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My 2017 total solar eclipse trip

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 22, 2017

Eclipse 2017 Mouser

I was not prepared for how incredible the total eclipse was. It was, literally, awesome. Almost a spiritual experience. I also did not anticipate the crazy-ass, reverse storm-chasing car ride we’d need to undertake in order to see it.

I’m not a bucket list sort of person, but ever since seeing a partial eclipse back in college in the 90s (probably this one), I have wanted to witness a total solar eclipse with my own eyes. I started planning for the 2017 event three years ago…the original idea was to go to Oregon, but then some college friends suggested meeting up in Nebraska, which seemed ideal: perhaps less traffic than Oregon, better weather, and more ways to drive in case of poor weather.

Well, two of those things were true. Waking up on Monday, the cloud cover report for Lincoln didn’t look so promising. Rejecting the promise of slightly better skies to the west along I-80, we opted instead to head southeast towards St. Joseph, Missouri where the cloud cover report looked much better. Along the way, thunderstorms started popping up right where we were headed. Committed to our route and trusting this rando internet weather report with religious conviction, we pressed on. We drove through three rainstorms, our car hydroplaning because it was raining so hard, flood warnings popping up on our phones for tiny towns we were about to drive through. Moral was low and the car was pretty quiet for awhile; I Stoically resigned myself to missing the eclipse.

But on the radar, hope. The storms were headed off to the northeast and it appeared as though we might make it past them in time. The Sun appeared briefly through the clouds and from the passenger seat, I stabbed at it shining through the windshield, “There it is! There’s the Sun!” We angled back to the west slightly and, after 3.5 hours in the car, we pulled off the road near the aptly named town of Rayville with 40 minutes until totality, mostly clear skies above us. After our effort, all that was missing was a majestic choral “ahhhhhh” sound as the storm clouds parted to reveal the Sun.

My friend Mouser got his camera set up — he’d brought along the 500mm telephoto lens he uses for birding — and we spent some time looking at the partial eclipse through our glasses, binoculars (outfitted with my homemade solar filter), and phone cameras. I hadn’t seen a partial eclipse since that one back in the 90s, and it was cool seeing the Sun appear as a crescent in the sky. I took this photo through the clouds:

Eclipse 2017 Clouds

Some more substantial clouds were approaching but not quickly enough to ruin the eclipse. I pumped my fist, incredulous and thrilled that our effort was going to pay off. As totality approached, the sky got darker, our shadows sharpened, insects started making noise, and disoriented birds quieted. The air cooled and it even started to get a little foggy because of the rapid temperature change.

We saw the Baily’s beads and the diamond ring effect. And then…sorry, words are insufficient here. When the Moon finally slipped completely in front of the Sun and the sky went dark, I don’t even know how to describe it. The world stopped and time with it. During totality, Mouser took the photo at the top of the page. I’d seen photos like that before but had assumed that the beautifully wispy corona had been enhanced with filters in Photoshop. But no…that is actually what it looks like in the sky when viewing it with the naked eye (albeit smaller). Hands down, it was the most incredible natural event I’ve ever seen.

After two minutes — or was it several hours? — it was over and we struggled to talk to each other about what we had just seen. We stumbled around, dazed. I felt high, euphoric. Raza Syed put it perfectly:

It was beautiful and dramatic and overwhelming — the most thrillingly disorienting passage of time I’ve experienced since that one time I skydived. It was a complete circadian mindfuck.

After waiting for more than 20 years, I’m so glad I finally got to witness a total solar eclipse in person. What a thing. What a wondrous thing.

A day at the office, in miniature

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 09, 2017

Derrick Lin

Derrick Lin

Derrick Lin

Using his iPhone 7, Derrick Lin pairs office supplies with tiny figurines to create these cool little scenes that he posts to Instagram. The book version of his photographic collection, Work, Figuratively Speaking, will be out in October. (via colossal)

Faces projected onto fabric tossed in the air

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 09, 2017

Conversation Wonjun Jeong

For his projected entitled Conversation, Wonjun Jeong tossed fabric into the air and projected images of faces on them.

Obama, An Intimate Portrait by White House photographer Pete Souza

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2017

For all eight years of Barack Obama’s Presidency, Pete Souza was Chief Official White House Photographer and took over 2 million photos of the President and his activities in office. Souza has collected some of those photos into a book: Obama: An Intimate Portrait, out in November.

Obama: An Intimate Portrait reproduces Souza’s most iconic photographs in exquisite detail, more than three hundred in all. Some have never been published. These photographs document the most consequential hours of the Presidency — including the historic image of President Obama and his advisors in the Situation Room during the bin Laden mission — alongside unguarded moments with the President’s family, his encounters with children, interactions with world leaders and cultural figures, and more.

It’s impossible to pick a favorite photo of Souza’s, but these two are right near the top:

Souza Obama Book

Souza Obama Book

What’s Souza up to these days? Trolling the current inhabitant of the White House on Instagram, as you do.

The winners of the 2017 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year contest

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 03, 2017

Nat Geo Contest 2017

Nat Geo Contest 2017

Nat Geo Contest 2017

In Focus is sharing some of the photographs taken by the winners of the 2017 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year contest. The winning photo, of Mt. Doom the Colima volcano in Mexico, was taken by Sergio Tapiro Velasco, who will receive a 10-day trip for 2 to the Galapagos islands for his efforts. The second photo above was taken by Andrzej Bochenski and the third by Julius Y.

Buildings photographed to look like spaceships

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 01, 2017

Spaceships Stieger

Spaceships Stieger

Spaceships Stieger

For his series entitled Spaceships, photographer Lars Stieger took photos of architectural structures that look like futuristic spaceships. (via colossal)

Photos documenting unusual laws across all 50 US states

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2017

Olivia Locher Law

Olivia Locher Law

Olivia Locher Law

When a normal person finds out that it’s illegal in Alabama to carry an ice cream cone in your back pocket, they might say, huh, that’s interesting. But photographer Olivia Locher took that strange fact and turned it into a project documenting the weirdest laws across all 50 US states (aided by a 70s children’s book called Crazy Laws). Locher has collected the photos into a book, I Fought the Law, which is out in September. Laws depicted in the photos above:

In Alabama, it is illegal to have an ice-cream cone in your back pocket.

In Ohio, it’s illegal to disrobe in front of a man’s portrait.

In Pennsylvania, it’s illegal to tie a dollar bill to a string and pull it away when someone tries to pick it up.

See also you commit three felonies a day.

Gorgeous trees on display at the 2017 World Bonsai Convention

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2017

Bonsai 2017

Bonsai 2017

The 8th World Bonsai Convention was recently held in Saitama, Japan. Billed as “the Olympics of the bonsai world”, over 300 trees were on display and one of them sold for ¥100,000,000 ($900,000). Japanistry and Bonsai Tree have some photos of the outstanding trees shown at the event. Bonsai Tonight also has some photos and descriptions of the trees from the convention, but I wish the photos were bigger. (via @sluicing)

Update: Bonsai Tonight made some larger photos available, so I couldn’t help including this one, from a post on the satsuki azalea bonsai, many of which were in full bloom.

Bonsai 2017

Beautiful. (thx, Bonsai Tonight

The winners of the Magnum Photography Awards 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2017

Magnum 2017

Magnum 2017

Magnum 2017

The legendary Magnum Photos agency has announced the winners of their second annual Magnum Photography Awards. You can peruse the full selection of the winners, finalists, and juror’s picks on Lens Culture. The photos above are by (respectively) Nick Hannes, MD Tanveer Rohan, and Antonio Gibotta.

A photo appreciation of trees

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2017

Trees

Trees

I’ve been on a bit of a tree bender lately (see wolf trees and one tree, one year), so I really enjoyed Alan Taylor’s recent A Walk in the Woods: A Photo Appreciation of Trees.

The top photo was taken by Clément Bucco-Lechat in Hong Kong. And the bottom photo was taken by Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi of Reuters:

Dragon’s Blood trees, known locally as Dam al-Akhawain, or blood of the two brothers, on Socotra island on March 27, 2008. Prized for its red medicinal sap, the Dragon’s Blood is the most striking of 900 plant species on the Socotra islands in the Arabian Sea, 380 km (238 miles) south of mainland Yemen.

I love how the roots of one tree and the branches of another resemble one another.

A bird magically floats because of a camera frame rate trick

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2017

You know when you’re watching a fan or a wheel or something else quickly spinning and it seems to stop spinning and even looks like it’s spinning backwards? And you blink your eyes and remind yourself you’re not on drugs and haven’t been drinking heavily but it’s still somehow simultaneously spinning and not? This optical illusion occurs most commonly with video cameras (but can also occur looking through your normal eyeballs) when the frame rate of the camera matches some multiple of the rate of the thing being filmed, as with this magically levitating helicopter.

Since each frame has to ensure the blade is in the same position as the last it therefore needs to be in sync with the rpm of the rotar blades. Shutter speed then needs to be fast enough to freeze the blade without too much motion blur within each frame.

Here the rotor has five blades, now lets say the rpm of the rotor is 300. That means, per rotation, a blade is in a specific spot on five counts. That gives us an effective rpm of 1500. 1500rpm / 60secs = 25.

Therefore shooting at 25fps will ensure the rotor blades are shot in the same position every frame. Each frame then has to be shot at a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the blade for minimal motion blur.

In the video above, a home security camera catches a bird flying with a wing speed matching the frame rate of the camera, which makes it look like the bird is just magically hanging in the air, like some sort of avian wizard.

Hummingbirds flying in slow motion

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2017

Slow Mo Hummingbird

National Geographic photographer Anand Varma recently took some slow motion videos of hummingbirds in flight. Incredible footage. It always amazes me how still their heads and bodies are while their wings beat furiously. Here’s National Geographic’s feature on using high-speed cameras to uncover the secrets of hummingbird flight.

World’s smallest birds is just one of several distinctions that hummingbird species claim. They’re the only birds that can hover in still air for 30 seconds or more. They’re the only birds with a “reverse gear”-that is, they can truly fly backward. And they’re the record holders for the fastest metabolic rate of any vertebrate on the planet: A 2013 University of Toronto study concluded that if hummingbirds were the size of an average human, they’d need to drink more than one 12-ounce can of soda for every minute they’re hovering, because they burn sugar so fast. Small wonder that these birds will wage aerial dogfights to control a prime patch of nectar-laden flowers.

Fun facts: some hummingbirds can beat their wings 100 times in a second and can sip nectar 15 times per second. I also like the locals’ name for the Cuban bee hummingbird, the world’s smallest bird: zunzuncito (little buzz buzz).

Throwback: LA roller rink still has a weekly organ night

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2017

Moonlight Rollerway

Lisa Whiteman has a lovely story and photos about the Moonlight Rollerway, a roller rink near LA that still hosts a weekly night of skating with live organ accompaniment. One of the skaters, Lillian Tomasino, is 86 years old and has been coming to the Moonlight to skate since it opened in the 50s.

Lillian has now outlived two of her long-term skating partners. Frank, with whom she had skated since the ’80s, passed away in 2012, and Dave, whom she had known since they were teenagers, died in late 2016. Although these days skating can cause Lillian significant pain, she has no intention of hanging up her skates anytime soon. After her spinal surgery in October 2016, she was back on her skates within six weeks. “My friends talk about [me skating at my age], and they think it’s great. I don’t give up too easy. As long as I can do it, and I can get out in public. That’s the main thing — ‘cos I’m at home a lot. The senior centers are too tame for me.”

How to safely enjoy the 2017 solar eclipse, a buyer’s guide for normal people

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2017

Solar Eclipse Illo

Important update: Since I published this guide a month ago, NASA and the AAS have updated their recommendation on buying solar safety glasses due to reports of counterfeit eclipse glasses. They no longer recommend looking for the ISO rating alone but only buying from a recommended manufacturer. If you have purchased glasses or are going to purchase glasses, read this page carefully before using them, paying particular attention to this bit:

Unfortunately, you can’t check whether a filter meets the ISO standard yourself — doing so requires a specialized and expensive piece of laboratory equipment called a spectrophotometer that shines intense UV, visible, and IR light through the filter and measures how much gets through at each wavelength. Solar filter manufacturers send their products to specialized labs that are accredited to perform the tests necessary to verify compliance with the ISO 12312-2 safety specifications. Once they have the paperwork that documents their products as ISO-compliant, they can legitimately use the ISO logo on their products and packaging.

Even more unfortunately, unscrupulous vendors can grab the ISO logo off the internet and put it on their products and packaging even if their eclipse glasses or viewers haven’t been properly tested. This means that just seeing the ISO logo or a label claiming ISO 12312-2 certification isn’t good enough. You need to know that the product comes from a reputable manufacturer or one of their authorized dealers.

Amazon recently sent out emails to the buyers of the plastic-framed glasses I bought and linked to here (“habibee 4-Pack Black Plastic Eclipse Glasses CE & ISO Certified 2017 Safe Solar Eclipses Viewing Shades Block Sun Ultraviolet UV Lights Goggles”), saying that they have “not received confirmation from the supplier of your order that they sourced the item from a recommended manufacturer” and, to their credit, have automatically issued refunds to those buyers. They also appear to have removed any products from their site that aren’t sourced from a recommended manufacturer. This doesn’t necessarily mean the glasses are faulty…it just means the solar filter paper used for the lenses can’t be sourced. Again, read this page carefully before deciding to use any glasses you may have purchased. I tested a pair this morning, looking at bright light bulbs and they seem appropriately dark, but as noted by the AAS, who knows about the UV and IR filtering? I’m throwing mine out.

The cardboard-framed glasses I linked to (while currently sold out) are manufactured by American Paper Optics, which is on the AAS’s list of reputable vendors. Also on the list is the manufacturer of the solar filter sheets, Thousand Oaks Optical. The two cardboard camera lens covers I linked to have been deleted from Amazon, a sign that their sourcing cannot be verified. I’ve updated the links and text below to only include links to products on the list of reputable vendors. Most are sold out at this point anyway, so…

I wish I’d had these new NASA and AAS recommendations a month ago…I obviously would have followed them closely in making buying choices & recommendations. That some unscrupulous manufacturers are using people’s enthusiasm for science and viewing the eclipse to sell potentially harmful products makes me angry and sick to my stomach. Luckily Amazon is doing the right thing here with refunds and safety notices. And thanks to NASA and the AAS for their guidance…again please read this before using your eclipse glasses, even ones you may have gotten free from your public library or through other organizations. /end update

On August 21, 2017 across the entire United States, the Moon will move in front of the Sun, partially blocking it from our view. For those on the path of totality, the Moon will entirely block out the Sun for more than 2 minutes. I’ve been looking forward to seeing a total solar eclipse since I was a little kid, so I’ve been doing a lot of research on what to buy to enjoy the eclipse safely. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

I’ve oriented this guide toward the enthusiastic beginner, someone who’s excited about experiencing the wonder of the eclipse with their friends & family but isn’t interested in expensive specialty gear or photography (like me!). And, again, since you will be able to see this eclipse from everywhere in North America to some degree, this guide applies to anyone in the US/Canada/Mexico.

In planning for eclipse viewing, please check out NASA’s safety notes for more information. Make sure that whatever you buy, it’s properly rated for naked eye solar viewing. Looking directly at the Sun without a proper filter can cause permanent damage, particularly through binoculars, a camera lens, or a telescope.

Note: If you’re going to get eclipse supplies, now is the time. Some of this stuff will probably be very difficult to find (or very expensive) as we approach August 21 — for instance, shipping estimates on Amazon for some of the glasses are mid-August already.

Solar eclipse glasses are essential. Right up until the Sun goes completely behind the Moon (if you’re on the path of totality), you will want to look at the crescent-shaped Sun and you’ll need certified safety glasses to do so. Regular sunglasses will not work! Do not even. There are several options…find some in stock that ship soon. Note: If you have young kids, splurge for the plastic framed glasses (if you can find them…most are sold out now)…my testing indicates the cardboard ones don’t stay on smaller heads as well.

Make a pinhole viewer. A pinhole viewer will let you see the shape of the eclipsed Sun without having to look directly at it. This Exploratorium guide should get you started. All you need in terms of supplies you probably have lying around at home: aluminum foil, paper, cardboard, etc. I suspect Kelli Anderson’s This Book is a Camera ($27) might also work if you play with the exposure times?

Apply good sunscreen. You’ve got your eye protection down, now for the rest of yourself. The eclipse is happening in the middle of the day in much of the country, in what you hope will be complete sunshine, so bring some sunscreen. The Sweethome recommends this SPF 70 Coppertone for $9. Wear a cap. Stay in the shade. Bonus for shading yourself under trees: the gaps between the leaves will form little pinhole lenses and you’ll see really cool patterns:

Solar Eclipse Leaves

A nice pair of binoculars. If you’re in the path of totality, you might want a pair of binoculars to look more closely at the totally eclipsed Sun (after checking that it’s safe!!). I’m guessing you don’t want to buy a pair of specialty astronomy binoculars, so the best binoculars are probably ones you already own. If you don’t already have a pair, The Wirecutter recommends the Midas 8 x 42 binoculars by Athlon Optics ($290) with the Carson VP 8x42mm ($144) as a budget pick. (For solar filter options, see below.)

A solar filter for your camera. If you have a camera, they might make a solar filter for whatever lens you want to use. Hydrogen alpha filters will allow you to see the most detail — “crazy prominences and what-not” in the words of a photography pal of mine — but are also pretty expensive. You can buy solar filter sheets ($29) to make your own lens coverings for your camera, binoculars, or telescope. Quality will likely not be fantastic, but you’ll get something. Safety warning: place any filters in front of lenses or it can burn a hole in the filter (and then into your eye); i.e. don’t use binoculars in front of safety glasses!!

Note for budding solar photographers: Shooting the eclipse will be challenging. First there’s too much light and you’ll need a filter. Then when totality occurs, you’ll be in the dark needing a tripod and a fast lens. Plan accordingly…or leave it all at home and look at the thousands of photos taken by pro photographers after the fact.

Ok, that’s it. Have a good eclipse and stay safe!

Update: I removed a reference to the plastic-rimmed safety glasses I ordered because the image has changed on this item since I ordered them and published this guide…it’s now a wire-rimmed pair of glasses. I would recommend getting something else instead, just to be safe. (thx, @kahnnn)

Update: NASA has been alerted that some of the paper glasses being sold are not safe for viewing the eclipse. When buying, look for the ISO icon (referencing 12312-2) and for glasses made by these recommended manufacturers: American Paper Optics, Rainbow Symphony, Thousand Oaks Optical, or TSE 17. (via @ebellm)

Update: The Wirecutter has released their guide to The Best Solar Eclipse Glasses and Filters and they recommend the Celestron EclipSmart 2x Power Viewers (2-pack for $10), which provide not only certified eye protection but a nice 2X zoom.

The rolling shutter effect explained

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2017

When your phone takes a photo of something, it scans the frame of view line-by-line from top to bottom quickly. But, if you’re photographing an object like a fan or plane’s propellor that’s moving very quickly, the scanning exposure can warp the final image. That’s the rolling shutter effect. Using high-speed camera footage to simulate the warping, Smarter Everyday shows us exactly how the rolling shutter effect occurs. The guitar strings are the coolest; more of that in this video:

P.S. Here’s the behind-the-scenes for Smarter Everyday’s rolling shutter video.

Human engineered organisms

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2017

Zhao Renhui

Zhao Renhui

Zhao Renhui

In his series Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World, Zhao Renhui photographed a number of animals and plants that have been bred or otherwise modified by humans. Pictured above are a square apple:

Sold in a department store in South Korea, these square apples were created as gifts for students taking the College Scholastic Ability Test, with some inscribed with the words ‘pass’ or ‘success’. A similar square watermelon was developed in Japan in the 1980s. The cubic fruits are created by stunting their growth in glass cubes.

a remote-controlled beetle:

In 2012, Japanese scientists implanted electrodes, a radio and a camera on a Goliath beetle which could be wirelessly controlled. The scientists inserted the parts in the beetle during different phases of the pupa stage. The components were powered by generators connected to the flight muscles of the beetle. Most of the components were not visible to the human eye, except for the tiny camera lens peering out of the beetle’s head. The first photograph by a Goliath beetle camera was taken in December 2012, remotely controlled by researchers in a facility 200km away.

and Chinese pork that’s been made to look and taste like beef:

It has recently been found in China that pork has been made to aesthetically look like beef. ‘Beef colouring’ and ‘beef extracts’ were added to pork to make it look and taste like beef.

(via the atlas for the end of the world)

This is how sperm whales sleep

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2017

Sleeping Sperm Whales

Sperm whales sleep together in a pod facing up in the water. From bioGraphic:

Photographer Franco Banfi and his fellow divers were following this pod of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) when the giants suddenly seemed to fall into a vertical slumber. This phenomenon was first studied in 2008, when a team of biologists from the UK and Japan inadvertently drifted into a group of non-responsive sperm whales floating just below the surface. Baffled by the behavior, the scientists analyzed data from tagged whales and discovered that these massive marine mammals spend about 7 percent of their time taking short (6- to 24-minute) rests in this shallow vertical position. Scientists think these brief naps may, in fact, be the only time the whales sleep.

Photo by Franco Banfi, a finalist in the 2017 Big Picture Competition.

The view from Mars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2017

Mars Opportunity 2017

NASA’s Opportunity rover started exploring the surface of Mars in January 2004. Its mission was supposed to last about 90 days, but over 13 years later, Opportunity is still rolling around the red planet, doing science and taking photos. Jason Major processed a few of Opportunity’s most recent snaps of the Endeavour Crater and they’re just wonderful. I’m especially taken with the one included above…it belongs in a museum!

Winners of the 2016 Red Bull Illume photo contest

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2017

Red Bull Illume

Red Bull Illume

Red Bull Illume

Over at In Focus, Alan Taylor is featuring a selection of the winning photos from the the Red Bull Illume photo contest, an “international photography contest dedicated to action and adventure sports”. If nothing else, we’ve discovered that there is nothing that says “Red Bull” more than slacklining on an iceberg (unless it is snowboarding on an iceberg).

The bottom photo is actually from the 2013 contest but is a good reminder that waves are nothing more than a bunch of high water that needs to get down in a hurry, not unlike Wile E. Coyote hanging in midair after running off of a cliff. Photos of the waves at Teahupo’o makes this pretty evident as well.

From the top, photos by Lorenz Holder, Alexandre Voyer, and Stuart Gibson.

Photos from a trip to Uzbekistan

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2017

Kevin Kelly Uzbekistan

Kevin Kelly recently visited Uzbekistan and shared a bunch of photos from his trip.

I knew almost nothing of Uzbekistan before my visit there so everyday was a cascade of surprises. While Americans think of Central Asia as the most remote places possible, people in Uzbekistan see themselves as at the center of the universe. They’ve been farming there for 6,000 years, and everyone has passed through over the centuries. I was so delighted I could as well.

Aside from its status as a former Soviet republic, I also knew next to nothing about Uzbekistan until a month or two ago. My barber told me he was “from Russia” when I first started seeing him many years ago, but at my last appointment, I asked him where he lived in Russia before his family moved to the US and he said he was actually from Uzbekistan. But then he went on to explain that Uzbekistan is a predominately Muslim country, that his family is Jewish, and so he didn’t consider himself an Uzbek. “If you’re not Muslim, you can’t really be considered a true Uzbek,” he told me. According to Wikipedia, Uzbekistan was home to a small Jewish community until the fall of the Soviet Union, when nationalism drove most Jews to leave for the US and Israel. We moved on to other topics before I learned more of the specifics — getting to know someone in 20-minute intervals every month or two can be challenging — but the post-collapse timing makes sense; he probably moved to the US as a kid in the early 90s, grew up in Queens, and now runs a successful business cutting hair.

Awe-inspiring photos of empty European libraries

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2017

Poirier Libraries

Poirier Libraries

Poirier Libraries

For places that people go to immerse themselves in books, libraries sure do try to steal the show sometimes. For his photo series on libraries, Thibaud Poirier travelled to a number of libraries in Europe and took photos of them while empty.

“Reading is solitude,” Italo Calvino once said, embodying the inspiration behind this series. These temples of cultural worship gather communities, and yet the literary experience, and therefore the experience of a library, remains solitary. Giving groups of scholars and peers glimpses into the past, present and future of humanity, literature offers an unparalleled opportunity to explore one’s self from within through the unique internal narrative that each reader develops. It is this internal narrative that forms us when we are young, matures with us, and grows when we feed it. It was the first means of travel offered to many and continues to be the most accessible form of escape for millions of people seeking knowledge, the world, themselves. It is with an eye towards this improbable bled of public space and private experience that Poirier displays some of the finest libraries, both classical and modern, across Europe.

Ever since Colossal linked to them before the weekend, I’ve been stealing glances at these trying to pick a favorite. I can’t, they’re all so good.

Photos of the Tiananmen Square protests, unseen for 28 years

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2017

David Chen Tiananmen

At the time of the pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, David Chen was a 25-year-old student. Using a camera his uncle had given him, he spent a week taking photos of the protests. Those photos have been hidden away until now: the NY Times has published a selection of them today.

Striking B&W photos of humpback whales

posted by Jason Kottke   May 30, 2017

Cresswell Humpbacks

Cresswell Humpbacks

Jem Cresswell swam with humpback whales, took over 10,000 black & white photos, and whittled them down into his series, Giants. From Colossal:

In addition to being intrigued by the animals’ size, the Australian-based artist is also fascinated by their brains. In 2006, spindle cells, which were only thought to be present in humans and great apes, were also found to exist within the brains of humpback whales. These cells, which are tied to social organization, empathy, and intuition, were found to be more than three times as prevalent in humpback whales than they were in humans.

Humpbacks aren’t blue whales,1 but that reminded me of a passage I read recently from Robert Sapolsky’s Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst:

Many neurons are also outlandishly large. A zillion red blood cells fit on the proverbial period at the end of this sentence. In contrast, there are single neurons in the spinal cord that send out projection cables many feet long. There are spinal cord neurons in blue whales that are half the length of a basketball court.

Anyway, here’s a behind-the-scenes of Cresswell doing his work.

Beautiful. I may have to add “swimming with humpbacks” to my bucket list.

  1. Duh. As the largest animal ever known to swim the ocean or walk the earth, blue whales are almost twice as big as humpbacks and can live more than twice as long.

Dronescapes: beautiful photography from drones

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2017

Dronescapes

Dronescapes

Dronescapes

Dronescapes is an art book of some of the most visually arresting drone photography collected from Dronestagram.

Readers will see the planet from entirely new vantage points, whether it’s a bird’s-eye view of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, a photograph taken inches away from an eagle in midflight, or a vertiginous shot taken above Mexico’s Tamul Waterfalls. There are extended commentaries on how individual images were created and a separate, concise guide containing technical advice on how to use a drone and select the right model.

God knows we can all use a shot of the mini-overview effect right now.

The other less famous photo of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2017

Ruby Shoots Oswald

Thread! Austin Kleon shared something he learned on Twitter yesterday: there are actually two photos of Jack Ruby about to shoot Lee Harvey Oswald taken by two different photographers. We’ve all seen the familiar one, taken by Bob Jackson:

Ruby Shoots Oswald

But like Kleon, I had never seen Jack Beers’ version shown at the top of the post, taken a little more than a half-second before Jackson’s. Kleon says:

At the time, Bob Jackson was “depressed” because he didn’t have film in his camera when Kennedy was assassinated. When Beers’ superiors saw the negative they were sure he’d just won the Pulitzer. Meanwhile, Jackson’s editors asked if he’d gotten anything. Jackson’s shot captured the exact right moment, with Oswald recoiling in pain, making the face, etc. He won the Pulitzer and fame. Beers was devastated. He felt like he’d had the Pulitzer and lost it. His daughter says he never really got over his bad luck. So, you have two photographers shooting a guy who got shot — one’s career “ruined” for him, one’s made.

According to an article about the two men who took the photographs, Beers was personally acquainted with Ruby:

He loved crime stories, she says, and went on ride-alongs with the Dallas police. He also came to know a strange little man who often hung out at police headquarters, a stripclub operator named Jack Ruby.

To fatten his pocketbook, Mr. Beers even photographed some of Ruby’s “girls,” whose pictures are part of the family collection.

And Jackson was in President Kennedy’s motorcade and spotted Oswald’s rifle peeking out of a window:

And then came the first shot.

Instinctively, Mr. Jackson says he looked to where the shot was coming from — and saw a rifle protruding from a window in the east end of the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. The Warren Commission concluded that Oswald fired three shots from a sniper’s perch he had constructed in that window.

But he’d used all of his film up getting crowd shots and was unable to reload quickly enough. Back to the Ruby Oswald photos:

“Out of the corner of my right eye, I saw a sudden movement … My first impression was, it was a photographer out of position or with a very short lens trying to improve his position, then the curse, ‘You son of a bitch,’ punctuated by the shot. The curse was in such an unnatural and excited voice, before it concluded I knew someone had gone berserk and was attacking Oswald.”

The sudden movement provoked Mr. Jackson, six-tenths of a second later, to snap the shutter.

“The reason Beers shot too soon, in comparison to me,” says Mr. Jackson, “is that he saw it easier and quicker than I did. Ruby was more in his vision. I had a better position because I wasn’t distracted by Ruby as much. I was still looking at Oswald’s face, and I knew I was going to shoot before whoever that was blocked my view.”

What a story. (via @austinkleon)

On the anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2017

Mount St Helens

Mount St Helens

37 years ago today, on May 18, 1980, Washington’s Mount St. Helens erupted in a blast that killed 57 people and covered a huge swath of the western US with ash and destruction. Alan Taylor, who grew up nearby and vividly remembers the eruption, shared some photos of the eruption and its aftermath at In Focus.

I was 6 when Mount St. Helens erupted and it was probably my first concrete memory of the wider world from childhood. For days and days, it was all anyone talked about at school. The next summer (or it may have been 1982), my parents, my little sister, and I embarked on a car trip west towards the Pacific from Wisconsin, which I later learned was a last hurrah family vacation before my parents divorced. We motored in a beast of a station wagon resembling The Griswold Family Truckster, and stopped at the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug, Rapid City, Yellowstone, and finally Seattle, where the only memory I have is of seeing the Space Needle briefly.

But the highlight of the trip was going to see Mount St. Helens. The landscape looked very much like in the second photo above, trees flattened over an ashy lunar landscape. It’s still one of the weirdest, most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. We collected a couple of jars of ash to take home, along with some pumice stone.

Back at school in the fall, I managed a brief respite from my crippling unpopularity by showing off the ash jars and demonstrating how the pumice floated in water. A rock floating in water! But then the holes in the pumice filled with water, it slowly sank, and with it my new-found popularity. I imagine that pumice and those jars are still somewhere at my dad’s house, in a pile of something somewhere…it would be great to see them again.

Entire films condensed into single photographs using ultra-long exposures

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2017

Photos Of Films 02

Photos Of Films 01

Photos Of Films 03

For his Photographs of Films project, Jason Shulman condenses entire movies into single photos using ultra-long exposures. Some of the resulting photos are just shape and color, but for films that use longer shots of static sets, you can make out some identifying features, as with the war room and Ripper’s office in the Dr. Strangelove still above. And the Dumbo still I could almost drop in as a new header image for kottke.org.

See also Jason Salavon’s amalgamations. (via the guardian)

Update: Kevin Ferguson has been doing the same thing with movies since 2013, prior to Shulman’s project. Ferguson addressed Shulman’s work in a piece for Hyperallergic and included a guide to making your own such images. (via @mattthomas)

Update: Some prior art from Jim Campbell as well. He made flattened versions of Psycho and Wizard of Oz in 2000 and 2001. (thx, ben)

The infinitely breaking wave

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2017

By subtly animating still photos of waves shot by Ray Collins (previously), Armand Dijcks created short looping videos of waves that never break. It’s the visual equivalent of the Shepard tone, a sound that has the illusion of a forever rising or falling pitch.

Three artists who find art in the finger smudges on device screens

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2017

Wired recently featured Tabitha Soren’s project, Surface Tension, for which she photographed the fingerprints and smudges left on the screens of devices.

Smudge Art 01

The marks on the glass screens that technology users normally try to ignore or get rid of are the focal point of SURFACE TENSION. The textural conflicts in these pictures record how we now spend our lives. They’re not just grime; they’re evidence of the otherwise invisible.

In an earlier project (also, weirdly, titled Surface Tension), photographer Meggan Gould took photos of her and her husband’s smudged iPad screens.

Smudge Art 02

In 2012, Evan Roth produced a series of Multi-Touch Paintings, “paintings created by performing routine tasks on multi-touch hand held computing devices”. The tasks include slide-to-unlock, playing Angry Birds level 1-1, adding two numbers with the calculator app, and typing in a username and password.

Smudge Art 03

Smudge Art 04

I prefer Roth’s take the most (it’s the simplest…and first) but what I like about all of these is they compress many actions over time into a single flat images, not unlike BriefCam does with surveillance videos. Simple examples of time merge media.

Night time lapse of the Milky Way from an airplane cockpit

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2017

Sales Wick is a pilot for SWISS and while working an overnight flight from Zurich to Sao Paulo, he filmed the first segment of the flight from basically the dashboard of the plane and made a timelapse video out of it. At that altitude, without a lot of light and atmospheric interference, the Milky Way is super vivid.

Just as the bright city lights are vanishing behind us, the Milky Way starts to become clearly visible up ahead. Its now us, pacing at almost the speed of sound along the invisible highway and the pitch-black night sky above this surreal landscape. Ahead of us are another eight hours flight time, but we already stopped counting the shooting stars. And we got already to a few hundred.

I watched this twice already, once to specifically pay attention to all the passing airplanes. The sky is surprisingly busy, even at that hour. (via @ozans)

Update: Several people asked if this was fake or digitally composited (the Milky Way and ground footage shot separately then edited together). I don’t know for sure, but I doubt it. The answer lies in the camera Wick used to shoot this, the Sony a7S. It’s really good in low-light conditions, better than many more expensive professional cameras even. As the last bit of this Vox video explains, the camera is so good in low light that the BBC used it to capture some night scenes for Planet Earth II. Here’s a screen-capped comparison at 6400 ISO from that video:

Sony A7s Compare

And the full scene at 32000 ISO:

Sony A7s Compare

That’s pretty amazing, right? Wick himself says on his site:

I had to take many attempts and a lot of trying to figure it out. Basically the challenge is to keep shutter speed as fast as possible in order to get razor sharp images. While you can use the 500 or 600 rule on ground this doesn’t work out the same way while being up in the sky. Well of course basically it does if you dont fly perpendicular to the movement of the night sky but even if its really smooth there are usually some light movements of the aircraft. So depending on the focal length of your lense you can get exposure times between 15” to 1”. Thats why you will need a camera that can handle high iso. Thats where the A7s comes into play and of course a ver fast lense. The rest is a good mounting and some luck. Last but not least you need to keep the flight deck as dark as possible to get the least reflections…and the rest is magic ;)