By day, Scott Reinhard designs graphics for The New York Times. Recently, he created a United States map detailing where city-dwellers fled during the pandemic and another showing how the Pantanal wetland in Brazil has transformed into a massive inferno. Incorporating an ever-growing swath of data, his daily tasks are connected to the fluctuations of news cycles.
But in his off-hours, the Brooklyn-based designer takes a broader look at the state of the nation. He merges vintage maps and contemporary elevation data, creating stunning digital works that flatten the differences of time and space into hybrid objects. While his graphics for The Times are rooted in the ever-changing present, his personal work is nestled within historical contexts.
Reinhard’s interest in data and map-generation grew while he was pursuing a master’s degree in graphic design at North Carolina State University, particularly during an introductory course centered around geographic information systems. “I basically became aware of all these cartography tools that I had no idea about. Because I wasn’t coming from that background, I was free to play around… and approach visualizing geographic data in new and interesting ways,” he says.
That experimental period spurred Reinhard’s ideas of fusing historical maps and contemporary land elevations, and he began exploring filtering, a cartographic method that calculates a theoretical sun and provides data about corresponding landscapes. “It’s pretty crude, but it really fascinated me that from a flat, black-and-white image, which is basically what elevation data looks like, you could interpolate this scene,” he shares, noting that he began to work with 3-D renderings around the same time. “That data that’s stored in a paper map can still be activated.”
Since 2019, Reinhard has refined his focus and shifted to larger series. “I’m still interested in these USGS (United States Geological Survey) maps as graphic objects and as really beautiful works of graphic design. What I’ve really been enjoying is to build these out,” he says. The more comprehensive collections have included studies of Alaskan maps from the 1950s, one series focused on the Oregon coast, and another considering south-central Indiana where he was raised.
A macro-view captures the intricacies and histories etched into the landscape of a region, showcasing glacial formations, seismic activity, and how a mountain range emerged during a period of years. “I realized once I started visualizing the landscape that, on a day-to-day standpoint when you look around you, you see elevation changes, but you don’t really see patterns. We’re just a little too small,” he says. Because USGS maps utilize coordinates, they also circumvent more political orientations found in documents outlining territories or other cordoned-off areas, offering an opportunity to correct false narratives that have been perpetuated by cartographic objects in the past. The historical maps hold additional information on trends and periods in design, which manifest in aesthetic choices like style and color.
Reinhard currently is working his way through producing a collection of USGS-recommended maps from the 1950s, a novel project that’s rooted in exploration and curiosity. “All maps are exaggerations, to some extent,” he says. “You can push and pull what the map says and what the map tells you.” Explore Reinhard’s extensive collection of digital works on Instagram and his site, where he also sells an array of prints.
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There’s a well-known saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. For Guy Laramée (previously), though, a books’ contents aren’t the only important aspect either. The Montreal-based artist repurposes encyclopedic volumes and series of dictionaries to create topographic carvings that dip into and excavate the pages, framing the physical object as a work of art in itself. Laramée’s latest projects include a piece with minuscule carved steps scaling a mountainside and another with moss-covered ridges jutting up from low valleys. His work titled “Journey to the Center of the” features two side-by-side texts with a cavernous hole bored through them, piercing entirely through to the other side.
In 2018, the artist released a TEDx talk titled “No outside,” in which he considers conceptions of art in an age that fosters a growing addiction to ideas, leaving little room for contemplation. He refers to his text-based projects as being the perfect medium for exploring his “love-hate relationship with intellectual knowledge, (his) critique of the ideologies of progress, and the idea that true knowledge could very well be an erosion,” as he explores questions about the relationship between meaning, emotion, and art, more broadly.
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Cross-Sections of Geological Formations and Views of the Cosmos Bring the World to Life in 19th Century Educational Charts
In 1887 Levi Walter Yaggy published the Geographical Portfolio – Comprising Physical, Political, Geological, and Astronomical Geography with his publishing company, Western Publishing House of Chicago. The popular set of maps and charts (an expanded second edition was released six years later) was intended for teachers to use in classroom settings. The two by three-foot sheets used clever composite images to convey the range of topography and animals around the world, resulting in dense caves and steep mountain peaks that could be straight out of a fantasy novel.
In addition to their imaginative designs and eye-catching color palettes, Yaggy made strides in the teaching aid field by incorporating interactive elements. Each set included a 3-dimensional relief map of the United States and latches revealed hidden diagrams on individual charts. Unfortunately, despite his forward-thinking designs, Yaggy did include the era’s all-too-common racist depictions of non-white populations on some of his cultural maps.
You can explore the full range of Yaggy’s Geographical Portfolio via digital scans on David Rumsey’s map website (where they are available as on-demand prints and as high-resolution downloads), and learn more about the charts on National Geographic. (via this isn’t happiness)
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A Topographic Table Presents a Sculptural Interpretation of Yosemite Valley in Blue, Yellow, and Gray
Colorado-based company Beatnik Prints, owned by Christopher Warren, creates mountainous sculptures from multi-colored laser cut matte board. Segments are stacked and glued into dizzying forms that represent classic areas of the American west such as Devils Tower National Monument, Longs Peak, and Yosemite Valley. The latter is the subject of Warren’s latest work—a 3 x 4 x 2 foot wooden table with a tiny peephole that mimics “Tunnel View,” a popular outlook of the landmark from State Route 41. You can see more of Warren’s topographic designs including clothing, murals, and other two-dimensional works on the Beatnik Prints website and Instagram. (via Colossal Submissions)
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In EPOCH, the new short film by Irish director and animator Kevin McGloughlin, aerial images of the Earth are pieced together to compare the structural similarities of various suburbs, highways, and fields. When flashed one after the next, buildings and roads form circles and squares, while dozens of cul-de-sacs appear to elongate and morph as they flash on screen. The film bears many similarities in form and editing to his twin brother and collaborator Páraic McGloughlin’s short film from last April Arena, which also utilized Google Earth-sourced images to created fast-paced animated sequences. You can view more of Kevin McGloughlin’s shorts on his Instagram and Vimeo. (via Colossal Submissions)
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Scott Reinhard combines contemporary land elevations with historic maps to create three-dimensional environments of a specific region, city, or state. To produce the digital maps, he pulls elevation data from the United States Geological Survey, which he then embeds with location information and merges with the original design of the old maps.
Producing these hybrids allows the Brooklyn-based graphic designer to gain a better sense of the topography found in large areas without aerial photography, while also developing a story from the cartographic information. He often selects locations he has personally visited or is generally curious about for his digitally produced works. “I am from Indiana, which always felt so flat and boring,” he explains to Colossal. “When I began rendering the elevation data for the state, the story of the land emerged. The glaciers that receded across the northern half of the state after the last ice age scraped and gouged and shaped the land in a way that is spectacularly clear.”
By visualizing the history that shaped a location’s composition at a large scale, Reinhard is able to notice trends in the environment in a more localized way. These forces affect how we traverse our daily environments, but are hard to comprehend without taking the time to zoom out, or look at from above. “As a visual person, I was most intrigued by the ability to visually harness data and create images that helped me gain insight into locations,” he continues. “I felt empowered by the ability to collect and process the vast amounts of information freely available, and create beautiful images.”
Reinhard was introduced to the methods he uses in his digital maps through Daniel Huffman’s website Something About Maps. You can see more of Reinhard’s digital works on Instagram and buy select high-quality prints, on his website. (via This Isn’t Happiness)
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Editor's Picks: History
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.