Category: History

The Vanishing Stepwells of India: A New Book by Victoria Lautman Documents the Fading Relics of Subterranean Wells 

Van Talab Baoli. Amer, Rajasthan. c. 1600/19th Century.

Scattered across India’s vast landscape of ancient architecture including temples, mosques, and palaces are an often overlooked relic of historic infrastructure called stepwells. These subterranean buildings, once numbered in the thousands, were originally dug into the landscape so residents could easily access water. Over time, stepwells grew increasingly elaborate in their construction, morphing from modest rock-cut holes into fully functional Hindu temples with ornate columns, stairwells, and shrines. Each well now serves as a fading structural fingerprint, diverse and unique as the communities that designed and built them.

Chicago journalist Victoria Lautman first peeked over the edge of a stepwell some 30 years ago and was immediately transfixed at the idea of staring down into an architectural wonder as opposed to looking up. She has since dedicated much of the last five years criss-crossing India over several years to locate and photograph as many wells as possible. We first mentioned Lautman’s discoveries back in 2015, after which she resumed trips to India to locate an additional 60 wells, bringing the grand total to over 200 sites she’s personally visited and documented.

“Descending into the earth is a profound experience, one in which sweltering heat turns to enveloping cool, and noises become hushed,” she writes about encountering the wells.

After centuries of neglect some stepwells are in perilous condition or have vanished altogether, while others have been thoughtfully maintained by surrounding communities or governments who recognize their significance and possess the will (and funding) to restore them. In an attempt to preserve their legacy, Lautman has gathered a visual tour of 75 of the more unique and interesting wells in a new book titled The Vanishing Stepwells of India. The book includes not only her original photography, but also her impressions about each well and the precise GPS coordinates of their locations.

It remains to be seen if the renewed interest in stepwells, as well as the accompanying tourist dollars, will drive the change to save them. “In the long-run,” Lautman tells Colossal, “I think the most helpful thing for stepwells is simply acknowledging their existence in history and guidebooks, through classes and specialized tours, and finally just seeing them up close, embedded in the landscape.” Another way to explore the wells is through the Atlas of Stepwells, a website where enthusiasts can share their own discoveries.

The Vanishing Stepwells of India with a foreword by Divay Gupta, is published by Merrell and is available now.

Ramkund. Bhuj, Gujarat. Mid-18th Century (c. 700 CE).

Mukundpura Baoli. Mukundpura, Haryana c. 1650.

Ujala Baoli Mandu. Madhya Pradesh. Late 15th/early 16th century.

Chand Baori. Abhaneri, Rajasthan. c. 800 ce/18th Century.

Batris Kotha Vav. Kaoadvanj, Gujarat c. 1120.

Dada Harir Vav. Asarwa. c. 1499

Navghan Kuvo. Junagadh, Gujarat. 4th/6th/Mid-11th Century.


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Found Photographs Embroidered With Colorful Thread by Julie Cockburn 

“The Conundrum” (2016), hand embroidery on found photograph, all images courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York

London-based artist Julie Cockburn transforms vintage photographs by embroidering across their surfaces, adding bright pops of thread to portraits that are either black and white or have faded over time. Using found images from eBay and flea markets, Cockburn obscures the faces of strangers, layering the portraits with multi-colored dots, geometric patterns, or ovals in varying gradients.

Cockburn will exhibit work with The Photographers’ Gallery at The Photography Show presented by AIPAD March 30 through April 2, 2017 on New York City’s Pier 94. You can see more of Cockburn’s embroidered images on her Instagram and Facebook. (via Hyperallergic)

“Quizitive” (2016)

“Honeydew” (2013)

“The Secret” (2012)

“Point of View” (2014)

“The Orthodontist” (2014)

“Viewpoint” (2012)

“Morphine” (2014)

“Troublemaker” (2015)

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The Rise of the Image: Every NY Times Front Page Since 1852 in Under a Minute 

The New York Times published its first issue on September 18, 1851, but the first photos wouldn’t appear on the cover until the early 1900s over 60 years later. This visual timeline by self-described data artist Josh Begley captures the storied newspaper’s approach to layout and photography by incorporating every NY Times front page ever published into a single one-minute video. The timelapse captures decades text-only front pages before the newspaper began to incorporate illustrated maps and wood engravings. The liberal usage of black and white photography begins a century later and finally the first color photo appears in 1997. What a fascinating way to view history through image, over 60,000 front pages in all. If you liked this, don’t miss Farewell — ETAOIN SHRDLU. (via Kottke)

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Delicate Sketches of the Original Peace Symbol to be Exhibited in London 

Sketch of nuclear disarmament symbol, by Gerald Holtom. © Commonweal Collection.

Stretching back over a half century, one of the most iconic symbols adopted by the international community has been the peace symbol. Utilized by millions of activists, organizations, and artists across the globe, most people are probably unfamiliar with the design’s unique origins and the meaning behind the multi-pronged symbol.

Artist Gerald Holtom created the symbol for the first Aldermaston March in 1958, part of a series of anti-nuclear weapon demonstrations in the 1950s and 1960s. The symbol was next adopted by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and soon peace groups around the world displayed it in a variety of configurations. But what exactly does it mean?

Holtom designed the peace symbol around the visual language of flag semaphores, a telegraphy method for communicating with flags at a distance, combining the letters “N” and “D” standing for “nuclear” and “disarmament.”

Flag semaphores for the letters “N” and “D” and an overlay. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Holtom’s original 1958 sketches are now in extremely fragile condition and are rarely seen in public. However, a few of them, along with 300 objects from a century of anti-war activist campaigns in the UK, will be on view as part of People Power: Fighting for Peace at the Imperial War Museum in London from March 23 through August 28, 2017. You can read more about the peace symbol’s history over on Hyperallergic.

Hey art and design teachers, here’s a fun project idea: have students create new symbols for ideas important to them using flag semaphores or some other symbolic alphabet as a starting point. Send the results to [email protected] by March 20, 2017 with the subject ‘Peace Project‘ and we’ll share our favorites here on Colossal.

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The Met Places Over 375,000 Artworks into the Public Domain for Unrestricted Use 

Joan of Arc. Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1897. Oil on canvas.

Earlier this week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that more than 375,000 images found in the museum’s online collection are now available for free and unrestricted use. The high-resolution images are licensed under Creative Commons, the non-profit organization that facilities the public use of some 1.1 billion digital works.

The announcement is an update to the Met’s 2014 initiative placing hundreds of thousands of images into the public domain, but the expanded policy, called Open Access, now allows for unrestricted usage including commercial purposes. The vast library of paintings, historical objects, photographs, textiles, and prints can now be utilized anywhere for any purpose. Metropolitan Museum of Art Director and CEO Thomas P. Campbell shares in the announcement:

We have been working toward the goal of sharing our images with the public for a number of years. Our comprehensive and diverse museum collection spans 5,000 years of world culture and our core mission is to be open and accessible for all who wish to study and enjoy the works of art in our care. Increasing access to the Museum’s collection and scholarship serves the interests and needs of our 21st-century audiences by offering new resources for creativity, knowledge, and ideas. We thank Creative Commons, an international leader in open access and copyright, for being a partner in this effort.

All images available through the new Open Access policy are searchable on the Met’s website. Simply check the “Public Domain Artworks” option under “Show only” and start searching. Seen here is a small collection of images available through the new policy. (via My Modern Met)

Victorian Interior I. Horace Pippin, 1945. Oil on canvas.

Openwork furniture plaque with ram-headed sphinx. Neo-Assyrian. ca. 9th–8th century B.C.

Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1868–69. Oil on cavas.

Panel with striding lion. Mesopotamia, Babylon (modern Hillah, Iraq) ca. 604–562 B.C. Ceramic, glaze.

Mäda Primavesi. Gustav Klimt, 1912–13. Oil on canvas.

Frederick Douglass. Portrait by Mathew B. Brady, 1880.

Award to the Hammond Typewriter Company. Jules-Clément Chaplain (French, Mortagne, Orne 1839–1909 Paris). Bronze.

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Kayashima: The Japanese Train Station Built Around a 700-Year-Old Tree 

Photo by Kosaku Mimura/Nikkei

In the Northeast suburbs of central Osaka stands a curious train station unlike any other. Kayashima Station features a rectangular hole cut into the roof of the elevated platform and, from inside, a giant tree pokes its head out like a stalk of broccoli. It’s almost like a railway version of Laputa.

The large camphor tree is older than most records but officials believe it to be around 700 years old. The story of how this tree and station became, quite literally, intertwined, varies depending on who you ask. It certainly has to do with a great reverence for nature, but also a fair amount of superstition.

Kayashima Station first opened in 1910 and, at the time, the camphor tree stood right next to the station. For the next 60 years the station remained largely unchanged. But an increase in population and overcrowding began to put pressure on the station and plans for an expansion where approved in 1972, which called for the tree to be cut down.

But the camphor tree had long been associated with a local shrine and deity. And when locals found out that station officials planned to remove the tree there was a large uproar. Tales began to emerge about the tree being angry, and unfortunate events befalling anyone who attempted to cut it down. Someone who cut a branch off later in the day developed a high fever. A white snake was spotted, wrapped around the tree. Some even saw smoke arise from the tree (it was probably just a swarm of bugs).

And so, the station officials eventually agreed to keep the tree and incorporate it into the new elevated platform’s design. In 1973 construction began and the new station was completed in 1980. The station even surrounded the base of the tree with a small shrine. To this day, the tree still stands thanks to a strong, local community and a little bit of superstition. (syndicated from Spoon & Tamago)

Photo by Studio Ohana.

Photo by Studio Ohana.

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