Archive for November, 2006

Culture hopper

November 23, 2006

Following on the previous post, I’ve been poking through Olaf Breuning’s videos. There’s a great cowboy song in his video Home with the refrain, “He’s a culture hopper…” and the phrase is stuck in my head now. It reminds me of one of my favorite photography books, Culture is Everywhere. The book is the brainchild of design historian Victor Margolin. In a filing cabinet of his Art History department office, University of Chicago circa 1988, Margolin founded the Museum of Corntemporary Art.

Margolin’s collecting was inspired by the chance discovery of a cheap Greek souvenir bottle in a gutter. He writes of the initial thoughts evoked by this small plastic object: “What was so intriguing was the quality of the aesthetic moves that produced it. The ouzo bottle revealed a sincere desire to embed the majesty of Greek culture in a form that that could circulate widely and reach people from all walks of life.” The Museum’s unique collection is photographed in memorable installations by Patty Carroll.  See below: an international comparison of souvenir hats (top image) and souvenir shoes (bottom image).




The Not-Interactive Homepage

November 20, 2006

olaf bruening’s homepage

Olaf Breuning’s website is an entertaining romp and one of the silliest and most fun artist’s websites I’ve come across. The picture above is his homepage, a straightforward photograph. The site branches out in all sorts of bizarre directions and blind alleys – as long as you’re willing to keep typing in the strange URLs spelled out in his wacky picture/drawings. A generous archive of Breuning’s photographs, drawings, films, books and installations is available here. I’m not sure when his site first went up, but it’s all there and more in the neato photograph-of-sculpture titled Homepage, from way back in 1996.


Bechers, Gursky,

November 17, 2006

I’ve recently come across, and I think it’s a fascinating evolution of typology in images. Riya has developed the site from their existing image search engine. It’s a nice provocation to think a bit about how visual typologies have developed through photography.

Bernd and Hilla Becher have been photographically indexing distinct types of industrial architecture, including watertowers, industrial facades, blast furnaces and so on, for the past forty years. They have a rigorous standard for the type of architecture they photograph, point of view and quality of print. Their groupings, such as the one below, gather variations into a typology and enable an all-over view of an architectural form. The mind can play at abstracting form by way of the grouped individual images.


Andreas Gursky, perhaps the most renowned of the Becher’s students, has moved away from the Becher’s rigorous method of working in series, but I find his photograph Untitled V to be pretty relevant here. Two hundred and four different sneakers face the same direction, lit identically. Gursky condenses the Becher series into a single image.


To my knowledge, this display was fabricated for the photograph – an abstraction of a store. Let’s try a little contrast here: the Bechers travel (Europe, America) to photograph on location, and then arrange their separate prints together in books or on the wall to create a typology. Gursky internalizes the process – here he creates a set in which variations can be displayed together as a typology. Not only that, but Gursky has chosen product as his subject, and brought his variations together in the spectacular moment of commercial display. Still, it’s a photograph. introduces an entirely new dimension to the visual typology. The underlying search technology developed by Riya is actually mathematically analyzing each image. This is a way of quantifying the image and objectively determining relationships between images. The new, beta version of is a commercial website, you can search for and purchase shoes, handbags and jewelry. The screen shot below is an example of my search for red high heels.

red high heels

Cute. What I find so exciting is the power of searching via images. You can start your search from a keyword, or from a photo of a celebrity. Let’s say you start from a picture of Tyra Banks wearing those knee high boots you’re really lusting after. A grid of possible boots will come up, like the screenshot above. Clicking on any image will search for images “like” your choice – say, you want to focus on ones made out of tan pleather with more of a stacked heel. There are scads of designers churning out zillions of different variations of this type of boot, so your search returns hundreds of slightly different results.

This is perfect for shoes: you know there’s a ton of similar-but-different options out there, at all sorts of price ranges, levels of coolness and colors. But usually there’s no way to get a sense of this field of possibilities except by schlepping around to the shops. With you can visually identify the qualities you are after, and by clicking on examples steer the search in different directions. Kind of an uber-Gursky-sneaker-shop, functional too.

Dear Bechers, methinks the web is taking your work a few steps further. What if we could click on one of those cute German houses to search ONLY for houses with chimneys down the center of the façade (bottom right house)??? Let’s not worry about the frivolity or cheese factor of It’s fitting to start with shoes (!) and clear that this technology can be eventually extended to many different types of applications. All sorts of image information can be analyzed and made available in a database. This is the visual typology in an expanded field – it is finally becoming possible to search, process, and think our own typology for our own ends.

Click it

November 17, 2006


“The art of quotation”

November 11, 2006

I’ve been reading an excellent book by Michael Taussig called Mimesis and Alterity. Mimesis = imitation or copy; alterity = difference. Taussig has a background in anthropology, and much of the book is an investigation into the culture of the Cuna Indians. This is a lovely passage that considers mimesis in speech:

“Cuna speakers, he affirms, ‘tend to present facts, opinion, arguments, not as their own but as retellings and reformulations of what others or even they themselves have previously said. Discourse of all kind is heavily embedded with speech that has previously occurred…’ (which is what I myself am doing right now). …Cuna speech is always one or more steps, to quote Sherzer, ‘removed from the actual speaker and that what one is listening to at a given moment is always a retelling, a rehearing, a reviewing, or a reinterpretation of something said before.’ These words deserve retelling themselves. With what nonchalance they estrange, making the new old, the oft-said new, undermining mimesis itself, creating new forms through mimetic doubling such that, as Sherzer points out, ‘retellings blend into interpretations.'”

After this passage I couldn’t help but think of the blogosphere. Blogging is by nature “heavily embedded with speech that has previously occurred.” The basic blog devices of cutting and pasting pictures, text and links, retelling an experience or reproducing information, are all mimetic practices where ‘retellings blend into interpretations’.