Two quotes about words and language that ring very true to me at the moment:

Words we say, never seem to live up to the ones inside our heads.


Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.

Gustave Flaubert

Yes the title is a little “cutesy” and from the department of redundancy department but let me explain. This is a tale of two newspaper stories about graffiti. The first story is a follow-up to the Graffiti Photophrapher vs. Virgin Mobile article I previously mentioned. In the post I noted that I found it ironic that the image in question, that was supposed to represent transient street art, had the URL of an art gallery named Thisisnotashop painted above it.

I sent e-mail to Thisisnotashop with a link to the Toronto Star article. The reply I received caught me off guard. Read the rest of this entry »


August 27, 2009

The Toronto Star as an article about Virgin Mobile using this image without permission:

McDermott, 38, was strolling down a lane in the Irish capital when he spotted a visually stunning piece of street art – a young girl releasing a heart-shaped balloon – that closely resembled the work of the renowned British graffiti artist known as “Banksy,” despite a misspelling of the shadowy figure’s moniker.

A hobby photographer, he snapped a few pictures before the mural was scrubbed away. He later touched up the picture using a computer program and uploaded it to the photo-sharing website Flickr.

While he knew the photo was good, he was still shocked to learn this week that the same picture was being used by cellphone giant Virgin Mobile in its latest Canadian ad campaign.

“Virgin is a multibillion-dollar company,” McDermott said in an interview, adding he never gave anyone permission to use his image. “They should know better.”

McDermott believes he should be paid $US 1000 for the use of his photograph. The thing that I find most interesting is that this “visually stunning piece of street art” that we are told was going to be “scrubbed away” has a URL above it:

If you click through you will find that is a not for profit art gallery. There is a Contact page with e-mail addresses and phone numbers. Somehow I don’t think the stunning piece of street art on the front of an art gallery is a coincidence.

Yes, “They should know better”. Virgin Mobile. McDermott. The Toronto Star. Chris Sorensen (the journalist). The only ones that seem ahead of the curve are the people who painted the URL above their gallery entrance.

Tom Slee over at Whimsley writes about Online Monoculture and the End of the Niche:

Online merchants such as Amazon, iTunes and Netflix may stock more items than your local book, CD, or video store, but they are no friend to “niche culture”. Internet sharing mechanisms such as YouTube and Google PageRank, which distil the clicks of millions of people into recommendations, may also be promoting an online monoculture. Even word of mouth recommendations such as blogging links may exert a homogenizing pressure and lead to an online culture that is less democratic and less equitable, than offline culture.

I am going to talk about a song called Waters of March. The first version of this song I heard was by a band named Smoke City. The Portuguese title of the original song  by Antonio Carlos Jobim is “Águas de Março” and the Smoke City version is partially in Portuguese and partially in English. 

This song is simply wonderful, which many if not most Brazilians already know, and the Smoke City rendition is unique and opens the song up to an English speaking audience. OK, too much talk about a song…. 

Go Listen to the Smoke City rendition of Águas de Março (Waters of March) at YouTube.

If you want a bit more, try the SeaLab version or the banjo version. 

So the point of my post is this, internet search and recommendation engines are not about being democratic or equitable they are about discovering greatness. In the case of the Waters of March song or the band Smoke City the recommendation engines fail miserably. The Wikipedia entry for Waters of March does not mention the Smoke City album Flying Away. The Flying Away album entry on Amazon in no way helps you find out about the original  Antonio Carlos Jobim song. Flying Away gained a cult following mostly because a the song Underwater Love appeared in a Levi Jeans commercial. iTunes is the worst with their we-know-what-best-for-you walled garden.

But people find this music despite the lack of links, recommendations, and availability of music to download. In fact, I think the truth is that people will go out of their way to share things that are truly great. The Internet with its links gives us a way to share. The recommendation engines and other tools are in their infancy but they will get better. People are ultimately the best recommendation engines and they will find ways to overcome the barriers of language and countries and bad software.

Tools of Creativity

October 15, 2007

Ray Kurzweil of The Atlantic writes:

The means of creativity have now been democratized. For example, anyone with an inexpensive high-definition video camera and a personal computer can create a high-quality, full-length motion picture. A musician in her dorm room commands the resources once available only in a multimillion-dollar recording studio. Just a few years ago, a couple of students at Stanford University wrote some software on their personal computers that revolutionized Web searches and became the basis of a company now worth $150 billion. Individuals now have the tools to break new ground in every field.

And Nicholas Carr adds a healthy dose of cynicism:

Yep. Just as the invention of the pencil made it possible for anyone to write a high-quality novel. And just as that power saw down in my cellar makes it possible for me to build a high-quality chest of drawers.

There is a great deal of truth in both points of views. The class of creative tools impacted by Moore’s Law are becoming very affordable. Creativity, however, is not often limited by cost of the tools. The example of using a HD video camera and a PC to create a motion picture is unfortunately a bad one. Movie creation is a team sport. The creation of a movie is multi-disciplinary and seems more like a large scale engineering project than a creative exercise for one person. The cost savings of HD video and inexpensive non-linear editing are small in the overall cost of creating a movie.

As with all discussions about creative art, we lump creativity and craftsmanship together. In my view, the “democratization” of creative tools impacts two important dimensions:

  1. The tools allow creative individuals to accelerate their mastery of craftsmanship.
  2. The low cost allows more individuals to explore a variety of creative mediums.

What has changed in the dorm room musician’s case is the mastery of music production (a craft) not his or her ability to compose (a creative art). HD video and non-linear editing does the same for video production (a craft). Digital SLRs and photo quality ink jet printers have allowed photographers to create gallery quality prints. The tools help the artist spend less time and cost on the nitty gritty and focus more on the creative aspects of their work.

Creativity, however, is something that requires aptitude, passion, and practice. The advancement of the creative tools allow an individual to explore a specific discipline easily. The advances in video technology will do more to help develop/render budding movie makers than it will to allow more movie flowers to bloom.

I’m not sure if the “democratization” metaphor is a good one but I think it is hard to dispute that the new tools of creativity are changing the artistic landscape.

Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics, has released the first two parts of his incomplete three-part graphic novel The Right Number. In his book Understanding Comics McCloud explores the fundamental elements of what we think of as comic books but also come in the form of “graphic novels” which are essentially adult stories told in comic book format. McCloud’s hero in the graphic novel world is Will Eisner who wrote the first exploration of the art form in his book Comics & Sequential Art.

It is hard to define the medium and The Right Number makes it more complicated since it is not a book but a Flash based presentation. It is “Sequential Art” which is a set of sequential frames containing graphics and sometimes text used to tell a story.

The Right Number is a story, regardless of the presentation format. Judging by how bothered I am about not yet being able to read the conclusion, I think it is potentially a great story.

The Language of Images

April 29, 2007

Michael Reichmann has a new article up on his site The Luminous Landscape named Learning the Language of our Art which begins by describing a documentary about a remote tribe found on the Amazon.

They had no experience of seeing flat two dimensional representations of realty. Their culture had no experience with painting, and not even drawing existed in their society. So, when shown the film they simply could not figure out what it was they were looking at. It was light and colour and shapes and patterns, but that’s all.

And concludes the following.

What this addresses is that the comprehension of visual images is a form of language, and just like all human language it needs to be learned.

I think the interpretation of the remote tribe’s reaction to the movie projector was wrong. What they had issue with was this strange technology and trying to determine if it posed any kind of new danger. The idea that they had to learn to recognize two-dimensional images is wrong.

I think what we have learned most about our study of remote hunter-gatherer tribes is that the conclusions drawn by the observers is just as whacked as the native’s interpretation of the unknown technology (probably more so).

So is the comprehension of visual images something that has to be learned? No way (in my opinion).

The Washington Post ran a little psychological experiment described in their article Pearls Before Breakfast. They had world renowned violinist Joshua Bell play at a Washington Metro station to see what the reaction would be. It turns out that the reaction was next to nil and the article is a lengthy examination of how this could be.

I’m sure some people are disgusted with humanity at this point but, for me, the results point out two important points about art. First, art is 50% aesthetic and 50% social. It is the social part that is the kicker. Second, we often confuse craftsmanship with art.

I wish I could listen to recordings of all the music Bell played but I could only find Chacone (Johann Sebastian Bach) played by violinist Hyman Bress. The article includes a short video clip with Bell playing “Chaconne”. Bell describes the piece as:

…not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history. It’s a spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect. Plus, it was written for a solo violin, so I won’t be cheating with some half-assed version.

For me, Chaconne is all about craftsmanship. It is a piece meant to challenge and ultimately show off a talented violinist. Like a great deal of music written for a solo violinist with accompaniment (I’m thinking piano or string quartet) it does not have a melody you find yourself humming as you walk away. This style of music often mimics conversations between people, with swings in emotion, tempo, and intensity. Like the multi-million dollar Stradivarius that Bell plays, it represents the best a craft has to offer.

The music itself does not fill me with emotion, at least not the way Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata consistently does. You recognize the sound of emotion in the music but it does not convey emotion. The emotion that you might feel comes from the realization that you are witnessing the best of the best perform his craft. It is the social part of art that kicks in. You have to know who Joshua Bell is and be able to recognize his superior talent before the social “wow” factor appears.

If Chaconne is representative of all the music Bell played then I’m not surprised by the results of the experiment. In a context free environment like a train/subway station you need to select music that conveys a powerful emotion, not music that sounds like it is played by someone experiencing powerful emotions.

Alex Wilson has created a unique photo gallery design that allows you to explore his fine art nude photography images. On his blog Alex mentions:

Feedback is welcome, send me an email or post a comment. I sort of expect this will be a love-or-hate thing with most people since it is different than the usual gallery paradigm. It will be interesting to see the reactions to it.

When you select an image category you can navigate through the selected set using the thumbnails at the top or you can explore related images presented on the side. Very cool.

Muted Magnificence

March 7, 2007


This is an ode to muted magnificence. Sometimes it is simple images that work best. Muted colors, simple composition, and uninspiring subject matter. Nothing pops, nothing stands out, everything is muted, yet overall the image just feels right. Calming. Soothing. Magnificent in its own muted way.

Print On Demand

March 6, 2007

Tom Slee continues his critique of Chris Anderson’s book “The Long Tail” with his post on chapter 6 The New Markets. Near the end of the post Tom has this to say about print-on-demand.

Inventory on Demand [94-96] is yet more Amazon smoke and mirrors. By this time it is really getting silly. Anderson talks about Amazon’s big commitment to print on demand publishing as a way of selling all those niche books. But while he notes that “the potential of print-on-demand is extraordinary” [96] he doesn’t give any real-world numbers.

I think print-on-demand is one of the best examples of The Long Tail in action (or on the verge of action). Blurb and Lulu are two print on demand companies that ultimately service niche markets. This type of printing is very appealing to amateur photographers, for instance. The following article provides an overview of Private Photographic Book Publishing. The article describes an entry level cost of about $10,000 for one hundred books using traditional printing. Print-on-demand changes the equation.

There is an adoption lag for any new technology or service and I’m sure that print-on-demand will reach a tipping point within the next few years. Forget the type of book that Amazon sells. Publish-on-demand tackles the market of books without ISBN numbers and sales figures in the 10’s. Right now when I go on a diving vacation, the resort or dive operator normally offers a video of your week for about $75. I suspect that these operators will soon offer a print-on-demand book which you can put on the shelf beside your wedding book and the book of your kids’ terrible twos.

That reminds me, I need to start planning my first annual garden book. RAD’s Garden 2007 :-)

Apparently, rap music is dead or dying. Who knew. This reminds me of when the TV show Friends was coming to an end and I had never seen a single episode. Social phenomena seem to pass me by. Do they make summary compilations for people like me? Three decades of rap for the out-of-touch and clueless.


I previously talked about Photography’s First Gift: Depth of Field. Photography’s second gift is Motion Blur and it to is an emergent property of the underlying technology. Normally, we associate Motion Blur with missed shots that are out of focus but the effect can also be used to add an aesthetic quality to an image.

Motion blur can be the result of the camera moving or the subject moving during the exposure. Some of the abstract images I have previously posted are the result of the camera moving. Others, like fast moving water, are the result of the subject moving. When part of an image is sharp but another part is blurred it gives the sense of motion. It IS motion. Our mind’s eye instinctively knows this.

Again this is apparent in films…. the kind from Hollywood. There is an aesthetic quality to motion film that is hard to create with video. This aesthetic quality is not lost when viewing a movie transferred to DVD so its a property of how the image is captured rather than how it is displayed. It is not resolution. It is a side-effect of the frame rate. Movies are captured at 24 frames per second while video is captured at 30 frames per second. The key to 24 fps is not some magic frequency but that the exposure time can be long enough (approaching 1/24 of a second) to show motion blur in part of the image. Its hard to recognize but our minds do process it. If your DVD player has the ability to step frame by frame then you can see the blurry part of the frame wherever there is motion.

The next time you see a beautiful image of a waterfall there is a very good chance that part of the aesthetic quality is due to Photography’s Second Gift: Motion Blur.