Categories
Nature

Darwin and wildlife photography at the NHM

I went along to the Natural History Museum to visit a couple of exhibitions: Wildlife Photographer of the Year and Darwin.

The WPotY exhibition is an annual treat; some years are  better than others, but it’s never less than enjoyable. My long-term gripe is that the overall winner is almost always a portrait of a large charismatic mammal (usually one of the African big games species) rather than ever being a picture of a shrimp or a toadstool or something. This year I’m willing to give them a partial credit on that front; they’ve picked a picture of a big cat, but it’s the fabulous, rare and extremely elusive snow leopard, and the picture, a night-time shot with falling snow, is pretty great.

You can see all the pictures online, but they also put the show on in other venues around the UK and around the world, so if South Kensington isn’t convenient you still might be able to see it somewhere near you. The shot above is of a polar bear at sunrise. Cool, innit. And how about this one, of leafcutter ants carrying petals:

The Darwin exhibition, part of the build-up to his 200th birthday next year, takes us through his life and work, and is full of artefacts (notebooks, letters) and specimens he collected. It does a good job of telling us about his life, I think, although as I’ve read two biographies of Darwin, and the Voyage of the Beagle, and The Origin of Species, and a biography of his grandfather, and one of Huxley, most of the material was familiar to me. I did enjoy it — it’s good to see all his scribbly handwriting and there are some great items on show — but none of it was really news to me, so I may not be the key audience.

btw, if you’re going to the museums at South Ken, you could do worse than have lunch at Casa Brindisa. Brindisa are a Spanish food importer with a shop in Borough Market who now have three tapas bars, and the lunch I had in there was just excellent. The website has the menu on it, so I can tell you exactly what I had: the pan fried sea bream with morcilla de Burgos and Bierzo peppers, a herb salad with moscatel vinaigrette and a serving of patatas bravas. It was all really delicious; the fish was crisp and perfectly cooked and went beautifully with earthiness of the morcilla and the slightly spicy peppers; the salad was fresh and herby with just enough slightly sweet dressing, and the potatoes were golden and crunchy without being oily and not drowned in the sauce. They even make an excellent cup of coffee, which is almost harder to find than a good plate of food.

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Daily Links

Links

Categories
Me

Happy Birthday Clouded Drab

Clouded Drab — my photoblog — is one year old today. And despite occasional fallow periods, I have posted 92 photos in that year, which seems a respectable number.

This puffin is not one of those photos. I don’t quite know why I only posted one of my puffin pictures from Wales, but here’s another one.

I’ve just installed a random redirect plugin, so click on this link for a random photo.

Categories
Daily Links

Links

  • 'Even some of our more intelligent commentators have convinced themselves that Sir Steve Redgrave is the greatest living Olympian for winning five successive golds in rowing, not seeming to realise that the sport is so elitist that it is virtually nonexistent across much of the planet.'
    (del.icio.us tags: Olympics )
  • via Daring Fireball: 'We present a framework for automatically enhancing videos of a static scene using a few photographs of the same scene. For example, our system can transfer photographic qualities such as high resolution, high dynamic range and better lighting from the photographs to the video … quickly modify the video by editing only a few still images of the scene … remove unwanted objects and camera shake from the video.' Watch the whole demo video, it's amazing.
    (del.icio.us tags: video photography )
Categories
Culture

The Muybridge Problem

I was wondering this morning why it is that narrative paintings always seem to fall so flat for a modern viewer (i.e. me). Not just those cheesy C19th paintings with titles like A Soldier Returns; even paintings by artists I find more sympathetic — Rembrandt, Goya, Velazquez — seem very obviously unconvincing when they try to capture a spontaneous moment. It occurred to me that the explanation might simply be what you could call the Muybridge problem.

Famously, Eadweard Muybridge started taking his high-speed photographs in an attempt to answer the question: do horses ever have all four hooves off the ground when they gallop? The answer turned out to be yes: but not quite what everyone expected. Before that, even someone as devoted to the careful study of the horse as Stubbs had painted galloping horses with all four feet off the ground when their legs were outstretched; in fact a galloping horse only has all feet off the ground when they are bent underneath it.

But if you have seen lots of photos of running horses, all those old paintings of horses flying like Superman over Epsom Downs look faintly but irretrievably ludicrous. Photography has permanently changed what we think things look like; and that doesn’t just apply to horses.

» The Stubbs is a detail from Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a Trainer, a Stable-Lad, and a Jockey; the Muybridge is a detail from The Horse in Motion, both from Wikimedia Commons.

Categories
Culture

Prokudin-Gorskii photographs

I’ve actually linked to these before, but a post over at i heart photograph reminded me about them and I was browsing through them again. Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii was a Russian photographer taking colour pictures in the years before the Great War. He took three black and white negatives of each subject using different coloured filters, then reassembled them using a projector and coloured light.

The Library of Congress have used a digital version of this process to recreate the images and have put them online. The one above is a harvest scene from 1909, but also check out i.e. Woman in Samarkand, dog, Siberian scenery, Georgian woman in national costume. [as Jean points out, those links don’t work: you’ll just have to browse the collection]

I find the particular aesthetic of the lurid coloured borders as appealing as the subjects, though those clearly have historical and ethnographic interest.