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Showing posts from May, 2010

Modern Icons Chapter 3: Japanese Magazine Ads

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My wife reads women's magazines published in Japan. These publications are superior in every way to Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Marie Clare. They are generally larger and cover more subjects than their American counterparts. One issue contained articles on hairstyle, vacation destinations, the life of an expatriate Japanese woman in Paris, interior decorating and cooking. I can't compare the quality of writing, but the most important pages for me are the ads, and the ads in the Japanese magazines blow me away.  I can't find out if these Ralph Lauren ads were only published in Japan, or duplicated in other markets. Maybe that's not important. Again I am captivated by these images, because they clearly present an ideal to be reached for, an image of life as it could be and should be.   The little boy's heartbreaking good looks are only the introduction. He's gone GQ to the extent of wearing a wrist watch and a gold safety pin in his collar. He's at an age wh

Max's Camera Work 2

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My son Max is six years old now. He got his own camera for his birthday. You can see his earlier photos here . I looked into her eyes, the most intense eyes I’d ever seen. When she shut them at the end of the day it was like the end of an era. —Scott Spencer, Preservation Hall I couldn’t stop from thinking of the other life I’d once led. Grief is a most peculiar thing; we’re so helpless in the face of it. It’s like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it. —Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha Just as every lover at some level believes that he or she makes love as it’s made nowhere else on the planet, so every artist clings for dear life to the illusion that the art he or she produces is vital, necessary, unique. Aesthetic elitism, sexual snobbery; these are not the reprehensible attitudes that our culture makes them o

Modern Icons Chapter 2: Schwinn Bicycle Catalog, 1972

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People wish for better lives than they have. Our aspirations follow the direction of our culture's ideals. These aspirations and ideals are presented most powerfully and beautifully in advertising. A compelling ad injects feeling into us: I want to be that! Ads triumph through design and execution. No part of an ad photo is an accident, it all has to contribute to the desired effect. Advertising agencies ensure the quality of their work by throwing the best minds at an image, and a unbelievably large amount of money, more than any artist could afford. This beautiful photo of a girl with her bicycle illustrates what I'm talking about. If you just glance at it, it looks like a photo you could take yourself, on an afternoon bike ride. However, this impression is entirely false. This photograph is the result of precise staging. It required big equipment and several technicians working together. A large artificial light was placed to our left, so that the girl and the bicycle woul

Modern Icons Chapter 1: How We Got Here

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I like to look at idealized images of people. Advertising makes the biggest impact on me, for reasons I'll write about later. Before I appreciate recent images, I'll set down some notes about how this part of human culture developed. The sculpture above is known as The Venus of Willendorf. We think it was made between twenty and forty thousand years BCE. This figure may represent an ideal in the mind of its sculptor, but to us in the 21st Century, she looks shockingly familiar. This is woman in a state of nature: female, not feminine. Her body is soft and liquid, an element in the warm, primordial swamp. Femininity comes later. It is a human projection, a rebellion against the female in nature. Professor Camille Paglia details the tensions between humans, nature and culture in her magnum opus,   Sexual Persona e . Some modern people grow weary of modernity, and desire a life closer to that of our distant ancestors. They are greatly deluded. If you have ever worn eyeglasses o