Design History Photography

‘Temples of Books’ Is an Ode to the Grandeur and Democratic Ideals of Public Libraries

May 30, 2023

Grace Ebert

The interior of a library with a spiral staircase

Seinäjoki Library, Seinäjoki, Finland. All images courtesy of Gestalten, shared with permission

In the U.S., libraries have increasingly been attacked by the far right as part of a movement to impose unjust book bans and protest diversity and inclusion efforts. Although the public institutions are sites of contention at the moment, they’ve historically functioned as beacons of knowledge and democracy, spaces that are free and open to all.

A recent book published by Gestalten returns to the fundamental beauty and communal nature of libraries, traveling the globe to visit some of the most alluring places. Written by Marianne Julia Strauss, Temples of Books: Magnificent Libraries Around the World celebrates the stunning architecture and quietude associated with wandering the stacks. From the exuberant Manueline style of Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura in Rio de Janeiro to the modern concrete-and-wood structure of Phillips Exeter Academy Library, the volume encompasses a vast range of aesthetics and eras across more than 40 physical and virtual locations on six continents.

Positioning these spaces as intellectual havens, Temples of Books highlights their wide array of offerings, including botanic gardens, archival repositories, and of course, room to read. “As an institution that can curate knowledge, scrutinize the status quo, and encourage education, the library is more important today than ever,” a statement says. “This responsibility is only growing as the freedom to publish on all manner of channels increases.”

Temples of Books is available now on Bookshop. (via Feature Shoot)


The interior of a four floor library

Cuypersbibliotheek, Amsterdam, Netherlands

The interior of a lavish library reading room

Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Kids lounge and read in a wooden library

Library of Muyinga, Muyinga, Burundi

The interior of a library with a circular concrete structure and wooden floors

Phillips Exeter Academy Library, Exeter

The interior architecture of a library reading room with several floors of stacks

George Peabody Library, Baltimore, Maryland

The interior of a baroque library with pink carpeting

Bibliothèque du Sénat, Paris, France

The cover of a Temples of Books




History Illustration Science

Jean Baptiste Vérany’s Wildly Influential Cephalopod Chromolithographs Depict Sea Creatures in Stunning Opalescent Color

May 26, 2023

Grace Ebert

All images via The Biodiversity Heritage Library

In 1851, French pharmacist-turned-naturalist Jean Baptiste Vérany (1800–1865) published a collection of illustrations that captured the subtle colors and tonal variances of cephalopods. A class of mollusks that includes squid, octopus, cuttlefish, and nautilus, cephalopods have pronounced, often bulbous heads, symmetric bodies, and arms and tentacles known to produce ink. The marine creatures became a source of fascination for Vérany after a research expedition with Franco Andrea Bonelli, a preeminent ornithologist and entomologist, who helped usher in the young naturalist’s interest in zoology.

Some of Vérany’s most-recognized contributions to natural history include the chromolithographs—lithographs with several layers of color—released in his book Mollusques Méditeranéens: observès, decrits, figurès et chromolithographies d’après le vivant, or Mediterranean molluscs: observed, described, figured and chromolithographs from life. The volume includes 41 illustrations that are rendered in exacting detail and exemplify Vérany’s unparalleled understanding of color. Subtle shifts from pink to aqua, vivid reds, and vast explorations of opalescence characterize his works, which sought to capture “the suppleness of the flesh, the grace of the contours, the flexibility of the membranes, the transparency, and the coloring,” according to Public Domain Review.

In addition to depicting the lively sea creatures with unprecedented accuracy for the time, Vérany also affected the work of several influential figures, including novelist Victor Hugo, glass artists Léopold and Rudolf Blaschka, and even the lauded biologist Ernst Haeckel, who Vérany first introduced to cephalopods in 1856. Haeckel even copied some of his mentor’s plates for Kunstformen der Natur, a volume of 100 prints recognized as one of the first books to close the divide between art and science.

Explore more of Vérany’s pivotal works in the always free and accessible Biodiversity Heritage Library (previously).




Documentary History Science

A Humbling Short Film Visualizes the Breathtaking Magnitude of 13.8 Billion Years of Cosmic Existence

May 24, 2023

Grace Ebert

The human conception of time is limited. We often think in hours, days, and years, units of measurement that are comprehensible when considering our lifetimes or those of generations past. Even decades and centuries, though, are only a minuscule fraction in the timeline of the universe and are wholly inadequate when assessing a nearly 14-billion-year history.

A new short by Alex Gorosh (previously) and Wylie Overstreet (previously) helps to visualize the immensity of cosmic creation beyond the clock and calendar. Four years in the making, “To Scale: TIME” takes the filmmakers to a 4.3-mile stretch across the arid Mojave Desert, where they install small lights to create a timeline of human civilization and the broader universe. Augmented with visuals of galaxies and historical events, the resulting work captures the magnitude of 13.8 billion years and is an awe-inspiring reminder of how small humans are in both time and space.

Watch the humbling film on YouTube, where Gorosh and Overstreet also share a making-of video that documents their process. “To Scale: TIME” is the second project in the duo’s series of model-based works and follows their striking visualization of the solar system.


A gif showing a timeline

a gif showing a timeline

a still of the Mojave desert with text saying "universe timeline 13,800,000,000 years 6.9 km (4.3 mi)"



Art Design History

Steve Messam’s Inflatable Installations Highlight How Landscapes and Architecture Shape Communities and Culture

May 15, 2023

Kate Mothes

An inflatable sculpture on a parking garage entrance in The Hague.

“Crested” (2023), The Hague, The Netherlands. All images © Steve Messam, shared with permission

Whether coaxing new life from abandoned structures in expansive landscapes or drawing attention to modest urban elements, Steve Messam provokes shifts in perspective and new ways of seeing our surroundings. The County Durham-based artist creates site-specific, inflatable installations that recontextualize ruins, statues, or stately architecture into temporary public sculptures. Working internationally, many of his projects also focus on locations around his home in the North of England, drawing attention to landscapes rich with history, relics of which are easy to overlook.

Messam plays with concepts of visual landmarks and follies in his series Architect of Ruins, spotlighting a handful of dilapidated remnants around Weardale and Teesdale, ranging from World War II pillboxes to disused railway bridges to crumbling industrial remains. “By highlighting these often overlooked structures, the project aims to reveal the layers of narrative that make up the story of the landscape, from mining and agriculture to the transformative effect of the railways and the role of landowners,” he says.

In another recent work, “Belltower,” the artist draws attention to the recognizable House Bell Turret of Ushaw in Durham, which has “more Pugin architecture than you can shake a gothic stick at,” Messam says. “I wanted to install a piece that would act as a silhouette to what already exists and create an homage to some of the incredible Gothic Revival architecture on the site.”


An inflatable sculpture on a bell tower.

“Belltower” (2020), Ushaw Historic House and Gardens, Durham, U.K.

Opting for a more modern canvas, Messam created “Crested”—part of Blow Up Art Den Haagon top of a contemporary entrance to a subterranean parking garage, toying with language and form to create an abstract, pointed crown. His installations for the program last autumn interpreted historic landmarks, and this year he was keen to reframe something pointedly not historic. “A crest is something you have on a bird—something on top of a head—but it’s also the whiteness on a wave when it breaks,” he says. “It doesn’t get more ‘not of note’ than the entrance to an underground car park.” By installing massive red spikes on top of a functional building designed to blend in, Messam gives it “its moment,” transforming an unassuming structure into a focal point.

Blow Up Art Den Haag continues through May 28, and the series Encounters at Bicester Village remains on view into June. He also has four new pieces at Clerkenwell Design Week later in the month, and the National Railway Museum in York will unveil a new permanent installation in July. See more work on his website, Instagram, and a growing archive of projects on Vimeo.


An inflatable sculpture in an old structure in the woods.

“Cottage” (2022), Killhope Lead Mining Museum, County Durham, U.K.

An inflatable sculpture wedged between two stone structures in the landscape.

Part of ‘Architect of Ruins’ (2020), Weardale and Teesdale, County Durham, U.K.

An inflatable sculpture around a cottage in the woods.

“Cottage” (2022), Killhope Lead Mining Museum, County Durham, U.K.

An inflatable sculpture in the woods.

“Star” (2022), Killhope Lead Mining Museum, County Durham, U.K.

An inflatable sculpture on a road.

Part of ‘Architect of Ruins’ (2020), Weardale and Teesdale, County Durham, U.K.

An inflatable sculpture around a belltower.

“Belltower” (2020), Ushaw Historic House and Gardens, Durham, U.K.

An inflatable sculpture around a cottage.

Part of ‘Architect of Ruins’ (2020), Weardale and Teesdale, County Durham, U.K.

An inflatable sculpture in a pavilion.

“Bungalow” (2023), Sassoon Docks, Mumbai, India

An inflatable sculpture on a balcony.

Part of ‘Encounters’ (2023), Bicester Village, U.K.



History Photography

‘A World History of Women Photographers’ Unearths Hundreds of Images that Enrich the Canon

May 4, 2023

Grace Ebert

A woman wears a headdress of iguanas

Graciela Iturbide, Our Lady of the Iguanas, Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, Mexico, 1979. Image © Graciela Iturbide. All images courtesy of Thames & Hudson, shared with permission

Photography is often touted as one of the most accessible and democratic mediums, making it a prime choice for those with little institutional support or access to funding. A new book edited by Luce Lebart and Marie Robert and published by Thames & Hudson explores the work of more than 300 women, many of whom were underrecognized during their lifetimes, and all of whose practices centered around the camera.

Recently translated from French by Ruth Taylor and Bethany Wright, the hefty A World History of Women Photographers is a corrective encyclopedia highlighting those with outsized impacts on the medium. The 504-page book pairs hundreds of images with text by an international roster of 160 women writers, granting similar space to each photographer and unearthing a chronically undervalued group. “With this collection of artists, it is not so much a matter of producing a counter-narrative or of deconstructing histories that already exist but of completing them. We have no desire to burn idols or topple statues, only to erect new ones, and to create a narrative that is richer and more fair,” the editors write in the introduction. “In other words, there is an urgent need to write another history, and to write it differently.”


A woman and two dogs stand at the top of a pink outdoor staircase

Pamela Singh, Tantric Self-Portrait in Jaipur #18, c. 2000–2001. Image © Pamela Singh, courtesy of the artist and sepiaEYE, New York

Included in the chronologically organized text that spans from 1850 to today are luminaries like Carrie Mae Weems and Zanelle Muholi (previously), in addition to those who have only recently come into public view. The Argentine photographer Josefina Oliver (b. 1875) was largely unknown until her great-niece unearthed her archives in 2006, for example, and that same year, Karimeh Abbud (b. 1863), the first woman to establish a studio in Palestine in the early 20th century, was recognized for her distinct portraiture style in the first major exhibition of her work. “This ‘world tour’ enables us to re-evaluate some women who were celebrated and acknowledged in their own time, to remember others now unjustly forgotten, and to discover others whose work was never exhibited or discussed during their lifetime,” the editors say.

A World History of Women Photographers, created as part of the Rencontres d’Arles and Kering’s Women in Motion project, is currently available on Bookshop. (via Hyperallergic)


A leaf sprouts form a spindly root with several offshoots

Anna Atkins, Alaria esculenta, from Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, 1849–1850. Image © The New York Public Library 

A shirtless man and a woman embrace

Sandra Eleta, Putulungo and Alma, Portobelo couple, 1977. Image © Sandra Eleta. Courtesy Galerie Rouge, Paris

three women on the bank of a body of water, one seated and two standing

Sigriður Zoëga, Women on the Banks of the Lake, 1915. Image © The National Museum of Iceland, Reykjavik

A woman stands in front of the remaining rubble of a building, her dress blowing in the wind

Isabel Muñoz, Untitled, from the series ‘Bam,’ 2005. Image © Isabel Muñoz

A man and son sit at a dining table filled with empty plates and two serving dishes

Rita Ostrovska, My husband Alik with our son Sasha, Bila Tserkva, Ukraine, 1988. Image © Rita Ostrovska

A person glowing with light walks across rubble

Victoria Ivleva, Dosimetrist Yuri Kobsar climbs radioactive debris inside the fourth reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, 1991. Image © Victoria Ivleva



History Science

An Exquisite Enlightenment-Era Book Catalogs 570 Types of Marble in Vivid Color

April 26, 2023

Grace Ebert

A book open to a spread featuring text and marble specimens

All images © Taschen

Six years after the release of a monumental compendium of Dutch birds, the publisher and naturalist Jan Christiaan Sepp (1739-1811) shifted his focus from avians to geology. In 1776, he issued Marmor Soorten, or The Book of Marble, a striking catalog of scientific illustrations and annotations featuring 570 types of the prized stone. This first tome was based on research published by the German engraver Adam Ludwig Wirsing and released in 11 volumes that presented the stunning, crystallized samples in exquisite hues, requiring 100 color plates to print.

A forthcoming release from Taschen reproduces Sepp’s monumental work in its entirety. Based on two first editions of Marmor Soorten held in collections at Dredsen’s State and University Library and the Getty Research Institute, the facsimile offers insight into the vast diversity of the material itself and the Enlightenment-era impulses to share knowledge and information with the public.

The Book of Marble will be available in the U.S. in May, and you can pre-order a copy from Taschen.


A book open to a spread featuring text and marble specimens

A book open to a spread featuring text and marble specimens

A book open to a spread featuring text and marble specimens

A book open to a spread featuring text and marble specimens

A book open to a spread featuring text and marble specimens

A book sliding into a slipcase with marble specimens on the front