History

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Art Documentary History Photography

Behind the Scenes of Elgin Park, a Retro City of Optical Illusions Photographed by Michael Paul Smith

February 4, 2015

Christopher Jobson

Here at Colossal we’ve long been fans of photographer Michael Paul Smith whose broad life experiences lead him to the creation of Elgin Park, a fictional 20th century town filled with miniature 1/24th-scale models of cars and buildings. Smith mixes his carefully crafted model sets with die-cut automobiles and real-life backdrops, taking advantage of an optical illusion known as forced perspective. The photos have been a massive hit with the internet, racking up over 70 million views on his Flickr account alone.

Smith recently sat down with documentary director and producer Danny Yourd of Animal to discuss his significant personal challenges and life experiences that are now the driving force behind his photography. This is a must-watch for any creative grappling with aspects of identity or personal history in their artwork. He’s is also on the verge of publishing a new book, Elgin Park, which is available now for preorder. Seen here are some of his most recent photos along with behind-the-scenes views, there’s much more over on Flickr. (via PetaPixel)

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History Photography

The Rescued Film Project Discovers 31 Rolls of Undeveloped Film Shot by an Unknown WW2 Soldier

January 18, 2015

Christopher Jobson

Founded by photographer Levi Bettwieser, the Rescued Film Project obtains unclaimed film rolls from the 1930s to the 1990s and develops them for the first time, salvaging hidden memories than might have otherwise been completely lost to time. In late 2014 at an auction in Ohio, Bettwieser discovered a lot of 31 undeveloped film rolls dating back to WWII with labels including Boston Harbor, La Havre Harbor, and Lucky Strike Camp. After acquiring the rolls of film, he set to work and developed dozens of usable negatives that somehow survived the last 70 years. The process was captured in this 10-minute film by Tucker Debevec.

Bettwieser says that although many of the rolls were too damaged to develop, the majority of them resulted in usable prints, and he still has one larger format roll to develop that requires special supplies. Staring carefully at so many photos may have also resulted in an additional discovery. Bettwieser noticed a single unidentified soldier seems to appear in several different shots, and he suspects this may be the photographer who lent the camera to others in order to get shots of himself. You can scroll through dozens more photos over on the project’s website.

Part of the Rescued Film Project’s mission is to connect photos with relevant places and people, so if you recognize anything, or if you have rolls of old undeveloped film, be sure to get in touch. (via PetaPixel)

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Design History

The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People

January 6, 2015

Christopher Jobson

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The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People cleverly organizes the daily schedules of famous artists, philosophers, writers, and composers as recorded in their own diaries and letters. Not only does it show how they switched gears between creating, sleeping, and leisure time, but the chart is fully interactive including quotes from each individual. I would love to see a version of this with modern creatives (and more women) as well. (via Coudal)

Update: The information used to create the infographic comes from the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey.

 

 



History Music

Bone Music: How Banned Western Music in the Soviet Union Was Printed on Repurposed X-Ray Records

December 30, 2014

Christopher Jobson

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Photos via Jozsef Hajdu and Ksenia Vytuleva

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Photos via Jozsef Hajdu

If you asked me when the history of bootleg music began, I would have assumed it arrived with the invention of the cassette tape, something small, inexpensive and portable that was easily duplicated in any garage from deck A to deck B. In reality, widespread bootlegging dates back even further, to the 1950s in the Soviet Union where music lovers, desperate for banned Western tunes, devised an ingenious way to print their own records. The only problem was the scarcity of vinyl.

Desperate times called for desperate measures. With the aid of a special device, people started pressing banned jazz and rock n’ roll music on thick radiographs scavenged from the dumpsters of hospitals. X-rays were plentiful (not to mention cheap), and while the records could only be pressed on a single side, the music they produced using a standard turntable was passable. The recordings even had a catchy name: bone music. From an interview with author Anya von Bremzen via NPR:

“They would cut the X-ray into a crude circle with manicure scissors and use a cigarette to burn a hole. You’d have Elvis on the lungs, Duke Ellington on Aunt Masha’s brain scan—forbidden Western music captured on the interiors of Soviet citizens.”

By 1958 the authorities caught on and the act of making x-ray records was made illegal. It wasn’t long before the largest distribution networks of illicit bone music were discovered and shut down. You can see more scans of bone music over on this page created by Jozsef Hajdu, and FastCo has a great article about the entire phenomenon. (via Junk Culture, NPR, FastCo)

 

 



Craft History

The Ingenuity and Beauty of Creative Parchment Repair in Medieval Books

November 7, 2014

Christopher Jobson

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Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, Msc.Nat.1 (9th century)

Another day, another collection of fascinating discoveries from medieval book historian Erik Kwakkel who previously introduced the internet to his observations on the history of doodles, color theory, and rare forms of bookbinding. Kwakkel has also been investigating how bookmakers found creative solutions around damaged parchment—thin membranes of cow and sheepskin used for printing books between the fifth and thirteenth centuries before the rise of paper. Parchment was extremely delicate and costly to manufacture well, so imperfections from animal hair follicles to small tears and texture anomalies were left for the poor scribes to contend with.

After witnessing their doodling artistry, it should come as no surprise that medieval scribes had a host of ideas to work around bad parchment, from webs of silk embroidery to cheeky illustrations, the blemishes were incorporated right into the physical texts. Although a different medium, the process is uncannily similar to the ancient Japanese process of repairing broken ceramics, Kintsugi, where fractures in pots or bowls are mended with precious metal, acknowledging the history of the imperfect object instead of discarding it.

You can learn much more about Kwakkel’s parchment discoveries in his article “The Skinny on Bad Parchment,” and in these two posts on Tumblr.

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Books repaired with silk thread. Uppsala, University Library, Shelfmark unknown (14th century)

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Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, Msc.Patr.41, fol. 69r. Detail.

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Engelberg, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 16, 12th century

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Freiburg, Kantons- und Universitätsbibliothek, MS L 34, 14th century

 

 



Design History Illustration

An Illustrated Cross Section of Hong Kong’s Infamous Kowloon Walled City

November 4, 2014

Johnny Waldman

The Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong was built gradually—building on top of building—over time. Without a single architect, the ungoverned and most densely populated district became a haven for drugs, crime and prostitution until it was demolished in 1993. Photo documentation of the site exists but for the most part much of the inner-workings of the city remained a mystery.

Perhaps due to its proximity, Japan, in particular, developed a keen interest towards Kowloon. Its demolition in 1993 was broadcast on national television. But watching the footage, what most spectators didn’t realize was that up until the night before demolition a team of Japanese researchers were taking precise measurements and documenting the vacated city. Their findings were compiled into a book that, among other things, featured this panoramic cross section of the city depicting what life was like inside. You can read more about the book on Spoon & Tamago, and if you look hard enough, a few rare copies of it are available online.

 

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