Ossian Brown is an English artist and musician whose book “Haunted Air” gives us a rare glimpse at the vintage celebration of Halloween in America, c. 1875-1955. Anonymous photographs collected from family albums depict the traditional macabre costumes from ages past.
“I find their haunting melancholy completely absorbing; all of these photographs <…> now torn out, disembodied and forgotten <…> they’ve now become fully and utterly the masks and phantoms they dragged up as, all those years ago.”
Compared to today’s flashy, pop-culture inspired Halloween costumes, these get ups of are capable of giving viewer the chills. Black and white photographs feature children and adults dressed with strange DIY masks and robes. Popular motifs contain disguising as devils, witches or animals.
According to Brown, he was fascinated by the wild imagination of these people who at the time were living in great poverty but still managed to create “these incredible and phantasmagorical apparitions”. From whatever inanimate objects, they would construct truly haunting costumes and kept with the essence of tradition which is overlooked nowadays.
To give the book even more mystery, the foreword was written by David Lynch. A short excerpt presented here:
“All the clocks had stopped. A void out of time. And here they are – looking out and holding themselves still – holding still at that point where two worlds join – the familiar – ant the other.”
Roland Topor (1938–1997) was a French illustrator, painter, writer, filmmaker, actor and whatnot mostly known for his macabre and surreal cartoons. His illustrated book “Les Masochistes” was first published in 1960 and features a number of absurdly humorous masochistic actions that people perform on themselves.
The grotesque situations depicted in “Les Masochistes” perfectly convey Topor’s artistic style and approach towards the world. He infuses the grim reality of Nazi dictatorship (Topor and his family were Polish refugees of Jewish origin) with humor which was probably the best coping mechanism at that time. As described by Bernard Vehmeyer, a quote from Topor’s novel “The Tenant” perfectly sums up his world view:
He was perfectly conscious of the absurdity of his behavior, but he was incapable of changing it. This absurdity was an essential part of him. It was probably the most basic element of his personality.
Most often, Topor’s illustrations were based on surreal scenarios with deeper allusions to sex, erotica, rotting mankind and such. According to closer friends, artist had repetitive periods of extreme depression where he would balance on the verge of death and it reflects in his work.
The Paris-based sculptor Elisabeth Daynès listens to bones, to the remains of our evolutionary ancestors that have lived up to three million years ago. Throughout her prolific 20 year career, the “paleoartist” has worked from the skulls of wooly mammoths to species of hominid to create vividly detailed figures. Based on 18 data points that mark the bone, she can use a computer to model facial features that she later shapes out of clay. She refers to research and other bone samples to determine the build of her subjects, and ultimately she creates a silicone cast, complete with delicate painted features: veins, goosebumps, blemishes.
In a final step towards humanizing her sculptures, Daynès includes prosthetic eyes, teeth, and hair, each of which is as historically and scientifically accurate as possible. Current research suggests that Neanderthals, for example, had red hair; for her uncanny hominids, that range from Homo sapien to Homo erectus, she uses a blend of human hair. In her mind’s eye, the artist draws an informed portrait of each subject she reanimates; from the bones, she can determine period, sex and age, along with finer details like culture, climate, diet, and health.
For Daynès, this process is as much an art as it is a science. Ultimately, she hopes to reconnect with our past, embarking on a forensic search of what makes us human. Dismayed by the ways in which early human ancestors are reviled as unintelligent brutes, she injects her creations with a powerful dose of humanity; their brows furrow with concentration, and their eyes are painfully gentle. She explains “missing” them when they leave her studio for a permanent home in a museum. Take a look. (via Daily Mail and Lost at E Minor) Read More >
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see people with copious amounts of tattoos on their arms, legs, and head. But, it wasn’t that long ago that these permanent adornments were only found on a very specific group of people – prisoners. Tattoos back then were markedly different than their modern counterparts, and some were preserved for posterity in formaldehyde. The tiny pieces of history are an eerie but a fascinating look at the past.
The designs of early tattooing were much simpler than they are today. Instead of the needles we’re familiar with, prisoners would use crude tools like razor blades, broken glass, paper clips, or wires. Ink was substituted for pencil refills, charcoal, watercolor paints, or crayons and mixed with water, fat, or urine.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a study of the prisoners’ tattoos began in the Department of Forensic Medicine at Jagiellonian University, and researchers wanted a way to document their findings. While photography might have been the simpler (and more obvious) solution, prisoners’ tattooed skin was removed and preserved.
The extractions, encased in glass, are small curiosities that don’t really look like tattoos at all. Removed from the context of the body, they are symbols for crimes like burglary, rape, and prostitution. (Via Scribol)
Wooden framework, first stage for mounting elephant
Assembling bones for Nodosaurus dinosaur skeleton from dinosaur bone collection
Charles Lang and Carl Sorensen working on skull of Palaeoloxodon antiquus italicus
Museum staff with fossil shark jaws under restoration
If you’ve ever been to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, you’ve probably spent some time marveling at the grandiose installations and the larger-than life exhibits of species that are both alive and extinct. The Research Library at the museum kept incredible records of how these things were produced and have the photographs available for view on their website. These behind-the-scenes looks are fascinating, featuring taxidermy, assemblage, and the hoisting up of giant bones.
Employes built a lot of the structures from the ground up, forming armatures for what were birds, elephants, antelopes, and more. There was also fun to be had with large fossils, like a shark’s jaw, where we see one of the employees suspended in air, sitting on it, paying the giant teeth very little mind.
Removed from context, there is a surreal quality to these photographs. They represent a different time, an era when we didn’t have all the technological advances that we do today. Because of this, things in the museum have the tendency to feel dated and look aged, but these records show the amount of knowledge of craft and handiwork that had to go into the giant exhibits that we still visit today. (Via Fish Eyes)
Holiday, Vissarion sect, City of the Sun, Krasnoyarsk Territory, 2006
Koryak foothills, Kamchatka, 2000
Newlyweds, suburbs of Novosibirsk, November 2010
A new photography exhibition at the American University Museum wants to show you that Siberia is more than just a cold, barren place. Titled Siberia in the Eyes of Russian Photographers, it paints the Russian region in a different light. Photographs boast impressive landscapes and even some warm weather; We see children swimming and people wearing short-sleeved shirts. Anton Fedyashin, the executive director of the Initiative for Russian Culture at American University, spoke with Slate about stereotypes of Siberia. “Notions of Siberia in the United States come from Hollywood,” he said. “They come from films that emphasize the morbid exoticism of Siberia, the endless white plains, the sparse villages. Those are the kinds of images that are most widespread in the West. Of course, Siberia during winter does look like that, but there’s another side of the story.”
Siberia makes up about 75 perfect of Russia’s landmass, but only 25 percent of its population. The people who live there are described as having an independent spirit, much like pioneers who settled in the American West during the 19th century. The exhibition draws comparisons between the two places. “It’s an image that overemphasizes the negative aspects of this enormous part of the Eurasian continent and one that completely underrepresents the enormous geographical variety, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The exhibit shows that it’s equally as beautiful and eerily similar to the American West.” Fedyashin explains. While many Western photographers chose to accentuate the emptiness of Siberia, the Russian photographers in this exhibition depict a multifaceted place, spanning from the 1860′s to 2011. (Via Slate)
How would you like to see a photo of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster in color? Rather than experiencing the destruction in black and white, how much more powerful would that image be if we could see the intensity of the flames against the night sky ? Well, thanks to the work of an increasingly popular online trend, now you can. And it’s not limited to the Hindenburg. Photographic colorizing is illuminating portraits of long-past world leaders, scenes from 1930’s US Great Depression, and the ever heart-breaking Thich Quang Duc’s self-immolation.
A number of photographers have taken to this challenge, and one company, Dynamichrome, explains the appeal of this change. They write:
Black and white photography can be an artistic choice, but with images taken before the advent of mainstream colour photography, it was usually the only option. As a result, historical photographs are a far less vivid depiction of the past. Skilfully restored and authentically colourised photos allow the viewer to connect with a past era and see details they never noticed before, bringing history to life and drawing attention to images previously unseen in full colour.
The colorizing of popular historical photographs isn’t something that is just for the professionals. There is a whole subreddit, History in Color, that features this practice. Obviously, some attempts are better than others. Regardless, when done well, it’s a powerful way to revisit history.
Mark Hunter Brown is a truly dynamic individual. I have known Brown for the better part of a decade, and I am relatively positive that I will never meet another person quite like him. With each day functioning more like the next chapter in a bizarre novel, his zest for life is infectious. Luckily, Brown is also an amazing artist, and has managed to document his interests and experiences through countless drawings and paintings. Though he gains inspiration from his travels, the work is not limited to the places and people he has actually interacted with. Brown is also heavily influenced by the written historical accounts of different cultures and people, but the work is not about visually representing his source material. Instead, he chooses to focus on the importance of the moments recorded history has chosen to ignore. There is this dead zone in between the great scenes of history that also warrants consideration, and Brown is keenly aware of this. When asked why he is drawn to this type of situation Brown replied, “because life doesn’t look like a Delacroix painting – it’s just people walking around and eating sandwiches. These moments seem more real to me…they’re equally compelling.”
While these scenes are not infrequent in his work, Brown’s practice is not limited to this type of subject matter. There is far less literal material in Brown’s oeuvre, and his vivid imagination becomes readily apparent when looking at paintings of huge figurative fortresses or anthropomorphized coo-coo clocks snorting bones off of a table. When viewed in context these paintings start to function as some sort of bizarre allegory, but their meaning is never explicitly stated. There is such a rich diversity in the distinctive worlds that Brown creates, and no piece is less detailed than the last. Whether he is teaching at Columbia, backpacking through Morocco, or boar hunting with monks in the Italian countryside – the need to process the world into visually compelling images has remained consistent within Brown’s life. Lucky for us, his mind seems to function like an endless supply of Google image search results that I have no desire to stop looking at any time soon.