Tumblr roundup, Oct 12th

I spent some time in the Smithsonian collections this week, browsing a load of photos from Benin and Nigeria, mostly from about 1970. They all turned out to have been taken by Eliot Elifoson on various journalistic assignments in Africa. This is women dancing at the royal palace in Abomey:

Other Elifoson: appliqué workers in Abomey — the dance of the women warriors — John Adetoyese Laoye I, Timi of Ede — cutting down a tree — a football match between Dahomey (i.e. Benin) and Nigeria.

Captain Scott’s biographer makes a plausible case that we should remember the Antarctic explorer not as a heroic failure, but as someone whose reckless incompetence resulted int he entirely avoidable deaths of five people.

Mike Konczal runs the numbers on the We Are The 99% Tumblr to find out what the posters are mainly talking about, and reaches some (gloomy) conclusions about what it implies.

Devil’s Flower Mantis — a truly remarkable looking crustacean, Galathea pilosa — something that looks like a cross between a gorilla and a donkey, but is actually a chalicothere — a super-cute stoat video — a camouflaged lizard.

Soviet cotton-picker fabric design — a segmented tree — collage by Juan Gatti.

The Annunciation, Gerard David, 1506 — Young Woman with Ibis, Edgar Degas — Bowery, Paul Himmel — Night: Izcuchaca aqueduct, Arequipa, Peru. Carlos Vargas and Miguel Vargas, 1922.

Tumblr round-up, October 5th

As ever, this is just a selection of stuff I’ve posted since last time.

Here’s an enamel portrait pendant from the late C18th Iran (via the Met), a big version of which is my current iPhone lockscreen wallpaper. I probably ought to do a post about iPhone wallpapers some time.

Also from the Met, some Egyptian stuff: a scarab, a perfume bottle in the shape of two trussed ducks, a hippopotamus figurine. And from the Caribbean, a Taino deity figure.

Some links:

— An eye-opening article about shamateurism and exploitation in US college sports. Eye-opening for this non-American, anyway.

— An interesting and slightly depressing description of what it’s like to write for the Daily Mail.

— Luke Harding’s account of what it’s like as a foreign reporter being harassed by the Russian security services.

— Some fascinating anecdotal evidence of arctic ravens cooperatively hunting for large prey.

— Amazing fossils that preserve the iridescent colours of ancient beetles.

Reminiscences, and some brilliant old photos, from Max Lea MBE, a football referee in the East End of London.

Wildlife photos: an amazing spider; an amazing moth; a butterfly; a great bird photo; another one. The eye of a waterflea, which is just one of the remarkable entries from Nikon’s annual photomicrography competition.

Something I learned about from i heart photograph: nature printing (1, 2). Which is a technique predating photography that used the imprint of the physical plant to make the printing blocks. LIke this, from The Nature-Printed British Seaweeds, published 1860:

Some art: flowers by Odilon Redon — a Blue Morpho by Martin Johnson Heade — View of the Village by Jean-Frédéric Bazille — a scene from the Mahabharata — Three Ellipses for Three Locks by Felice Varini — Surprised Ducks by Félix Bracquemond.

Miscellanea: Tourmaline with Lepidolite and Cleavelandite — exploding crayons — a time-lapse film from the front of the space station — a whale balloon — Russian tentacles — an Albanian coat — a voodoo ceremony.

Tumblr round-up, September 13th

This is St Peter, by the Master of the Chora, Constantinople, 1320. Click through for a larger version.

A stunning photo of an Atlas moth — an Ocellated Turkey — Ping Pong Tree Sponge Chondrocladia lampadiglobus (a carnivorous deep-sea sponge) — a pair of bleeding heart doves — a Goblin Shark biting a diver’s arm (slightly grotesque, but not as gory as it sounds).

Terracotta jug from Cyprus, ca. 1600–1450 BC — earthenware bowl painted with the arms of Pope Callixtus III (Alfonso Borgia, 1455 – 1458) — an early Christian roundel of glass with gilded decoration, found in the Roman catacombs — intaglio of the adoration of the shepherds; rock crystal with gold and ultramarine on reverse. Giovanni Desiderio Bernardi, 1525-1550.

Stained glass: Apostles and saints (including St Peter) from a Last Judgement. Germany, 16th century — Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Dorothy. Upper Rhine, ca. 1470-1480 — Martyrdom of Saint Peter. Painted by Arnoult de Nimegue, Normandy, ca. 1525-1530.

Mishmarot I by ceramic artist Avital Sheffer (but check out her website for lots more gorgeous work; I rather like the early stuff as well) — coloured pencils by Jonna Pohjalainen — Self-Portrait with Saxophone by Max Beckman — Spring by Ferdinand Hodler.

Nushirwan and the two owls (and two storks) — Spring (with stork) — wind — dust storm — plane — a cook and his wife

And finally, I think the most popular thing I posted this week was one of the images from Scaf le Phoque (Scaf the Seal, 1936) by Rojan, aka Russian illustrator Feodor Rojankovsky (1891–1970).

Tumblr round-up, September 6th

Not a particularly busy week over on Tumblr.

That’s from the series Stellar by Ignacio Torres, who says

This project began from the theory that humans are made of cosmic matter as a result of a stars death. I created imagery that showcased this cosmic birth through the use of dust and reflective confetti to create galaxies.

I wasn’t so keen on Torres’s other work (too much of a fashion magazine aesthetic for my taste), but I thought these were rather lovely. Worth clicking through and checking out the whole series.

Other C20th art. Scenery with Ocean, 1940 by Kansuke Yamamoto; Untitled from the Mother Goddess series, 2009 by Pinar Yolacan. Some visionary art: Cholera — Hitler — Revelation.

Some broadly medieval stuff: a C15th roof boss in the form of a winged lion, representing St Mark the Evangelist; and another one; stained glass of a woman carrying a shield, and a woman dispensing poison; a painting of the Madonna and child by Jean Fouquet; a fritware jug of a bull from Iran.

Two altered medieval works: the tomb of Pope Clement V in Avignon, with a modern addition by Spanish artist Miquel Barceló; and a Byzantine mosaic that was the subject of a bit of Stalin-style editing to remove any evidence of heretics.

Going back even further in time: a remarkable photo of a Chinese archeological dig; and an ancient Greek grave marker.

And some sciencey/naturey stuff to end with:

A nice post at Cabinet of Curiosities about a spider which built its web downwind of a large patch of rosebay willowherb.

At the New York Times, the need to revise the procedures for police line-ups in the light of psychological research.

A frozen lake — an Ethiopian volcano — a moth from Papua New Guinea — converting Conan to 3D.

Tumblr round-up, August 30th

I think my favourite thing I posted to Tumblr this week was this Minoan coin from Knossos. It has a minotaur on it!

I thought this article about the dropping of the case against Dominique Strauss Kahn and the differences between the French and US legal systems and legal cultures was interesting.

A flapjack octopus — a spiny flower mantis — some cephalopodsanatomy — crystals of gypsum and kapellasite — Shoebill skull

The Grindelwald Glacier — a Californian canyon — the Grand CanyonChartreuse Arch

Shoe warehouse trade card — Mexican film posterstained glass in India — natural historyinfrared Congo

Tumblr round-up, August 23rd

I spent a while this week roaming through the British Museum’s various C19th Indian paintings; many of them, like this one, painted for European patrons or the European market. And many of them, like this one, painted on thin sheets of mica. This is a gourd of some kind:

 

Also painted on mica were an eagle, an LBJ, and an orchid.

Some more romantic scenes: a lady playing a musical instrument to a gazelle watched by an attendant; two lovers playing with fireworks; a girl waiting for her lover under a tree on a stormy night.

Some religion: a foot decorated with auspicious symbols; Krishna standing on the hood of the serpent Kaliya; Shiva pursues his Enemy –and although he assumed the shape of an Elephant yet Shiva crushed him to death.

Miscellanea: a pretty cakea multicoloured tree — a spectacular snowstormSoviet architecture — a Tahitian mourner’s costume — a tiger with an elephant’s head — a salt landscapeparsnipchameleon anatomy — Swedish book covers (1, 2)

Tumblr round-up, August 15th

The London riots have been on my mind a lot this week, and I posted various links to pieces which I thought were interesting: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Perhaps indirectly related, an article about poverty in the US; and one about extreme wealth in the US which serves as a companion piece.

That’s a C19th robe from Central Asia. I also posted a couple of others (1, 2), all from the Smithsonian’s collections, but this one’s my favourite. That slightly fuzzy appearance comes from ikat weaving, where the thread itself is dyed in patterns before weaving. I also posted a rather lovely woven raffia mat from Benin made using the same technique.

Oddities: an iPad cover made from Bernie Madoff’s trousers — jugs with lipssycamore goblets — an axe with a spinemelon bowls — a guinea pig masquerading as a hippo.

The geometry of butterflies, drawn by Nabokov  — a ladybird spider —  an Audubon swan — some elegant kelp.

I found an online copy of Illustrations of Himalayan Plants from 1855 and I thought the illustrations were particularly beautiful even by the standards of botanical illustration. I posted the title page and several of the plates, but rather than see them on Tumblr, check it out on archive.org.

Tumblr round-up, August 8th

It’s that time of the week again. Let’s start with what might be my favourite image of the year, a long-exposure shot of star trails with fireflies. Go to NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day to see it larger or super-big.

Two ancient Persian drinking horns: shaped like a wild cat — shaped like a wild goat [maybe a Nubian Ibex?]. A Greek wine-cooler decorated with soldiers riding dolphins. A medieval Russian church gate. A C14th painting of a Tibetan abbot.

Acrobatic weaver birdstunicatesshark with lionfish — a flashy bustard.

Articles: Sperm whales have culture. Fish form shoals the size of Manhattan.

Beautiful corsets: C18th SpanishC19th American. A Jean-Paul Gaultier jacket. American typography: Lectures on Ventilationlibrary pastered stamping ink. Curious buildings: LaosMaliPortugal.

All at Sea, Claire Partington 2011. Egon Schiele’s bedroom, 1911. Aurora Borealis, Frederic Edwin Church 1865. Île-Saint-Denis, Willy Ronis 1956. Allegory of the Planets and Continents, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo 1752.

Tumblr round-up, August 1st

I haven’t posted that much to Tumblr this week for the same reason I haven’t been posting to the blog: possible incipient RSI. But here’s some of my favourite things from this week.

Sagra buqueti, a beetle so extraordinary I resorted to Google to check it wasn’t photoshopped:

A gruesome squid dish — a cactus pouffe — an outfit by Alexander McQueen — a good joke — a Madonna by Lorenzo Lotto — Wulfenite with Mimetite and Barite — a painting of Halley’s comet

The Cuban vine Marcgravia evenia uses a specially shaped sonar reflector to attract pollinating bats.

Penguins use bubbles to give themselves a speed boost underwater.

Dolphins use what used to be whiskers to detect electric fields.

Canadian cod numbers are finally starting to recover nearly 20 years after fishing them was banned.

EDIT. Whoops, nearly forgot:

Spitalfields Life has a great post about an annual east London coracle race.

Tumblr round-up, July 25th

A selection of the stuff I’ve posted to Tumblr in the past week.My favourite thing from the past week is this, mainly because it looks like a Death Star:

Actually it’s a round clay tablet from Ur which dates back to 2039BC. It records areas of fields and barley yield. I also posted a picture of an even older tablet from Uruk, 3300BC-3100BC, which uses a symbol for barley that looks like, well, an ear of barley.

Some decorative woodcuts by Fernand Chalandre, from about 1919: Peasant girl carrying pail — poplars near water — a bowl of flowers — the town of Nevers. And some aquatints by the Australian artist Fred Williams: Road and Saplings, CottlesbridgeTrapezeThe Can CanBurning Log.

A great photograph of Lucian Freud from the 60s. RIP.

There are some interesting photographs of Greek shadow-puppet shows in the British Museum. My favourite is Karagiosis the Astronaut, above, but Karagiosis can also be seen ‘In the Claws of the Gestapo‘ and shooting the head off a Turk.

Some links: why people are better at paper-scissors-stone if they are blindfolded.

The problems with software patents.

The perils of trusting your data to the cloud (or in this case, to Google).

Neptune’s heart, zipperback and the gangly lancer are among 10 new names that have been given to British plant and animal species, thanks to Natural England’s “Name a Species” competition.

An interesting new approach to designing wind farms.

Decorated initials: P — Q — E — B. Satellite photographs, via NASA: AlaskaAustraliaIowaBahamas.

Some odds and sods: baby millipedes — a weird caterpillar — a Brooklyn stoop, 1976 — Japanese iris plate — Gisèle à “La Boule Blanche”, Montparnasse, 1932 — an ingenious crossword — woman with garlic.

Tumblr round-up, July 18th

I may try to find a way, later, of incorporating the stuff I’ve posted to Tumblr more closely into this site, but until then I think I’ll start with a weekly round-up. The idea is to post a summary of the previous week, but since I’ve got a backlog, I’ll start by ranging a bit more widely. So here’s a selection of stuff from the past month or two.

That’s a Persian priest, by the C16th Danish/German artist Melchior Lorck. In the 1550s he was part of a diplomatic mission to the court of Suleiman the Magnificent in Constantinople, and he was working on a book of woodcuts from his travels when he died in 1583. I stumbled across them when browsing through the British Museum collection. There are a lot more where that came from: just search for ‘Print made by Melchior Lorck‘. Apart from the historical interest, he has a real graphic designer’s eye.

Parrots have names. Or at least they have ‘signature calls that are used to recognise individuals’, and birds imitate the signatures of others to get their attention. And researchers have found that these names are given to the chicks by their mothers before they are old enough to call for themselves.

Of all the thousands of words I’ve read about the News of the World hacking scandal, I thought this Reuters article about the culture of the newsroom at the NotW under Rebekah Brooks was one of the most striking.

Some ceramics: a delftware wine bottle from C17th London; a Chinese wine-cup; another Chinese wine-cup, this one decorated with auspicious fruits; one of my favourites, a stoneware jug from C12th Korea. And I think this is gorgeous, a tin-glazed earthenware jug from Fez, ca. 1870:

A snail tongue; an amazing mineral; the head of a honey bee; some octopus tattoos; an extraordinary fish; a poisonous newt; a spotty squid [I think]; the newly-discovered world’s smallest orchid.

An icon of St George; a portable figure of Jagannatha (‘Lord of the World’); a guardian figure from Cameroon; a stamp; a watercolour of a stormy landscape by Penry Williams; a Chinese Francis Bacon; a C15th Swiss wild man and wild woman in stained glass.

Blogging, Google+ and tangled networks

Dave Bonta’s post about Google+ had me thinking about my relationships with various social networks.

I remember being rather resentful of Facebook because I had carefully carved out a space on the web: this blog. I liked being able to change the way it looked, and to fiddle with the internal workings; and above all I liked being able to post to my own space, without someone else’s corporate logo at the top of it, and someone else’s advertising running down the side.

And having gone to that trouble, it annoyed me to have to set up a new, separate web presence in Facebook’s walled garden, where my stuff would be presented the way Facebook thought was best. At least it wasn’t as bad as MySpace, but it still had a shitty user interface, and a cavalier approach to privacy, and I had to jump through hoops to get the material I was posting to my blog mirrored inside Facebook, and it never quite worked the way I felt it should.

But, that was where my friends were. So that was where I needed to be. And since RSS feeds never quite broke through as a mainstream technology, if I did want any of them to read my blog, there had to be some way to let them know when I posted something. And over time I’ve got used to it and it doesn’t bother me much anymore… until I need to change a setting somewhere, when it drives me nuts.

So that’s Facebook: whatever its other faults, it’s the social network which actually has my friends on it. Perhaps they could use that as a slogan.

Then there’s Twitter. In some ways, Twitter is Facebook with all the crap taken out; no stupid games, no ads, just a string of status updates. Which I like. And I like the fact that the relationships are asymmetrical; you can read their updates without being their ‘friends’. It makes it sort of semi-social in quite a nice way.

But not many people I know are really active on Twitter. The people I follow are mainly a mixture of celebrities, journalists, science writers, nature bloggers and so on. So for me, it’s not actually a social network at all; it’s just an RSS reader with ADHD.

I don’t have a Google+ account yet, but from what I’ve seen it seems like a nice balance between Facebook and Twitter: it has less accumulated cruft than Facebook (so far at least), better privacy controls, and asymmetrical relationships. It’s somewhere between a streamlined Facebook and a beefed-up Twitter. Which sounds like it might be a perfect replacement for both. Except unless the whole world agrees at once to ditch Facebook and Twitter, it won’t actually replace either of them: it will just be another endless stream of stuff to distract us.

Which brings me on to Tumblr. I didn’t actually join Tumblr for its social networking; I was posting lots of links on this blog and wanted to spin those off into a separate site and leave this blog for longer pieces. And rather than create yet another WordPress installation, joining Tumblr seemed an easy way of doing it. But in fact I got sucked into the ‘social’ aspects of looking through other people’s posts, and liking and reblogging them. Not that it feels remotely like a genuinely sociable activity — there’s not much personal connection there — but scanning through other people’s posts is fun, and when they like or reblog my own posts there’s a little hit of positive reinforcement, so it’s quite addictive and a complete timesuck.

And I’ve been enjoying it, but I can’t help feeling that the result has been to weaken this blog and to fragment my online presence even further. I’ve even thought of posting a weekly Tumblr roundup here, of some of the more interesting stuff… which might work quite well but just brings me back to doing a manual version of the automated links which Tumblr was supposed to replace.

In some ways I do want to try Google+; partially because it’s a new toy but also because they seem to have learnt from the mistakes and successes of previous networks. It looks genuinely well-thought-out. But another part of me thinks it’s just madness. I’ve already got an RSS reader, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr on the go, not to mention Goodreads and Flickr: surely I have enough information streams to keep me busy.

And this continuing fragmentation brings me back to my initial objection to social networks: I already have a bit of the internet, thank you, one which I set up years ago and I administer. And I want to be able to put my own website at the centre of my online identity: not my Google profile, not my Facebook page, not my Twitter stream. I know it’s a terribly retro idea, but I like the idea of my own website being my ‘homepage’.

However. That personal preference of mine is hardly the point. I’m sure the last sad users of MySpace had a strong personal preference as well, but in the end they just turned out to be a load of Cnuts. And the number of visitors to this site has been slowly but steadily declining. That is no doubt mainly my own fault for not being interesting enough, but whatever the reason: it’s depressing.

So where does all that leave me? I don’t know, really. Dissatisfied with the status quo but without any good ideas for how to change it.

» The spiderface image is a combination of Hendrik Goltzius’s woodcut portrait of Gillis van Breen from 1588, and The spider, a lithograph by Lily Blatherwick from 1927. Both via the British Museum.

Things posted to Tumblr: Gandhara bodhisattvas

I’ve been enjoying posting stuff to A London Salmagundi, and I find the convention of posting pictures without commentary rather liberating, because I am a relentless tweaker of my own prose and constitutionally incapable of being brief. But sometimes I find myself wanting to explain why I think a particular image is so interesting or beautiful. So this is the first of what may be a series: ‘things I posted to Tumblr’.

These bodhisattvas are from the part of the world that US foreign policy types refer to as ‘AfPak’; the top one, the older of the two, is from Hadda, now on the Afghan side of the border; the other is from Peshawar in Pakistan. But when these were made, and for over a millennium, it was the location of the Gandhara kingdom.

I only know that because I just looked it up on Wikipedia. But what I did already know was that these are in a tradition called ‘Greco-Buddhist’. This is art from a place where two worlds meet. Alexander the Great conquered the area from the Persians in the 4th century BC; hundreds of years later, the Hellenistic influence was still powerful enough to result in works like these.

That top one, from 1st-3rd century AD, is particularly extraordinary and particularly beautiful, I think. The style is recognisably Greek; the hair, the sculpting of the features. But the face looks Indian, and he has the long ears of the bodhisattva.

The other, slighter later (3rd-5th century) is less remarkable, less strikingly classical; more what one expects a bodhisattva to look like. But it’s still a lovely thing.

Just the existence of Greco-Buddhist art was amazing to me, because Alexander the Great and Buddhism lived in completely different parts of my brain. It’s like reading one of those counter-factual novels — what would modern Britain have been like if the Nazis had won the war? —  except, you know, it’s actually real. There really was somewhere where Buddhist monasteries were decorated in the style of ancient Greek temples.

The fact that the resulting art is beautiful just makes it even better.

» The Hadda bodhisattva at the Musée Guimet; the Peshawar bodhisattva at the V&A.

Physical tumbling

I went along to the V&A today to check out the second phase of their new ceramics display. The first phase was arranged by technique and theme; the new bit is by place and date. Some of the displays have helpful information, but much of it is effectively the collection being stored in plain view: all-glass cabinets with shelf after shelf of ceramics packed five or six objects deep.

It means that they’re not always as easy to see properly, and there’s no accompanying information, but it’s a way of making as much of the collection visible as possible: over 26,500 pieces in the new section, apparently.

I’ve actually spent a lot of time recently browsing the V&A’s collection online find things to post to A London Salmagundi. It was a healthy reminder that, although it’s marvellous that they are making such an effort to digitise their collections, and no matter how endlessly fascinating it is searching through museum collections online, there’s nothing quite like being close enough to appreciate the actual physicality of an object: the textures, the way it catches the light.

Or even more basic, the size. I posted this picture of a porcelain goat made by Meissen in 1732, and it’s a striking image; but nothing about that picture prepares you for the fact that it is over two foot long. Nearly life size — for rather a small goat, at least. Apparently it weighs 25kg.

Unfortunately the technology is not yet there for me to have a physical tumblelog. Although having an image blog is a kind of curation, I can’t, sadly, actually choose real objects and put them in front of my readers.

I suppose the closest I could come would be if the V&A gave me a long display case and the licence to roam the museum, picking out objects. Then I could put each new choice at one end of the case and shift all the rest a few inches further along; and as each one reached the other end, I would take it out and put it back where it belonged.

In fact, if anyone from the V&A is reading this: have your people call my people. Let’s see if we can work something out.

Salmagundi update

A London Salmagundi, my Tumblr, has now been running for five months and accumulated over 1200 posts; if you haven’t been visiting it, this is the kind of thing you’ve been missing.

Photos by Pierre BonnardHausa horsemen in quilted armourC19th corseta hornet mimicGiovanni di Paolooptical illusionmermaid plateSong dynasty vaseelephant skinaubergine shoespaper mosaicknitted cuttlefishbrass knucklerhino beetleSwedendubibissand arttaxidermycitternset designweimaranertype specimentarget practicebidisbleeding tooth funguscricketersdiamond minemantuagood luck charm

Announcing Salmagundi

I’ve got a new little side project, Salmagundi, which is a Tumblr-powered short-form, scrapbooky type blog-thing where I can post assorted bits and pieces — photos, links, amusing cat videos — that I find on the internet. A web-log in the original sense.

Which probably means I’ll stop the automatic link posts here, and keep this blog for longer text-based pieces, although I won’t actually make that change until it’s been working for a bit.

I think it looks quite spiffy on a Mac; it’ll look slightly less spiffy on a PC, not least because it relies heavily on Helvetica Neue Light. And on any version of Internet Explorer older than IE8, you’ll just see a message telling you that your browser sucks. In your face, Microsoft.

There is a link to it (Tumblr) in the sidebar on the right. Or you can subscribe to the RSS feed.

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