Tag Archives: Technology

The Green Book Project by Jehad Nga

Following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime last year, photographer Jehad Nga set out to explore the former dictator’s political and military philosophies within the framework of an underlying and contrasting Libyan culture. Here, Nga he writes for LightBox about his project, The Green Book, which depicts the conflicting values of reality through gathered images broken down into binary code.

The Green Book, first published in 1975, is a short tome setting out the political philosophy of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Intended to be required reading for all Libyans, the 24 chapters were constructed simply, containing broad and basic slogans rendered in a rudimentary writing style easy to understand by all. Gaddafi claimed to have developed the book’s theories in order to resolve many contradictions inherent in capitalism and communism thereby—by his logic, freeing its citizens from bondage of both systems. The book, however, proved for most to be nothing more than an inane manifesto used to further reduce the value of a population’s role in the building of a society.

During the revolution that finally brought Gaddafi’s reign to an end last October, it was common for the intelligence arm of the government, in its heightened state of awareness, to target people attempting to traffic information out of the country.

Employing the similar technological principles, I used a satellite adjusted to intersect varying levels of Internet traffic flow transmitted over Libya. An assigned command allowed for the satellite to look only for photographs and disregard all other associated data traffic.

Without any distinguishable narratives, the constant stream of communication I captured visually grew over time to resemble a hyper-realized paradise, where the borders between the natural and supernatural had been washed away. From the ebb and flow of images being sent between people—the population’s naked, unedited psyche rendered visual—I harvested 24 representative images.

Once the images were captured, I wanted to further explore the meaning of my action. I first reduced each image to its most basic structure, binary code, which singled it out from the other billion bits of data shooting through the sky. This conversion exposed each image’s digital “cell structure”—millions of algorithms mathematically, miraculously unified to produce something of beauty. Code is built in layers, each with a metaphor constructed by its programmer to enact and describe its behavior. Reducing an image to pure binary data strips it of any individual identity, any protection, and any premise.

I was able to exploit this frailty—the structural weakness of each image—by introducing new information into its binary data. Each chapter of The Green Book was introduced into the code structure of each photo, threatening to break the image file past the threshold of recognition. Sometimes the new data caused the complete collapse of the image structure. When my experiment was successful, the text at once contaminated the image and created something new.

The final product is a depiction of how something with “genetic predisposition,” something rigid and fixed, struggles to coexist with additional textual information. The conflicting “values” are evident in the distorted and augmented reality presented by the photographs.

Taken as a whole, The Green Book Study, a collection of 24 images that carries with it Gaddafi’s three-volume manifesto in its entirety, becomes an method for evaluating the process of which a society’s human structure becomes distorted and at time fully collapsed by a command line of one totalitarian vision.

Jehad Nga is a New York-based photographer. LightBox has previously featured Nga’s work about his Libyan roots as well as a photo essay on the world’s biggest refugee complex.

The project will be showing at the Bonni Benrubi Gallery in New York and the M+B Gallery in Los Angeles.

Lomography and the ‘Analogue Future’

Facebook’s billion-dollar acquisition of photo-sharing software Instagram on April 9 confirmed that the world wants to take and look at pictures with interesting filters. But artistic manipulation of the photographic process is not new and, contrary to what users might expect, interest in Instagram has had a positive effect in a surprising place: at analog-only photography company Lomography, which has opened 12 new stores just since this past fall and has plans to open two more, in Chicago and Antwerp, in the coming months.

Matthias Fiegl, one of the original founders of the 20-year-old, pinhole- and fisheye-loving, Vienna-based company, recently visited New York City. He sat down with LightBox at the company’s Greenwich Village store— where signs proclaim the “prophecies of the analogue future” and the walls are papered with photographs—to discuss why its competitor’s success is good for business.

“People have tried out filters on Instagram and now they want to do the real thing,” says Fiegl. “We hear that all the time in the shop.”

Lomography started as a way to buy the Russian Lomo cameras that Fiegl and his friends loved, and now sells a variety of cameras, accessories, film, clothing and books. Fiegl says that people are often surprised that the Lomography website sees up to 8,000 images uploaded daily and about 2 million unique visitors each month. It’s a tiny sum compared to sites like Flickr but, Fiegl notes, users tend to be more selective when they need to develop and scan their photos. “Lomography is a niche,” he says. “From that perspective it’s a huge community.”

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According to Lomography USA’s general manager Liad Cohen, Lomography benefits from blending online and live communities. Lomography’s website has sharing capabilities, and the stores host photography workshops and exhibitions. One such exhibition is a traveling world tour of a collection of vintage 1960s and ’70s “Diana” cameras (Lomography sells a model) amassed by the award-winning photographer Allan Detrich. The exhibit, which also features camera customizations by local artists at each stop it makes, returns to the U.S. on May 10 and will spend about a month in San Francisco before going on to Los Angeles, Austin, Chicago and New York City.

Fiegl theorizes that people who are interested in making art in a novel way want to do something unusual: “The younger the people are, the more they want to do analog,” he says. Lomography once considered selling a digital camera, but a survey of customers revealed that “Lomographers” were more interested in new analog cameras instead. And even if digital filters can achieve Lomography-like looks, Fiegl thinks that users who see themselves as artists, rather than snapshot-sharers, are drawn to his company because it encourages users to keep and come back to older work, whereas the streaming format favored by media platforms like Instagram makes it hard not to just look at what’s most recent.

Even though new customers often have to be taught how to load film and reminded that they can’t see the photos right away, Fiegl says that amateur photographers for whom digital is normal see something appealing in old-fashioned technology—and unlike larger and older photo brands, Lomography has grown alongside digital photography and has not had to struggle to reorient itself in that landscape.

“Maybe the technology is redundant,” says Fiegl, “but it’s opening up new possibilities.”

The Diana World Tour returns to the U.S. on May 10, opening at the Lomography Gallery Store in San Francisco. The show will then travel to Los Angeles, Austin, Chicago and New York. Information from past stops the show has made is available here, and more information about Lomography is available here.

The Disappearing Afghan Box Camera

The Afghan box camera—a homemade wooden device known as the kamra-e-faoree, meaning “instant camera”—has been used to preserve memories in Afghanistan for generations. It is part of the local landscape, with street photographers dotting city thoroughfares. It is itself a part of Afghan history, having been briefly banned by the Taliban, but these days, the box camera is in danger of disappearing. Fewer and fewer people know how to make and use the traditional tool, which uses no film but can both capture and develop an image.

Lukas Birk and Sean Foley, an Austrian artist and an Irish ethnographer, respectively, had discovered the box cameras while visiting Afghanistan on research trips. They learned that the devices, which came to the region in the early 20th century, were being replaced by their digital descendants among photographers who could afford it—or lying unused by photographers who couldn’t afford to refill on photographic supplies. The art of the karma-e faoree had been passed down through families, but Birk and Foley thought that this generation was going to be the last.

They were both struck by the importance of the cameras in local history and the poignancy of the medium’s persistence, and were also interested in the potential stories to be told when Afghans were photographed by other Afghans.

But the photographs produced by the cameras were the real draw. “We’re both visual people,” said Birk in an email, “and box camera photography is a feast for the eyes.”

So, in 2011, funded by a Kickstarter project, the two traveled to Afghanistan to begin research on a project about the Afghan box camera. The website they produced from that trip features box-camera tutorials, profiles of itinerant photographers and examples of box-camera photography and traditional hand-tinting from Afghanistan and the surrounding region. But the 2011 trip was not the end of their exploration of the box camera. Birk and Foley have started a Kickstarter page to raise money for another trip to Afghanistan, slated for this spring, with plans to produce a book with the additional material.

“Right now we can still talk about it as a living form of photography, maybe for another couple of years, before it will completely disappear,” Birk said.

Those interested in the box camera technology, which allows the photographers to snap and develop their pictures all at once, can watch a movie about it below. (Birk notes that he is doing his best Werner Herzog impression as the narrator, hoping to evoke the style of vintage ethnographic films.)

Find out more about the Afghan Box Camera project here or donate to the project’s Kickstarter fund here.

Exposure. Michael Light’s photographs give human endeavour a new perspective

 

Given that Michael Light’s most famous photographic works deal with atomic bombs and rockets to the moon, it seems appropriate to ask why he is drawn to themes so epic in scale and dramatic in their implications, writes David Thompson in Eye 51. ‘Certainly I love high drama,’ he replies, ‘but I think it’s more accurate to say that I’m drawn to the aesthetic of largeness, of all that is beyond ourselves, precisely because we’d be better off if we didn’t go around feeling like we were the biggest and most important things. Artistically, I’m concerned with power and landscape, and how we as humans relate to vastness – to that point at which our ego and sense of efficaciousness crumbles …’

 

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‘In my opinion, serious contemporary artistic production dealing with landscape must deal with politics and violence in some way, whether explicit or implied. Otherwise it’s just fluff, decoration for those wanting false comfort and a delusionally ahistorical and apolitical world.’

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This is an extract from Exposure by David Thompson in Eye 51 (Spring 2004). For more posts from our archive, click here.

See also ‘Above the clouds’ on the Eye blog about the current exhibition at Daniel Blau.

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It’s available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions, back issues and single copies of the latest issue. For a visual sample, see Eye before you buy on Issuu.

Out of space. Charting the pervasive visual language of science fiction

A forthcoming exhibition about science fiction at the British Library will be full of amazing images as well as stories. We spoke to Katya Rogatchevskaia, co-curator of the British Library’s exhibition, opening on 20 May 2011 and titled: ‘Out of This World: Science Fiction but not as you know it.’

Top: Frank R Paul, April 1928 ‘Eye’ cover for Amazing Stories, the world’s first science fiction magazine.

Below: Polish samizdat edition of Evgeny Zamyatin’s My (We), published in Warsaw, 1985.

Evgeny Zamiatin - My

EYE The exhibition looks at what distinguishes science fiction from related genres like fantasy and horror. Is there anything distinct about the visual language?

KR Science fiction is about imagination, speculations and vision. It’s a genre that both invites and defies accurate interpretation through illustration. The exhibition will explore the full spectrum of visualised science fiction, from science fiction that is theoretically possible and based on ‘real science’, designed to instruct as well as entertain – such as the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne – to the more imaginative and speculative science fiction of virtual worlds, where dreams can play as big a role as digital realities.

The visual language of science fiction is something that we readily understand and return to constantly. If you asked a selection of people to draw an extraterrestrial life form, it is highly likely that you would be presented with at least a few domed-headed, boggle-eyed beings. This representation of aliens is not based on any real science, but it has entered our visual culture and become iconic.

The same motifs appear again and again in science fiction, often straying into mainstream fiction. Obviously there is some cross-over with fantasy and horror, and looking at science fiction in a vacuum would not be helpful, but we aim to show that science fiction has been incredibly inspirational in its own right – to popular culture, literature and art.

Below: Francis Godwin’s Domingo Gonsales trained a flock of ganzas to transport him in The Man in the Moone. From the first edition, 1638.

The Man in the Moone. From the first edition, 1638

Raymond Taylor’s composition, A Signal from Mars, 1901

Above: Raymond Taylor’s composition, A Signal from Mars, 1901.

EYE Can you comment upon the relationship between science fiction literature and illustration?

KR From the end of the nineteenth century, popular fiction became more and more linked to illustration, and illustrators and graphic artists started exploiting science fiction as a source of inspiration. Science fiction from this period plays an important role in the history of book cover design, with the automation of book production making illustrated covers a marketing tool – and we have some fantastic early examples of this phenomenon in the exhibition. We also have a number of artists’ books, which are some of my favourite items – for example, William Morris, Barlowe’s, guide to extraterrestrials, Barry Moser’s visualisation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1983), and especially – Lem Mróz.

Below: Bovril advertisement, ca.1890.

Bovril advertisement, c1890

Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland, 1980

Visitors will be able to see a 30ft long concertina book version of Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, published in 1980 by the Arion Press (above). Flatland is a satire on Victorian society, representing the class system through the metaphor of geometry, and this edition goes one step further, reimagining the book itself as a geometrical form. We are also showing the artist Luigi Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus (1981), an encyclopedia of an imaginary world, written in an imaginary language; as well as Paul Scheerbart’s portfolio of illustrations, Gallery of the Beyond from 1907, which is a visualisation of aliens from ‘beyond the Orbit of Neptune’.

Cover of Gaspar’s Novelas (1887)

Above: Cover of Gaspar’s Novelas (1887) for ‘El Anacronópete’ depicting the earliest known portrayal of a time machine.

Below: The Martians from H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds; as depicted by Alvim-Correa in the Belgian edition, La Guerre des mondes (Brussels, 1906).

The Martians from H G Wells’s The War of the Worlds

The exhibition will also show various other approaches to illustrating. H. G. Wells’ famous The War of the Worlds is shown in three editions. Tripod aliens are exhibited side by side as visualised by three prominent book illustrators: Warwick Goble, Jacobus Speenhoff and Alvim Corrêa – in this way we can see how the same work was interpreted entirely differently, whilst still having a powerful impact.

EYE In what ways will visitors be able to engage with the visual language of science fiction during this exhibition?

KR Visitors will be able to see the whole spectrum of the visual language of science fiction. They will have a chance to compare different techniques, styles and forms of illustrations and enjoy the visual side of imaginary worlds. They can see original artwork by contemporary artists (David Hardy, Bryan Talbot, Les Edwards, James Richardson-Brown). They will be able to take part in our interactive exhibits, by designing their own alien to be part of the exhibition, and sending a postcard from a science fiction landscape. I hope also that the exhibition will inspire artists and designers to create new work, and perhaps make people think again about the ways in which science fiction speaks to our imaginations.

20 May > 25 Sep 2011
Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it
PACCAR Gallery
British Library
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB UK
www.bl.uk

Below: Lucian of Samosata, True History, Dutch edition, 1647.

Lucian of Samosata, True History

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It’s available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions, back issues and single copies of the latest issue. For an extensive (if so far incomplete), text-only archive of articles (going back to Eye no. 1 in 1990) visit eyemagazine.com. For a visual sample of the latest issue, see Eye before you buy on Issuu.

Type Tuesday. Matthew Carter explains how he came to design his first wood type

The positive / negative aspect of type is always in a type designer’s mind, writes Matthew Carter in Eye 76. This may be particularly true for a designer who has been trained, as I was, in punchcutting, a technique that works on the space – the letter is what is left over at the end. When I spent time at the Deberny Peignot foundry in the early 1960s, Adrian Frutiger showed me that he sometimes began a design by drawing with white paint on black paper: drawing the space, in other words, not the letter.

I followed Adrian’s example and enjoyed the obvious affinity with punchcutting. From those days I also remember buying Willem Sandberg’s Experimenta Typographica 11 (see ‘Warm printing’ in Eye 25) and loving the page of ‘the inner LIFE principle’, in which the word LIFE is turned inside out to show its inner forms. ‘Glyph space,’ as Cyrus Highsmith says, ‘is the mechanism that makes movable type possible.’

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I’m not a printer, least of all a letterpress printer, but I have tried to think like one. So when the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum in Wisconsin commissioned me to design a new wood face earlier this decade, I could imagine that the interaction of dual forms might provide interesting effects at the poster sizes typical of wood type.

First I made a titling font of Latin capitals and figures (no lowercase) in PostScript, then duplicated it and reversed all the characters to make a pair of fonts, positive and negative, night and day, yin and yang. The set-widths are exactly the same in both fonts. I had no specific models for my Latin letters, except for the ampersand, which occurs on gravestones around Boston.

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I sent my digital fonts and proofs to the Hamilton museum, which cut a few trial characters by the traditional method: Norb Brylski used a fretsaw to cut enlarged plywood pattern letters to guide a pantographic router that cut the face in type-high maplewood blanks.

Norb then hand-finished them, using a knife to sharpen corners rounded by the router bit. We took them to TypeCon in Minneapolis in 2003, where Richard Zauft and I gave a talk about the project that got an encouraging response from letterpress printers in the audience.

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Despite this promising beginning, the project languished until 2009, when Jim Moran and his brother Bill joined the museum. They found a local sign-manufacturer with a CNC router that could work directly from my digital data, and produce razor-sharp corners.

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By November 2009, when the Morans organised their Weekend Wayzgoose at the Hamilton museum, we had wooden fonts of both the positive and negative versions of the type at 12-line (2in) size. When the printers arrived, we had alphabets of both versions set up on Vandercook presses, with the positive letters inked in red and the negative in black, for them to try printing from.

I was quite unprepared for the inventiveness of the first results with this two-faced type (which was then provisionally named Carter Latin). All manner of pages emerged from the presses: one-colour, two-colour, multiple impressions, in register, out of register, right way up, sideways and upside down …

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The new typeface has now been named after Jim Van Lanen, the driving force behind the museum for a long time. Both wood fonts, Van Lanen and Van Lanen Streamer (the reversed version), can be bought from the museum, which also licenses digital versions to help plan work to be printed from the wood type. At 144pt, the digital letterforms should exactly match their wooden counterparts.

It was a pleasure and privilege to see my design come to fruition under the same roof as the astonishing collection of historical wood types that Hamilton possesses. On the day I arrived at Hamilton I picked up a piece of maplewood type and realised that it was exactly 50 years since a type of my design had been in a physical form that I could hold in my hand.

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Type Tuesday is our new weekly column on typography and type design, featuring a mixture of brand new articles and material from the extensive Eye archive. For more Type Tuesday articles, click here.

Yin and yang’ by Matthew Carter was commissioned for Eye 76, Summer 2010.

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It’s available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions, back issues and single copies of the latest issue. For a visual sample of Eye 76, see Eye before you buy on Issuu. The latest issue is Eye 79, a type special.

Above the clouds. New photo exhibition explores the visual fall-out of the early nuclear age

Thursday 7 March saw the opening of a new photography space, the London arm of Munich gallery Daniel Blau Ltd.

Sandwiched in a narrow space, the gallery has a surprisingly generous floorplan, and its walls now play host to A-Bomb: Pictures of disaster. Photographs of atomic bomb explosions, including tests from America and the Pacific and George R. Caron’s shots from a military plane above Hiroshima, span the early cold war period of 1945-70. Some photos are juxtaposed with fragments of written matter, often no more than a scrawled or typewritten label.

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The exhibition is accompanied by a 48-page tabloid (to add to Eye’s teetering pile of newsprint) that acts as a substantial exhibition catalogue – and a morbid keepsake.

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By the time of last night’s private view, every print bore a red dot, and the prices (which ranged from around £500 to at least £16,000) were being hurriedly covered up (using stickers or marker pens) by the gallery staff. A single private buyer had snapped up the entire collection.

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7 April > 7 May 2011
A-Bomb: Pictures of disaster
Daniel Blau Gallery
51 Hoxton Square
London N1 6PB UK

See also David Thompson’s article about Michael Light’s work in Eye 51, to be republished on the Eye blog next week.

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It’s available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions, back issues and single copies of the latest issue. For a visual sample, see Eye before you buy on Issuu.

Surface to space. Maths, computers and the internet bring new life to the art of origami

Most of us are familiar with the art of paper folding, perhaps as an amusing pastime with brightly coloured paper, writes Marian Bantjes, a kind of parlour trick or children’s game. To those a bit more aware, origami has intersected with graphic design mostly as a form of three-dimensional illustration – which is one of the ways that paper folders are able to make a living. But a little investigation into the process of construction, and the developments that have occurred over the past quarter-century promise something more intriguing than a delightful puzzle. As with graphic design there is beauty in simplicity, as well as surprising complexity below the surface.

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What most properly defines origami is the linear fold – a complex mental exercise in compaction and extrusion.

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The most whimsical forms reveal gridwork similar to architecture or engineering design, restraints that give origami its allure.

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This is an extract from Marian Bantjes’ ‘Surface to Space’ in Eye 67 (Spring 2008). Read the full text of the article here.

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It’s available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions, back issues and single copies of the latest issue. For a visual sample, see Eye before you buy on Issuu.