Teju Cole: ‘Three thousand photographs and three thousand doubts.’

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“Three thousand photographs and three thousand doubts.”

Teju Cole, in his new book Known and Strange Things: Essays

The more photos you take, the more words you write, the most shots you take, the more you have to play with. Quantity translates into quality over time, but it takes a lot of trial and error and a lot of time. Seeking reassurance is mostly time wasted.

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Stuck in a state of perpetual refresh 🔄

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The newest app, the latest iPhone — we make an excuse to spend more time with our smartphones. What can be perceived as self-absorption is also hypnosis, as the phone’s rectangular glow grips us into a ludic loop.

Social networks intend to get us out of a trance and sting us into experiencing the world; at least that’s what Instagram and Pinterest promised to do at their inception. Instead, our phones have our first, second, and third eye, recording memories so we can consume and forget about them again later. We are walking zombies, skilled without an iota of consciousness.


The smartphone is an arsenal of distraction, a computer, tv, stereo, and communications device propping up the thumbs of our hands. But it’s also the most liberating tool we’ve ever had. Used wisely, we can shape it to goad our curiosity, make new friends, and explore our creative instincts.

The Stahl House Movie

The Stahl House by Ryan Baum (see more pictures)

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to see my brother Ryan Baum graduate from SCI-Arc, an architecture school in downtown Los Angeles.

Each student was responsible for presenting their thesis in front of faculty and special guests. For his final project, my brother put some renderings together over the Stahl House to recreate the iconic modernist house built by American architect Pierre Koenig in the hills of Los Angeles in 1969. He also redesigned the interior dining room and living room with sculpture.

You may have seen the Stahl house in fashion ads and movies like the Big Lebowski, or most famously in black and white photographs taken by Julius Shulman who helped spread modernist Southern California architecture with his “one-point perspective.”

Inspired by the technological blurred paintings of Gerhard Richter, Ryan 3D painted the house’s corrugated facade.

As you can see, Ryan’s contemporary redesign purposely blends in his with the house, making it look authentic. But it his short, hilarious Lebowski-esque film that takes the masquerade metaphor once step further, adding to the mystery of why the home could never sell. The Stahl House was finally declared a LA-historic monument in 1999, before becoming listed as National History place in 2013.

I encourage you to watch the ten-minute movie and check out more of Ryan’s work on his site. PS: Billy Idol fans get ready!

The Stahl House Movie: A realtor’s quest to sell the Stahl House takes a hilarious turn in this mockumentary about icons and contemporary Los Angeles.

Welcome to Los Angeles

All photos by Wells Baum

As someone who’s lived and worked in both New York and Los Angeles — this article sounds strangely familiar.

“Once, I walked nine miles through the streets of Los Angeles, tiptoed through the hobo village under a 101 overpass, got briefly trapped on a crosswalk-less median, and then stood on line behind waiting cars to enter the Warner Bros. lot. Because I’m not a Hollywood wuss. I’m from New York. I don’t drive. I don’t know how to drive. I don’t know how to do something that teen-agers can do, and I’m proud of it. That’s how much of a New Yorker I am.”

In LA, we wait to tell each other stories in order to impress while New Yorkers tell you how it is right then and there. There is no real outside in LA; there is only real inside a cold New York. Both cities thrive in their own eclectic touch, ridden with signals, smoke and mirrors.

Read No, I’m from New York

Structures of the biological world 🔬

All photos by Wells Baum

It is a lesson we could certainly learn from the history of science. Whenever we have ventured into new experimental territory, we’ve discovered that our previous “knowledge” was woefully incomplete. With the invention of the telescope, for instance, we found new structures in space; Jupiter’s moons and sunspots were just the beginning. The microscope took us the other way and showed us the fine structure of the biological world – creatures that looked uninteresting to the naked eye turned out to be intricate and delicate, with scales and hooks and other minute features. We also once thought that the atom lacked structure; today’s technology, such as the particle colliders at the Cern research centre in Geneva and Fermilab in the United States, have allowed us to prove just how wrong that idea was. At every technological turn, we have redefined the nature of reality.

Read Has this physicist found the key to reality?

Streams as anti-structure 🏞️

Photo by Wells Baum

The structure of a stream lies within its anti-structure, the unpredictable and chaotic movement of its flow; fresh water slithering over rocks, persisting downward all the way into the mouth of the river.

Streams can only perform their function if nature permits such fluidity, the human renter backs off, and it swims unimpeded; flexing a dynamic energy so essential to the information Earth collects.

Seen and heard 🔉

All photos, gifs & videos by Wells Baum

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Pedestrians at the corner

All photos by Wells Baum

At the corner,
Patiently waiting,
At least trying to,
Fidgeting instead,
Generation thumbs pecking at the phone,
A passing bus emits CO2 into the air,
We breathe in street dust,
Overtaken by wafting the delivery man’s pizza,


Staring at the other side,
Eavesdropping on each other’s chatter,
The newcomers give the placebo button another pinch,
A living signal turns white,
Twenty seconds to cross,
The clock ticks,
We all go together,
Dog trotting to safety,

One minute united at the corners,
Signalling styles,
Anonymous the next,
Walkers dignified as pedestrians,
Jealous of those who stayed behind.

Support my blog

Your support goes a long way: for every contributed dollar, I can keep the blog running and continue to provide you interesting links.

$1.00

Robert Frank, the man who photographed America

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via ICP

“When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.”

One of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, Robert Frank is perhaps most renown for his 1958 book The Americans which featured 83 photos from Frank’s journey across the U.S. documenting race and material consumption in American life.

The quote above appears in Teju Cole’s book Known and Strange Things. There’s also an excellent piece on Frank in The New York Times entitled ‘The Man Who Saw America.’

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Robert Frank, untitled, Pace/MacGill Gallery
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Political Rally, Chicago, 1956, Edwynn Houk Gallery

We’re rhythmic creatures

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gif by Wells Baum

We’re rhythmic creatures. There’s a reason we latch on to each other’s tastes and habits. Emulation begets automation.

But there’s always someone who comes along and challenges our beliefs, unlocking a Pandora’s box of attitudes and topics we never even considered. All of a sudden, everything we deemed to be true goes into question.

The echo chamber calls for cogs of sameness and lookalikes. Once we lose the urge to conform, we are free to rejoice in eccentric delight.

Distracted by organized chaos

Photo by Wells Baum

I’m a sucker for seeing extraordinary in the ordinary. Last Friday on my walk home from work I stumbled upon a set of loose white paper sheets scattered on the sidewalk. Except it didn’t exactly appear haphazard. The paper zigzagged in a pattern.

After taking the photo, I felt compelled to pick it up. It was some type of packing material or art supplies. About twenty steps away was a shiny shopping bag, which was perfect for storing all the unfettered scraps. It made cleaning up so much easier, perhaps a reward for taking the initiative to clean up someone else’s trash.

What first appeared to be scrap in disarray was actually organized chaos. The disorder was magnetic, beautiful in its ugliness. Most importantly, it felt damn good to get it off the green patches of planet Earth.