Sunday, August 7, 2011

News, Newsreels, and Uncle News

For no particular reason, other than the fact that I'd been going through old photographs yesterday, it occurred to me to do a bit of research on an old family friend, Newsreel Wong.

Wong made a name for himself in the late '30s for a photograph he took (and possibly staged to some extent) of a baby on a Shanghai train platform.

What I didn't know was that he had been in New York City on July 28, 1945, when a disoriented pilot flew his Boeing B-25 Mitchell Bomber into the Empire State Building. Visiting the Hearst Metrotone offices early that morning, Newsreel Wong had been the only one in an office when the phone rang, and he answered it. He ended up commandeering a camera and headed to the site, where he was able not only to shoot the exterior of the building but got in to get film of the offices that were affected. The only other person who managed to gain access was Max Markman, who posed as a doctor, and shot the footage of the event included in this British Pathé newsreel.

A less dramatic version of the coverage can also be found on YouTube, but I thought this highly edited bit was interesting for its embellishments. Since I'll be teaching the Visual Anthropology course in the Fall, this could provide some talking points about the role of the observer in the interpretation of events, and the impact editing has on the reception of information.

I don't know what happened to Wong's footage (although I suspect that if it exists it's accessible through UCLA's archives), but locating this particular event during an innocent search for a character from my past (he was known to my brother and me as "Uncle News" and lived near us on Yang Ming Shan outside of Taipei) amounts to a bit of the kind of synchronicity we've been talking about in the Myth class. As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 nears, this incident resonates eerily with more recent events.

One of the best blogs about media history I've ever found on the web is Amanda Emily's Feeding the News Beast: A Century of Tales from Behind the Lens. Her post on this event is the source of much of my information, and one on Wong himself explains how he got his nickname. Digital Video and Photography students ought to bookmark her site, because it's an endlessly informative record of visual news coverage.

Note: I'm posting this entry on both the Cabinet and The Owls' Parliament, due to its potential interest for a variety of audiences.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Green Life

Every now and then, out of vanity, curiosity, or fear (I'm not sure which), I Google myself to find out if anyone is using my name in vain.

Usually what comes up are posts from the Farm or here--as well as the ubiquitous "rate your professor" sites (my hotness factor is, alas, still zero). Once in a while, however, somebody will quote me and refer to one of the posts. I'm usually happy for the exposure, and occasionally join the conversation. It's rare, however, that I happen upon something truly wonderful.

I pinched the above image from an internal visual journal, Vita Viridis (Green Life), published by some clearly like-minded folk who work at one or more of the Harvard University Herbaria. There are only a few available online--volume 1 number 5 (from whence I obtained the page that includes a letter I wrote to the editors of Orion magazine some time ago), volume 1 issue 2, and issue 3, in living color and .pdf format so they can be enjoyed in all their visual splendor.

I love this idea so much that I'm going to try something similar with my myth class this spring--a sort of in-class journal of stuff they write and create (the great thing about teaching in an art school is that you can actually ask students to do this and they will), and things they find that they think apply in one way or another. It'll be a one-off venture, but we can scan and share among ourselves--and perhaps with readers of the Cabinet.

Anyway, the real treasure here is not the "me" part, but the discovery of the Herbaria pages themselves. As an inveterate plant lover, erstwhile amateur naturalist (who can still identify every one of the eighteen "official" trees on her half acre, as well as all the volunteers that now occupy various corners of the Carbon Sink), Old China Hand, and certified museum junkie, this site offers nearly everything.

For example, check out the Digital Collections of such wonders as the SHIP initiative (images of seeds in the collection of the Arnold Arboretum) and links to the expedition collections of Joseph F. C. Rock, who explored the "Hengduan Mountains Hotspot" in western Sichuan and eastern Xizang (Tibet), China. I especially love the Arnold Arboretum Image Collection, which contains historical photos taken in the "Hotspot" region during the early twentieth century.

The website offers a mere glimpse into the richness of Harvard's collections, but since I didn't have any idea of their extent (and only vaguely knew of the herbaria at all), this amounts to a truly serendipitous find.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Good Stuff

This spin-off from the Farm has been sadly neglected, in part because it takes so much effort for my aging brain to curate the ephemeral events and objects I run across. Other blog-wunderkammern (like those on the blog roll) are much better about this than I am, and continue to inspire me, but my writing-energy is almost wholly devoted the mother blog, at least until I can get myself better organized. Nevertheless, I occasionally run across things that group themselves into curatorial categories--even as nebulous as "good stuff"--so I'll keep posting them as they collect.

My ambivalence about technology, frequently commented upon on the Farm, doesn't usually come into play here. But I do appreciate some of the mod cons that make it possible to enjoy the cultural benefits of living in a place like New York, even though I'm unlikely to get there any time soon.

In my weekly newsletter from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I was reminded of the new(ish) Cloisters blog, The Medieval Garden Enclosed, about which I posted back when it started up back in 2008. Like many of my favorite web places, it slips my mind frequently, but it's such a welcome and informative place to spend time that I thought I'd bring it up again. The blog itself is full of useful information on Medieval life in general, and plants in particular. The photographs are also lovely, offering a virtual visit to the Cloisters that almost makes up for not being there.

Anyone with an iPhone might be interested in two terrific apps. The new promotional freebie related to the J. J. Abrams film, Super 8, is almost more fun than you can have legally. I got it for my iPhone 4--newly acquired when the old Silverback version just got too clunky for my digital needs--but apparently also works with a 3GS and iPad2. In essence, the designers have given us our own miniature Super 8 camera from which we can shoot grainy movies that work like a time machine to take geezers like me back to "the day" when home movies were made like this. Similar, though not as sophisticated, apps are widely available for still photography as well, such as Old Photo Pro (free), which allows you to convert your iPhone photos into Daguerreotypes, cyanotypes, infrared images, and the like.

The second bit of technological wizardry I've come to admire is the New York Public Library's new app for the iPad, Biblion, an interactive multimedia tour of the 1939 Worlds Fair. I find this especially cool because this particular fair introduced all manner of forward-thinking ideas (not all of which transpired), including a decidedly Art Deco view of art and design. "The World of Tomorrow" was the source of many a science-fiction fan's dreams of the future: robots, cars (not flying ones, though), and utopia. There are quite a few shots from the Fair featured in Robert Hughes's episode "Streamlines and Breadlines" from his rather epic treatment of the history of American art, American Visions.

The Beloved Spouse has just begun to grind up wood-droppings into mulch for the garden, so I'd better go help. Our own garden should benefit immeasurably from this effort, and will perhaps spark another post before too long.

Image notes: I couldn't resist a doctored "flying saucer" sighting constructed in PhotoShop Elements, which came with my new scanner. I may alter it even more when I have some time, to make it look more like something I could get from Old Photo Pro.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Early Spring Miscellany

It seemed prudent to abandon the Farm this week, because I've got too much to stew about and not enough time to think it out on "paper." So this week's Skywatch contribution comes from Owl's Cabinet, still (on occasion) my repository for the fleeting, ephemeral, odd, or idiosyncratic moments and objects that show up in my life. All of the photos were taken with my cell phone.

The sky photo is actually another of my iPhone moments, taken out the west-facing windows in our school library. I've done this before, but this one has more than the "alien spaceships" (reflections of the banks of ceiling lights behind me); I saw a wondrous cloud formation around the setting sun and decided to shoot it. My antique iPhone (I have a "silverback"--first-generation version) has only a 2-megapixil camera, so the effect is pretty low-grade. But I rather like its weirdness.

On Tuesday night the utopia class wandered the shopping/dining/living complex that surrounds the school, talking about new urbanism and utopian city-planning. The shot at left is of one of the lights that flank the elevators on the main "street." My ever-inventive students thoroughly enjoyed playing with the marbles by rolling their hands back and forth over the surface.

And finally, a contribution to Phenology 101: some of the first signs of spring to show up in my garden (the others include budding pears and peaches, flowering quince that sticks through my fence from next door, and a few herbs poking up through the detritus left over from winter). We could still get a freezer or two, and according to the weather guy, it's snowed in March three out of the last four years. The daffodils, however, are up in force, and I thought they looked rather nice in the window.

I hope everyone has a lovely weekend.