Mountaineering Photography

June 3, 2021

The International Mountain Photography contest has announced its winners. The overall winner was this dramatic composition called The X by Marcin Ciepielewski.

I also really liked these …


Food Photographer of the Year 2021

April 28, 2021

The Guardian has an excellent spread on winners in the 2021 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year contest. The overall winner, and one of my favourites, was:

Photographer: Li Huaifeng

I also liked:

Breakfast at Weekly Market by Thong Nguyen
Making Rice Noodles by Abdul Momin

Peyote’s Brilliant Visions

April 25, 2021

The last time I used magic mushrooms was more than forty years ago.  In the spring of 1980 I was deeply depressed having disastrously screwed up a wonderful love affair; the mushrooms grabbed my depression and acted like an iron anchor tied to a drowning man. I remember spending an entire long weekend hiding under the covers of my bed, unable to move and scared to emerge. When I got straight, I didn’t want to repeat that depth of despair and so I never used them again.

However, I had had good times with them before then and, re-reading a marvelous piece in The Public Domain Review called Brilliant Visions: Peyote Among the Aesthetes, I was reminded of those better days.

The extract looks at the discovery of peyote by Havelock Ellis and his band of friends, including W.B. Yeats and Arthur Symoms, at the very end of the nineteenth century. In those days, peyote buttons could be obtained from a particular pharmacist in London and Ellis purchased a few and decided to make some notes on their effect:

“Having acquired his sample, Ellis proceeded to make a liquid decoction of three buttons which he drank slowly in Symons’ apartment over two hours. He began to feel faint, his pulse weakened, and he lay down to read … [H]e first noticed the visual effects as they impinged on the note-taking process: ‘a pale violet shadow floated over the page around the point at which my eyes were fixed’. As evening closed in he was gradually enveloped by … ‘a vast field of golden jewels, studded with red and green stones, ever changing.’ From this point on ‘the visions continued with undiminished brilliance for many hours’.

In an article published in the following year called Mescal: A New Artificial Paradise, he expanded on these effects.  “Every part of the colour spectrum competed in his visions, he wrote, and yet

“there was always a certain parsimony and aesthetic value” in their combinations. He was “further impressed, not only by the brilliance, delicacy, and variety of the colours, but even more by their lovely and various textures — fibrous, woven, polished, glowing, dull, veined, semi-transparent”. He compared the patterns that formed and dissolved to the “Maori style of architecture” and “the delicate architectural effects as of lace carved in wood, which we associated with the moucrabieh work of Cairo”. They were “living arabesques”, constantly in flux yet with “a certain incomplete tendency to symmetry …

When Ellis became exhausted by the visions in darkness, he turned on the gas light. The shadows that leapt to life reminded him of the “visual hyperaesthesia” of Claude Monet’s paintings.”

Grainstack in the Sunlight, Claude Monet

“The critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin, who would himself take mescaline in a clinical trial in 1934, wrote that the nineteenth century “subjected the human sensorium to a complex kind of training.” Visual illusions — from kaleidoscopes to magic lanterns to photography — made the transit from dazzling novelties to staples of mass culture. Magicians, mediums, and psychic investigators all probed the limits of the real, blurring the line between optical trickery, the subconscious mind, and the spirit world. At the moment when Ellis made his experiment, the world was being exposed for the first time to X-ray images and the cinematograph. “Visual hyperaesthesia” was a symptom not only of peyote but of the culture in which he was consuming it, and to which Monet and the impressionists were responding …

The brilliance of electricity was a recurring metaphor for peyote’s scintillating visions: the very first subject in the initial scientific trials in the United States in 1895 had compared them to the dazzling electric illuminations he had witnessed at the Chicago World’s Fair two years previously. But it was a literal stimulus too. It seemed that nothing delighted the eye of the modern mescal eater so much as the new electrical sublime. They arrived together as avatars of a future world of visual spectacle, equal parts scientific discovery and aesthetic delight.”

This is a fascinating article, full of insights and well worth the read.

World Nature Photography 2020

March 18, 2021

The World Nature Photography Awards have been announced for 2020. Thomas Vijayan won best nature photographer for his wonderful image, The World is Going Upside Down:

There are some seriously beautiful images out there from last year, and they are all worth a second look. I was attracted to Raymond Nowotny‘s winning entry to the Mammals Behaviour category …

… and Diran Talmi’s Fungi and Plants winner:

Well worth the time.

Happy 88th Yoko!

February 18, 2021

Happy birthday to one of the most creative and innovative multimedia artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. Long may she continue!

Artistic Illusion

February 10, 2021

A Portuguese artist named Odeith has become a master of illusion, using spray paints to transform a concrete block into an abandoned bus:

from …

And turning this …

… into this:

An article in this week’s My Modern Met has numerous other examples of this wonderful street art.

Paint From Dirt

February 10, 2021

A recent edition of Smithsonian magazine had a fascinating article on the collection of different soils in Wyoming and California, and their transformation into pigments.

“A soil scientist and a professor at the University of Wyoming, Karen Vaughan sees a lot more soils than the average person, and certainly knows them more intimately. Over many years spent examining them, she has come to appreciate their natural beauty and immense variability. Two years ago, she began channeling that appreciation into a product she could share with the world, turning the soils she loved into watercolor pigments. Now, she and her collaborator, Yamina Pressler, a soil scientist at California Polytechnic University, use soils to make pigments and paintings, bridging the gap between science and art. “

“To the uninitiated, the landscape of Wyoming might seem like a monotonous stretch of tan dirt. But that idea is exactly what Vauhgan is trying to change through her art. By explaining to artists and curious laypeople how the myriad hues in soils come to be and sharing them visually through both her own creative works and those by other artists, she hopes to give people the ability to see soil as more than “just dirt.”

First Saturday Is Back

February 4, 2021

Local artists open their studios on the first Saturday of each month for you to visit and, hopefully, to buy some of the wonderful art works and crafts that they make available.

This month, on 6th February a wide range of Grandview and eastside artists are involved. For details check out the First Saturday website.

Finally, A New Blue

January 26, 2021

Over the years I have written a few pieces about the colour blue, including the invention of Prussian Blue, and the philosophy behind the colour. Now, we have a brand new blue discovered by accident in Oregon.

image: Oregon State University

It is called YInMn after its ingredients: Yttrium, Indium, and Manganese — “and its luminous, vivid pigment never fades, even if mixed with oil and water.”

“Blue pigments, which date back 6,000 years, have been traditionally toxic and prone to fading. That’s no longer the case with YInMn, which reflects heat and absorbs UV radiation, making it cooler and more durable than pigments like cobalt blue. “The fact that this pigment was synthesized at such high temperatures signaled that this new compound was extremely stable, a property long sought in a blue pigment,” [Mas] Subramanian [the lead chemist] said in a study about the compound.

The new blue was discovered in 2009, was licensed for exterior use in 2016 but has only now been made available for general use.

The Oldest Animal Art

January 13, 2021

Many of us have grown used to the idea that pre-historic cave painting is a European artform, and we rightly delight in the images at Lascaux in France, for example. However, a new study has shown that the earliest images of animals yet discovered are to be found in south-east Asia.

(Image: © AA Oktaviana)

This is a digitally enhanced image of a painting at Leang Tedongnge Cave, in Sulawesi, Indonesia, dated from 45,000 years ago.

As reported in the Live Science article:

The mulberry colored painting, drawn with the red mineral ochre, shows the profile of what is likely a Sulawesi warty pig (Sus celebensis), a wild stubby-legged beast with facial warts that can weigh up to nearly 190 pounds (85 kilograms). These pigs “are still found there today, although in ever-dwindling numbers,” said study co-lead researcher Adam Brumm, a professor of archaeology at Griffith University’s Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution.

Also noteworthy are the stenciled hands on the left of the photograph. These types of images have been found throughout the world in early contexts.

Giraffes Diving

December 31, 2020

After all the troubles and trials of 2020, I wanted to end the year with something completely meaningless but fun. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.

Happy New Year!

MOMA’s Best Photos 2020

December 22, 2020

The Museum of Modern Art’s magazine — My Modern Met — has selected its favourite 60 images from the year. There is a wealth of beauty and wonder here, and it is hard to select just a few, but these are the three that I selected.

Solitude, Mikko Lagerstedt
Wonder Wheels 1, Kylii Sparre
Abandoned Chapel, Roman Robroek

Best Sea Views 2020

December 15, 2020

The Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society 2020 Photography awards have been handed out. The winner is this fine work:

Laurence Hartwell, Beam Trawlers Landing … At Night”

And I enjoyed these two especially …

Katie Vincent, Into The Mist
David Jenner, Under The Stars

The Anarchists of Neo-Impressionism

December 5, 2020
Felix Feneon (centre), then clockwise from top left Signac, Seurat, Pisarro, and Luce

“The ultra-composed Neo-Impressionists aren’t obvious angels of chaos, yet Georges Seurat, Camille Pissarro, Paul Signac and Maximilien Luce all advocated anarchist positions, including ‘the propaganda of the deed’, aka bomb-throwing. This is one of the riddles of modernist art, and at its centre is the sphinx Félix Fénéon (1861-1944), great champion of Seurat and company, brilliant critic and editor, sophisticated dandy and gallerist – and committed anarchist.”

Such is the substance of the first paragraph in Hal Foster’s London Review of Books review, At MOMA of the museum’s exhibition of Feneon’s influence.

The end of the 19th century was a time of tumult and revolution in Paris. Government scandals and anarchist bombings punctuated the news. Feneon — who as an art critic and collector had coined the name “Neo-Impressionists” in 1886, and who worked at the Ministry of War —

“cut a dashing figure on the literary scene too, animating several journals, attending Mallarmé’s Symbolist salon and editing Rimbaud’s Illuminations. Amid all this, he also found time for anarchist activities, publishing subversive articles anonymously and pseudonymously.”

In 1894 he was arrested for the bombing of Restaurant Foyot. His wit and intelligence saw him found not guilty by the jury, but he was fired from the War Ministry. For many years thereafter, he edited La revue blanche and later was curator at the prestigious Galerie Bernheim-Jeune.

The Neo-Impressionists worked through strict formalism — what Seurat called ‘a systematic paradigm’ — while riffing off the colour deconstructions of the Impressionists. The order in which they worked seems not to gel with the idea of a chaotic anarchism but, as Foster notes, “[a]lthough anarchists seek to overthrow the state, they do so only to claim a more fundamental order.”

“For Signac the arrangements of painting and society were isomorphic: ‘Justice in sociology, harmony in art: same thing.’ This analogy between a just painting and a just world isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. Subsequent artists with anarchist sympathies, such as Mondrian and Barnett Newman, thought along similar lines – though, fortunately for them, they weren’t trying to depict the golden age.”

The Neo-Impressionists were deeply respectful of autonomy.

“This autonomy takes nothing away from the singularity of a Seurat painting, a Fénéon text, or an anarchist action: individuality, the sine qua non of anarchism, is not sacrificed – on the contrary. ‘This uniform and almost abstract execution leaves the originality of the artist intact,’ Fénéon wrote of Neo-Impressionist technique, ‘and even heightens it’.”

Foster’s piece is a deeply fascinating essay on several levels and I have barely scratched the surface with my notes above. Well worth the read.

New East Photo Awards

December 5, 2020

The Calvert Journal has announced the Finalists of this year’s New East photography awards which highlight the work of artists in eastern Europe and central Asia. I especially like:

Agnieszka Sejud, from her series Hoax
Andras Ladosci, from his series Swallow

Kyoto Photo 2020

November 21, 2020

The theme of the 2020 Kyotographie Festival is Vision, as in the future. There are some incredible works included and I particularly enjoyed these:

Photographer: Ryosuke Toayane
Photographer: Marjan Teeuwen
Photographer: Elsa Leydier.

World’s Best Travel Images 2020

November 12, 2020

Agora’s annual competition for the best Travel image has been won this year by this view from a tent by Spanish photographer rakia10:

Earlier in the year Forbes published most of the finalists, and I chose these as ones I found particularly memorable:

Drone Awards 2020

October 25, 2020

The winners of the 2020 Drone Awards include some stunning images. The overall winner was this image of a school of salmon that had formed into the shape of a heart, with a prowling shark within:

Love Heart of Nature. Photographer: Jom Picot

My own favourite was this:

Picking red chillies. Photographer: Azim Khan Ronnie

Select images for a larger view.

There are plenty more to see in the Guardian and on Hyperallergic.

Weather Photo of the Year 2020

October 18, 2020

The Royal Meteorological Society have announced the winner of this year’s Weather Photograph of the Year:

Blizzard: Rudolf Sulgan

From the images shortlisted, I also liked:

Tea Hills: Vu Trung Huan
Dam Wet: Andrew McCaren

Small World 2020

October 14, 2020

Nikon’s annual Small World photomicrography competition is back. The winner this year is of a zebrafish:

Photographers: Drs Castranova, Weinstein & Samasa

I also liked this image of a freshwater snail’s tongue:

Photographer: Igor Swanowicz