History

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Documentary History

A Documentary Chronicles the Work of Adolfo Kaminsky, Who Saved Thousands of Lives Forging Documents in the Nazi Resistance

January 10, 2023

Grace Ebert

When Nazi troops invaded France in 1940, the teenage Adolfo Kaminsky became an essential figure of the resistance. His first jobs at a dairy testing lactic acid with blue ink and scrubbing stains at a dry cleaner taught him key skills for altering identification cards, passports, birth certificates, and other papers the Nazis used to arrest Jewish people. He forged countless documents aiding those facing persecution during his lifetime and is thought to have helped save about 10,000 people in World War II alone.

Kaminsky died this week at 97, and a short documentary chronicles his life and critical work. “The Forger” shows him at home in Paris, where he reveals boxes of stamps and documents he created during the war. Black silhouettes by Manual Cinema—read our conversation with the Chicago-based collective for more on the process behind its puppetry—help to share his story, depicting his confrontation with Nazi officers and the time he was tasked with producing 900 birth and baptismal certificates and ration cards in just three days to save 300 Jewish children. “In one hour, I made 30 documents,” he says in the film. “If I slept for one hour, 30 people would die.”

The New York Times released “The Forger” in 2016, and it remains a profound and astounding look at the power of one courageous person. Watch the full documentary above or on YouTube.

 

A still of a silhouette of a boy at a desk

A still of a silhouette of a boy and a building

A still of Adolfo Kaminsky in his home

A still of a silhouette of two people painting

A still of a silhouette of a man standing in archways

 

 

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Design History

The National Library of France Reopens with Renovations That Add 21st Century Details to the Beaux-Arts Gem

January 9, 2023

Grace Ebert

All images © Bruno Gaudin Architects

After more than a decade of renovations by architect Bruno Gaudin, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France reopened last fall with more light and space to view both the massive collections and the original Beaux-Arts features of the space.

Spread across two sites, the Richelieu and François-Mitterrand, the now-updated repository at Richelieu dates back to the 18th century. French architect Henri Labrouste originally designed the main reading room, known as the Salle Ovale, which is largely preserved with a vaulted glass ceiling spanning 60 feet, mosaics cloaking the ceilings, and hundreds of thousands of volumes lining the perimeter and interior shelves. The regal space is now open to the public for the first time.

For the renovation, Gaudin added a large, steel and aluminum staircase that spirals toward the upper floors, which house a museum and the nearly 150-foot-long Mazarin Gallery with its Baroque frescoed ceiling. A glass walkway with an angular, sloping roof connects the east and west sides of the library, and the architect added a new entrance for greater accessibility.

Alongside books, the library also stores a vast array of historical documents and artworks totaling 22 million objects. Inside its halls, you’ll find the second-largest collection of Greek vases in the world, original prints from Rembrandt and Picasso, an engraving by Matisse, a Gutenberg Bible, and Charlemagne’s ivory chess set, to name a few. 

 

 

 



History Photography Science

A Scientific Paint-By-Number Pastel Drawing Was Our First Closeup Image of Mars

January 5, 2023

Kate Mothes

All images © NASA, JPL-Caltech, and Dan Goods

Let’s rewind to 1965. Around ten years before the personal computer was invented and twenty years before the first cell phones were released to the public, this was the year that saw the first color television released to the mass market. Families would gather around the set to catch up on daily news broadcasts on one of three channels. On July 15, when NASA’s Mariner 4 probe flew within 6,118 miles of Mars as it passed the planet, it was big news, but when the image data was transmitted back to Earth, scientists didn’t have the technology to quickly render a photograph that could be televised. Taking a queue from a popular mid-century pastime, the very first representation of another planet viewed from a vantage point in space was a data-driven paint-by-number drawing.

The Mariner 4 probe was NASA’s second attempt to capture an image of the surface of Mars after a camera shroud malfunctioned on Mariner 3. Dan Goods, who presently leads a team called The Studio at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, describes how the scientists troubleshot and devised their next steps when faced with technical anomalies and errors:

After the flyby of the planet, it would take several hours for computers to process a real image. So while they were waiting, the engineers thought of different ways of taking the 1’s and 0’s from the actual data and create an image. After a few variations, it seemed most efficient to print out the digits and color over them based upon how bright each pixel was.

 

Detail of numbers on ticker tape

We now turn our focus to a scientist named Richard Grumm, who chose a more analog means of visualizing data as a failsafe if the intended image failed to transmit. He went to a local art supplies shop and requested gray chalk; the shop sent him with back to the lab with a pack of Rembrandt pastels. He and his team used the crayons to color in the 1’s and 0’s data, printed on 3-inch wide ticker tape, and determined the brightness level of the image using a key in shades of orange, brown, and yellow.

In spite of Mars’ nickname the “Red Planet,” the color scheme was coincidental. Grumm was concerned primarily with gradients and how it would appear in grayscale, since televisions were still in black-and-white. He justified the drawing to the Jet Propulsion Lab’s wary PR department—which thought the pastel drawing would be a distraction and preferred the public saw the real image—as a means to record the data in case Mariner 4’s equipment also failed. Eventually, the media found out anyway, and the pastel drawing was the first image of Mars to be broadcast on television.

In time, Mariner 4’s black-and-white photograph did come through successfully, and in comparison, Grumm’s drawing appears widened due to the width of the ticker tape. You can read more about this historic moment on Dan Goods’ blog and on the NASA website. (via Kottke)

 

Left: Color key. Right: Mariner 4 tape recorder

Richard Grumm’s team creating the drawing

Left: Richard Grumm’s team creating the drawing. Right: The pastels used to create the image

The image compiled from Mariner 4 data

 

 



Art History

Archaeologists Uncover Nearly 170 Nazca Lines Dating Back About 2,000 Years in Peru

December 19, 2022

Grace Ebert

A collage of ancient drawings in Peru

Images courtesy of Yamagata University

Following the discovery of an enormous lounging cat in 2020, archaeologists have uncovered hundreds of additional geoglyphs on the Nazca Lines site in Peru. A team from Yamagata University has spent nearly a decade at the location 250 miles south of Lima, and a field study between June 2019 and February 2020 unveiled 168 previously hidden works. Spotted in aerial photos captured by drones, the drawings feature myriad creatures like birds, snakes, orcas, and people likely created between 100 B.C. and 300 A.D.

Researchers believe there are two types of geoglyphs on the Nazca Pampa, a linear and relief, although only five documented during this mission are linear. Prehistoric populations created the works by removing darker stones from the earth’s surface to reveal the lighter sand below, and the renderings are thought to be part of spiritual, astronomical rituals. Spreading across 170 square miles, the Nazca lines vary in size, although most are smaller than 30 feet in diameter.

Archaeologists have spotted 358 geoglyphs at the UNESCO World Heritage site so far, which is currently being studied to see how the works are distributed across the area. (via ArtNet)

 

An ancient human-like drawing in Peru

An ancient cat-like drawing in Peru

An ancient snake drawing in Peru

 

 



Art History

Urban Landscapes Merge with Intricately Rendered Figures in Ed Fairburn’s Portraits on Vintage Maps

December 7, 2022

Kate Mothes

A cross-hatched portrait drawing on a historical map of Plymouth.

“Plymouth.” All images © Ed Fairburn, shared with permission

Along the contours of roads, property boundaries, and shorelines, English artist Ed Fairburn draws inspiration for his detailed cross-hatched portraits. As an avid map collector, he is fascinated by the urban landscape and cartographic design. “The more maps I collect, the more I want to create,” he tells Colossal, sharing that transportation routes like roads and bridges can be likened to the veins or arteries of the body.

Fairburn’s intricate drawings directly respond to the layout of the original map. “I allow the composition of each map to inform the composition of each portrait,” he explains. An interest in the body as metaphorical landscape and vice versa also informs how he approaches each piece. “In a wider sense, I hope that my work pushes viewers to think about those similarities, and perhaps offers a reminder that we’re shaped by the landscape around us, which we in turn are also shaping.”

You can find more of Fairburn’s work on his website, and follow updates on Instagram, where he often shares videos of his process.

 

A cross-hatched portrait drawing on a historical map of the Thames.

“River Thames; Staines to Richmond”

A cross-hatched portrait drawing on a historical map of Singapore.

“Singapore”

A cross-hatched portrait drawing on a historical map of Aberdeen Harbor.

“Aberdeen Harbour”

A cross-hatched portrait drawing on a historical map of Paris.

“Paris II”

A cross-hatched portrait drawing on a historical map of Paris.

“Paris”

A detail of a cross-hatched portrait drawing on a historical map.

Detail of “Plymouth”

A detail of a cross-hatched portrait drawing on a historical map.

Detail of “River Thames; Staines to Richmond” 

 

 



Animation History

In ‘Home,’ Animator Anita Bruvere Weaves a Poetic Story of Immigration through Stop-Motion Scenes

December 6, 2022

Grace Ebert

19 Princelet Street in London’s East End boasts a richly diverse history that’s emblematic of the neighborhood. The modest brick building once housed Huguenot silk merchants, Irish weavers, and Jewish tailors who fled persecution and struggles within their home countries. Today, the Museum of Immigration and Diversity inhabits the space, securing its legacy as a welcoming, communal environment for people in need.

A profound, meditative short film by Anita Bruvere reflects on this history through intimately crafted stop-motion scenes. Aptly titled “Home,” the animation peers in on the families who occupied the Princelet Street rooms, portraying the two-dimensional figures on acetate. Weaving and sewing practices occupy much of their time and connect each group as the textiles seamlessly flow from one to the next, which Bruvere describes in an interview:

I was interested in how people of different times and generations, coming from different cultures and backgrounds, are connected through the places they occupy and the experiences they share. I wanted the film to be quite poetic, telling the story from the perspective of the house using fabric: the common trade shared by the area’s many immigrant communities.

An immigrant herself, Bruvere conveys a heartbreaking relevancy to such a historic narrative. “It was startling to discover that the public discourse around the issue of immigration hasn’t really changed that much over the last 300 years,” she says.

Watch the film above, and find more of Bruvere’s projects on Vimeo.

 

A still of a building in a suitcase

An animated image of a figure sewing a dress

A still of a figure being measured for tailoring