here are a couple of tastes:
boy with coin
houses and doilie
finally, here's booker 'bukkah' white singing "aberdeen, mississippi blues". it has the exact chord changes and vocal inflections as one of my favourite blues tunes - "parchman farm".
a beautiful tune by a talented blues musician.

greencore solar powered air conditioner

living in a province that regularly experiences massive peaks in power consumption through the summer months - and much of that due let’s face it to the indiscriminate use of air conditioners - the arrival of greencore’s solar powered air conditioner is good news! to the best of my knowledge and after an exhaustive search by the golden fish research team, at the moment it is the only solar powered air conditioner available anywhere in the world. i bet that that changes fast!

no prettier than the unit i already have but it carries that guilt-free quality about it that is worth its weight in gold.

the greencore a/c unit produces enough cooling power to take care of a spacee ranging from 300 to 600 square feet so it is not going to be appearing too quickly in your typical suburban home. however, applications that do make a lot of sense include mobile homes, trailers, portable classrooms, and any small living or working space that is contained such as a small office.

the bottom line is it is off-grid free energy that doesn’t damage the environment. i cannot wait for it to be offered commercially in canada through the usual outlets.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

think o-x: built in sustainability

think has been manufacturing electric cars for over seventeen years and with the design expertise of porsche behind the layout of their little production plant in norway, think looks poised to branch out in a big way into the ever expanding world of alternate energy vehicles.

think’s first vehicle “the city” has been in production for nine years now. 95% recyclable and made of recycled materials, the think city makes a powerful statement in the automotive world.

ford injected a fair bit of money into think (150 million dollars!) for a while but the company is now owned by a consortium of norwegian investors who have moved to expand think’s offerings and prime it for emergence into the expanding electric vehicle market.

the latest addition to the think stable is a lovely four door, five seater, named the think “ox” that i imagine is pronounced “oh-ex”.

integrating a solar cell canopy that can be used to power onboard and outboard electronics, the ox (like its city stablemate) boasts 95% recylability of its interior, comes unpainted, and has an entirely recyclable exterior. utilizing your choice of sodium batteries or flat lithium ion packs, the ox also features real time navigation, web, e-mail and open source interfaces, making it a truly connected car.

i like that combination of green design (both in manufacturing and in its post utility phase), with its being an extension of the owner’s electronic link to the larger world.

the thinking behind the ox is shown here in this short film.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

ben saunders - adventurer

among the many extraordinary people i have come across in my travels through books, films, and especially through the internet, ben saunders surely ranks among the most incredible of them all. ben is not exactly a household name and yet his achievements are so “out there” that he really deserves even more recognition than he currently receives.

here’s his bio as documented here.

“on may 11th 2004 he became the youngest person ever to reach the north pole. ben’s experience of those weather conditions described by nasa and environment canada as ‘the worst on record’, has raised international awareness regarding the extent to which climate change is affecting the arctic. he experienced conditions that were up to 15 degrees warmer than recorded in 2000, negotiating vast, unprecedented areas of thinning ice and open water.

in april 2003 at 25 years of age, ben saunders made a round trip to the north pole from the russian ‘ice station borneo’, skiing solo over 140 miles in just two weeks. he used pioneering new technology to send the first ever real-time video clips from the pole to continuously update the award-winning live from the ice. not only did ben achieve a world first but his expedition raised over £10,000 for the orchid cancer appeal.

in the spring of 2001, ben became the youngest person ever (then 23) to attempt an unsupported "all the way" north pole expedition, along with fellow brit - pen hadow – a challenge described by reinhold messner as "ten times as hard as everest". the worst conditions in 17 years forced the pair to stop just days from the pole. enduring 8 weeks of skiing nearly 400 miles through icy headwinds and temperatures below -40ÂșC. suffering frostbite and surviving polar bear attacks.

born in plymouth, ben’s childhood was mostly spent in rural devon where his love of the great outdoors took root. He went on to attend the chaucer school in canterbury and later the royal military academy, sandhurst, where he completed the renowned rowallan company course – the most challenging ten-week course in the british army. At 19 years of age he spent four months walking and climbing in the nepalese himalayas. a keen athlete – as a cyclist he has raced on and off road at national level. completed both the london and the new york marathons in less than three and a half hours. he joined the john ridgway school in scotland (known as the uk’s toughest management training establishment). ben taught groups of under privileged youths at the school and now enjoys encouraging young people as an ambassador for the duke of edinburgh’s award scheme. he is a qualified personal trainer with a star list of clients. interestingly, as ben himself says: "i was never sporty at school. i was always the last kid picked for the football team. one of my school reports reads: ben lacks sufficient impetus to achieve anything worthwhile". at just 26 years of age, ben is considered to be one of the leading new adventurers.”

here you will get to see an eighteen minute presentation by ben in which he discusses his journey complete with beautiful pictures, and most importantly his extraordinary talk in which he provides all sorts of details including how you go to the toilet in a fourty below zero environment in which you have one minute before your skin freezes.

you will find that in addition to being a very brave person he also has a razor sharp wit.
i hope that you enjoy this extraordinary man’s stories.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

japanese bicycle parking tower

like a scene from the matrix in which instead of human beings, bicycles are stored in great towers, the machinery inside this japanese bicycle tower takes your bike and whisks it with incredible speed and efficiency to its assigned parking space. i like the scene towards the end of this video, in which the reporter slides his card through a reader and within twenty two seconds he has his bike - absolutely incredible.
this might be in the the future for cities outside of japan as the practical and aesthetic concerns of storing the increasing number of bikes safely and securely become ever more problematic.

dorothea lange: people of the depression

"one should really use the camera as though tomorrow you'd be stricken blind. to live a visual life is an enormous undertaking, practically unattainable. i have only touched it, just touched it." dorothea lange

dorothea lange was born in hoboken, new jersey in 1895. she studied photography at columbia university and worked in new york until the end of the first world war when she began to travel, photographing native americans. she believed that with her camera she could “teach people to see without a camera.”

lange took what are likely her most widely known photographs during the great depression at which time she documented the abject poverty and hardships associated with the massive social upheaval of that time. it was during this time that she took her most famous photograph, “migrant mother, nipoma, california, 1936.”

"young migratory mother, originally from texas. on the day before the photograph was made she and her husband traveled 35 miles each way to pick peas. they worked 5 hours each and together earned $2.25. they have two young children . . . live in auto camp." by dorothea lange, edison, kern county california, april 11, 1940 "between weedpatch and lamont, kern county, california. children living in camp". by dorothea lange, april 20, 1940

the stories behind the great photographs are often as compelling as the photographs themselves and if you read this, you will see that this is no exception.

“migrant mother” is one of a series of six images taken at the same time. more of dorothea’s migrant worker images can be seen here. more of dorothea’s images complete with her original captions and notes can be viewed here.

a comprehensive selection of photographs from the depression can be viewed here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

a double-decker bus ride to 1950's london

as a boy i had the opportunity to ride on double-decker buses. i have some memorable images in my mind of being on the upper floor as the bus approached manchester from altrincham through sale. being on the top floor was somehow magic even though it exactly replicated the bottom floor! the view though was very different and the sensation of being atop a mechanical elephant replete with forward to back and side-to-side motion still brings me that feeling of car sickness!

the british government public films section of the internet archive has very generously released archival footage of double decker buses in london replete with a voiceover that immediately dates the work even were it not accompanied by the very obvious visual referents to a time long past and yet very fresh in many people’s memory. the two african students featured in this film apparently represent the vanguard of immigrants and so i assume that this film was made to prepare people for the very different world they were arriving in.

with respect to the date of this film there are terms used that are not entirely politically correct and which are certainly not within the realm of what this writer would say or think. you can view this wonderful old film here.

ilkka halso: nature preserved

there has been for some time now, a growing realization of the precious qualities of the relationship we have with what we call nature and which we are gradually returning into as opposed to the long held perspective that we are actually additional to, or distinct from nature. artists - creative people in general - often offer insightful allusions or prescient perspectives on such ideas.

finnish artist ilkka halso has created an amazing body of work, and i especially like his more recent work entitled ”museum of nature”. working from the premise that elements of nature need preserving not entirely from the vantage point of their utility to the planet, but also from the perspective of their aesthetic value, halso has created six proposals for an interactive theme park.

at one and the same time these images are beautiful - immaculate and detailed renderings -

tempting - i’d love to take this rollercoaster ride even though rollercoasters have never appealed to me -
and melancholy - how sad to be compelled to think this way . . .
for more of ilkka’s work visit his website.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

michael wolf's images of density

i have lived in high-rise apartment buildings twice in my life. the scale of those buildings - which at the time were described in one instance as the largest of its time in this country and in the other instance was described as "the most luxurious" - have long since been eclipsed by massive structures that are more like small cities in terms of the number of people who call them home.

hong kong has long been associated with massive apartment towers, their scale being dictated in part by the need to locate large numbers of people in structures with relatively small footprints.

photographer michael wolf was born in munich, germany. he grew up in the united states and has been living in china for ten years. in that time, wolf has documented many of the features of the far east connected to repetition and detail. if you’d like to know and see more of his life, michael has generously provided a lovely scrapbook-like biography.

wolf has a very comprehensive website documenting his many photographic interests. one of his galleries is entitled “hong kong: the architecture of density.” here michael‘s lens captures the double-edged sword of urban density in which the whole is described by tiny repetitions of a single form that on closer inspection reveal their minute and unique qualities. in this way, the buildings act as visual metaphors for the people they house.

what i find interesting as i look at these images is how they flip back and forth between beauty . . .
and ugliness . . .
between the clinical visual precision of the twentieth century . . . and almost mediaeval decay . . .

for more images lin this series visit the architecture of density gallery.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

havana city blog

in 1993, my then girlfriend and now wife and i visited cuba. the massive hotel development that has enveloped much of the beach-lined shores of varadero was only just beginning and so the scene was fairly peaceful. as one feature of our holiday we took a bus into havana.

havana as i saw it at that time was a busy city but a city as you might expect to find in spain or portugal with ornately decorated buildings, wide avenues and small areas of apparent lush wealth. equally present, perhaps moreso, was the obvious lack of wealth. crumbling buildings, dated “modern” structures that had clearly not been maintained, and of course the amazing car museum driving down the streets in smoky, squealing, rumbling splendour!
i haven’t felt any urge to return but i came across a blog recently that has an excellent gallery of photographs of havana. in fairness i should tell you that this is not the tourist version of cuba, but a version taken by someone living there. these are not “clever” or artistic but they are deeply genuine and reveal in their simplicity the experience of being a resident of a once exquisite destination for the wealthy.

i can’t help wondering at the personal and technological lengths the blogger must have to go to to post these photographs of havana . . . .

gulliver's travels

saturday morning. it's warm and sunny and the birdsong is loud and cheerful. lots and lots of walkers and runners are making their way 'round their routes. this'll be a day of "opening up" the yard, moving lawn furniture and scraping winter detritus off the flower beds and grass. perhaps even the first run of "the season" later on . . . . .

but first! saturday morning is a cartoon morning - a morning where you can sink into a chair without worrying about the daily pressures and really enjoy a story. today i've dug up an old cartoon movie - gulliver's travels!

gulliver's travels written in 1726 by jonathan swift has been a feature of the western cultural landscape ever since it first appeared. at one and the same time a satire on human nature and a parody on literary travelogues, gulliver’s travels has been printed countless times, as well as having been made into an extraordinary variety of films, theatre productions, and tv shows. you can read it online here.
the 1939 cel-animated technicolour feature film directed and produced by dave and max fleischer is generally considered one of the best from the golden era of animation. fleischer used a rotoscope to trace live action animation from a real actor.

while deviating fairly extensively from the original plot, it still has recognizable connections and links to the original narrative. here for your viewing pleasure is the 1939 version of gulliver’s travels.

gulliver’s travels part one:

gulliver’s travels part two:

gulliver’s travels part three:

gulliver’s travels part four:

gulliver’s travels part five:

if you'd like to see the whole movie run seamlessly and with better sound and video then watch the 1939 version here: