History Photography Science
A Scientific Paint-By-Number Pastel Drawing Was Our First Closeup Image of Mars
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.
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)
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Archaeologists Uncover Nearly 170 Nazca Lines Dating Back About 2,000 Years in Peru
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)
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Urban Landscapes Merge with Intricately Rendered Figures in Ed Fairburn’s Portraits on Vintage Maps
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.
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In ‘Home,’ Animator Anita Bruvere Weaves a Poetic Story of Immigration through Stop-Motion Scenes
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.
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Art Design History
Industrial Materials Reconstruct Local History on a Monumental Scale in Public Sculptures by David Mach
Known for sculptures and assemblages that utilize everyday objects like bricks, coat hangers, and matches, Scottish artist David Mach has embarked on numerous large-scale, public projects that draw inspiration from local history. In his monumental “Brick Train” in Darlington, he taps into regional heritage through the use of red brick and the depiction of a life-size steam locomotive. The industrial revolution of the 19th century spurred a need to move materials like coal and steel around the country, and the first railway to use steam engines to transport passengers also originated in the area. In the U.K., red bricks have prevailed as the most popular building material, constructing long rows of terraced homes that characterize the urban landscape.
Further north in Edinburgh, the architectonic “Temple at Tyre” was constructed from dozens of shipping containers and over 8,000 tires (or tyres) in the port of Leith, a critical international shipping hub. It was installed for a month and illuminated at night to rival the city’s major landmarks, like the neoclassical National Monument on Calton Hill. The containers, which are also the focus of a proposed building in an Edinburgh business park, are immense reminders of the trade and commerce that the city is built upon.
Mach currently has additional projects in the works in London, Mauritius, and Syria. Heavy Metal, a solo exhibition opening at Pangolin London in January will highlight ongoing work in a showcase of maquettes and prints. You can find more of the artist’s work on his website.
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Art Without Intent Celebrates the Aesthetics and Mysterious Histories of Found Objects
“The found object is an illegible, unknowable thing, out of reach even when in hand,” reads a statement of Art Without Intent, both a collaborative project and a way of looking at historic material culture. In March 2022, a group of nine antique and art dealers curated the Found Object Show in New York City. Crackled paint, weathered patinas, eccentric shapes, and amusing juxtapositions characterized the pop-up exhibition of 96 eccentric items.
Removed from their original contexts, transformed by time and the elements, and reinterpreted in a salon-style exhibition, the objects transmit an aesthetic experience similar to viewing art, even if the anonymous makers did not intend to create artworks in any formal sense. “Transformed physically and contextually, a found object sometimes packs the same aesthetic and conceptual punch of conventional art. But without artistic motive nor objective meaning, it must lie in wait to ambush an imagination,” the group explains.
Accessibility is a unique facet of the show, which invites dedicated collectors, history buffs, curious passersby, and children into the showcase, in which all objects are available for sale in a unique art-gallery-meets-antique shop atmosphere. “Art without intent ennobles the random, celebrates the anonymous, and embraces the subjective, empowering individuals to see art where they may least expect to find it.”
The next Found Objects Show will feature eighteen exhibitors and is scheduled for March 24 to 26 with an additional focus on stuffed animals. You can find out more about the project, purchase a catalogue on the website, and follow updates Instagram. (via BoingBoing)
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