Category Archives: photography

Life Before Death

German photographer Walter Schels was terrified of death, but felt compelled to take these extraordinary series of portraits of people before and on the day they died. His partner Beate Lakotta recorded the poignant and revealing interviews with the subjects in their final days.

Haven’t you seen these yet? Or at least read the article?

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There’s a lyric from a song I like:

Do you realise
that everyone you know someday will die
But instead of saying all of your goodbyes
let them know you realise that time goes fast.
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realise the sun don’t go down.
It’s just an illusion caused by the world
spinnin’ round

Do You Realise, The Flaming Lips

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100 Suns; Arsenals of Folly

I’m having some difficulty writing about 100 Suns. This is the collection of photos documenting above-ground nuclear explosions selected and compiled by Michael Light. On the one hand I’m fascinated by the images and on the other repulsed by all the horror they imply.

How easy it is to aestheticise the photos. Form, colour, texture – there’s much to play with. And the usual moral questions apply: in writing about these images do you cheapen them? Sanitise them?

Let me try:

Each explosion is unique. Most are variations of the “mushroom cloud” trope, but a few that look different: a milkdrop, a lump in a lava lamp. A few are simply flashes. Even within the “mushroom cloud” types there’re details worth noting. For example, one cloud lies absurdly dead-center in a targeting sight. Another occurs far in the distance in the sky, above a row of palm trees along the bottom of the photo, calling to mind the “one thousand suns” reference from the Bhagavad-Gita (via Oppenheimer, upon observing the first explosion) and also reminiscent of a descending deity.

Michael Light put the more apocalyptic images at the end of the book. These are truly hellish – full of blacks, reds, oranges – radiating an implacable anger.

I was also struck by some photos which showed soldiers observing explosions. It seems that the US Army actually ordered troops to observe above-ground nuclear detonations at various distances, and then conduct exercises at or near the blast site right after detonation.

(Richard Rhodes’s new book Arsenals of Folly has one of these photos from 100 Suns on the cover:

Not the first time nor the last in history that leaders knowingly ordered their people to certain doom, driven by Mengele-like reasoning.)

Many of these soldiers turned away from the blast – ultimately futile. But there’s one picture of waiting troops, seated and smoking to while away the time till they had to move, staring out of the photo. All of them were enraptured. They had no protective gear whatsoever.

But I don’t think higher-ranking officers had much more protection. In another photo, a group of military observers sit comfortably in wooden chairs, possibly on the deck of a ship, watching an explosion. All of them are wearing oversized sunglasses of some material. The shades are futile too, and hint at the ominous reach of the radiation. But the whole setting absurdly looks like they’re all on holiday, sunbathing or watching a movie.

Doesn’t this say it all? Organised insanity.

Foto Friday

6ixth — Jeff Chouw’s photo exhibition of Opposition MP Chiam See Tong campaigning in 2006 — is now online on Chouw’s site.

(Found via Tan Pin Pin’s blog. And coincidentally: Yisheng’s just posted his review of the 2006 exhibition up on his blog.)

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An extract from the NYT feature on Yoshiyuki Kohei’s series on park voyeurs (picked up by Boing Boing)

“The predatory, animalistic aspect of the people in Yoshiyuki’s work is particularly striking,” she continued. “The pictures are bizarre and shocking, not only because of the subject itself but also because of the way that they challenge our clichéd view of Japanese society as permeated by authority, propriety and discipline.”

The series reminded me of Imamura Shohei‘s work, verging on documentary. This is the man who once said: “I want to make messy, really human, Japanese, unsettling films.”

And of course he made The Pornographers (1966)

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Behind-the-scenes photos from A Clockwork Orange

(found via Ectomoplasmosis)

Classic Magnum Photography

The Magnum Photos and Slate collaboration began on Dec 1, 2005, and the first uploaded set begins with:

PARIS — Place de l’Europe, Gare Saint Lazare, 1932. Photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson writes, “There was a plank fence around some repairs behind the Gare Saint Lazare train station. I happened to be peeking through a gap in the fence with my camera at the moment the man jumped. The space between the planks was not entirely wide enough for my lens, which is the reason why the picture is cut off on the left.”

Classic Magnum Photography – Part 1 ; Part 2

Incidentally, yesterday’s set was dedicated to the late master.

Merging virtual and real with handphones

I once saw a HP ad where a boy, armed with a handheld console with a camera, runs around a city playing a game on the handheld. The locations in the game correspond to the boy’s current real-world location, but with obstacles and challenges. So an innocent looking alley in the real world turns into a deathtrap in the game world, with a virtual boulder coming down towards you (like in Raiders of the Lost Ark)

I love the idea of blurring the lines between the real and the virtual, and I thought then: “why do you need a separate device? Almost everyone already carries a camera handphone these days.”

Wish some Singaporeans followed up on this idea before the Scots did.

“It’s about using a camera phone as a magic wand,” said Dr Mark Wright of the Division of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh who came up with the idea.

At the heart of Spellbinder, as the project is known, is a database of all the places that participants have added data to. People query it by taking a snap of a location with their phone then using multimedia text messages to send it to Spellbinder.

Dr Wright said powerful image-matching algorithms are used to analyse the image that can deal with snaps of the same place being taken under different lighting conditions or orientations.

Once Spellbinder has worked out the location of an image it consults the database and sends back an image with the extras added to it. (read full article)

(from Networked Performance)