Social media companies as old storefronts

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Designs by Andrei Lacatusu

If Facebook’s recent newsfeed changes are any sign, social media is in decay. It’s gone from connecting people to Buzzfeed’s linkbait to a nest of echo chambers where the likeminded and bots spread fake news.

The art done here by artist Andrei Lacatusu provides a metaphor for the chaotic and ruinous state of social media, which appears to be failing like today’s brick-and-mortar stores. While we can expect the social networks to stay in business, they need to spend 2018 rebuilding the public’s trust.

 

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Weathered or not in New York

The weathered we address: What kind of weathered is it?

It contains multitudes.

Graffitied

Exhausted

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Chipped

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Bruised

Split

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Weather-ed

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Exposed

Repaved

Rushed

….Retrofitted and restored

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Weathered rock or stone, broken glass, ruptured pavement, blinding headaches, winters wear down New York but its city dwellers weather in, on, and through in flexible shifts.

All photos by Wells Baum

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The London Milkman

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Photographer Fred Morley staged the famous photo of a milkman walking through the destruction of London after the German blitz during the Second World War.

That’s right – this photo was staged. Morley walked around the rubble of London until he found a group of firefighters trying to put out a fire amidst the fallen buildings, as he wanted that specific scene in the background. Here’s where the story has some variations. Apparently, Morley borrowed a milkman’s outfit and crate of bottles. He then either posed as the milkman or had his assistant pose as the milkman.

While the British government censored images of London’s destruction, it promoted this photo to show the world Britain’s resiliency and a sense of calm.


As writer and photographer Teju Cole once penned: “The facticity of a photograph can conceal the craftiness of its content and selection,” or Bertolt Brecht once wrote in his 1955 book War Primer, “The camera is just as capable of lying as the typewriter.”

World War II was a lesson in propaganda, in Morley’s case spreading awareness through the photographic medium to grab attention.

Marketers can be liars, which in this case proved indispensable to boosting morale and saving lives. Morley’s milkman image worked brilliantly.

Processing “reality” through the camera lens 📷

Photo by Wells Baum

We must look at our surroundings with a keen eye otherwise every day just becomes transactional in nature.

Writes Susan Sontag in On Photography: “Ultimately, having an experience becomes identical with taking a photograph of it, and participating in public event comes more and more to be equivalent to looking at it in photographed form.”

At the same time, we must ration our shots. Infinite digital film can turn a photographer into a visual hoarder of half-truths.


Photographs also lie

Images are a kind of confidence trick lacking truth serum. “The camera is just as capable of lying as the typewriter,” wrote Bertolt Brecht in War Primer.

The paradox of photography is that copying reality excuses the inspection of its meaning. All context gets reserved in the process of life, unfrozen from the stillness of the lens.

Decoding reality

Photo by Wells Baum

The severity of an illusion lies within its shadow of a doubt. Objects as artifice are as credible as our eyes make them out to be.

The gut loves to sensationalize fear. The heart hates to cope with boredom. The mind interprets thoughts that drive reality.

What is the external world but just a bunch of code that exists in our heads, sorting out the facticity of objects. Our impulse intends to give experience the benefit of “truth, both in matter and in mode.”

Ascending Museo Soumaya

I spent a few days in Mexico City last week. One of our stops included The Museo Soumaya building in the upscale Miguel Hidalgo district.

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Photos by Wells Baum

Designed by Mexican architect Fernando Romero, the curvy-shaped building contains five floors of European art, including the sculptures of Auguste Rodin.

The above picture shows my older brother ascending the stairs leading into the museum’s main entrance. More images below.

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The cheeky faces of Mexico City

From the masks of Mexico City’s cheeky lucha libra wrestlers to the walls of art in dive bars and parks, to the boyhood fervor of an old man in his special puppet, Mexico City is very much a lived experience. To quote Edward Burnett Tylor:

“Taking it as a whole, Mexico is a grand city, and, as Cortes truly said, its situation is marvellous.”

Hidden by what we see

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Photo by Wells Baum

The combination of perception and imagination can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. But we strive to go deeper into the details, beyond what is manifest. Said René Magritte:

“Everything we see hides another thing; we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.”

The more we look, the more realize what we can’t see. Such ignorance drives our curiosity to identify new blind spots.

What’s unknown remains a haunting beauty.

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Photo by Wells Baum

Making precedes meaning

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gif by Wells Baum

We can only construct with the tools at our disposal. Before cameras, artists painted pictures of the world. However, it wasn’t necessary to paint with exactitude; like writing, images were fabricated in the mind’s eye before putting color to the canvas, ink to the paper.

We never know what we’ll get until we put it down first: making precedes meaning. First, we do something and then we interpret its significance.

Conversely, the digital world is all about identifying objects for us. SnapChat, Google, and Apple use artificial intelligence to tell you what’s in our pictures, providing a shortcut to meaning. They are our third and fourth eye. Vision exceeds a one-way street.

But there are no absolutes. Consciousness manufactures data. It is our responsibility to convert the external world through our various lenses, reality and irreality. We make what you see. To quote Hemingway, “All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.”

First stillness, then catastrophe

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Photo by Wells Baum

Transformation can be exciting, but it can also be retrograde.

Change doesn’t mean better. Boredom with the status quo can sometimes beget darkness.

The function of play, a style of art, a kind of government, are meant to be noisy but unrestricted.

The stimulation of calm and collected still leaves space for the unimaginable and disruptive. However, going back seems to be an evil obsession at the present and the unfortunate direction of the future.

Transformation opposes progress?

 

Borders by VSCO

In its never-ending endeavor to augment mobile photography and enhance digital art, VSCO added Borders to its app today.

The new feature allows VSCO X users to frame their images with 17 different color options. You can see some of my first efforts below.

Filters aren’t dead. Nor are the wall decorations. Kudos to VSCO for giving its users the tools to create and keep experimenting. Never mundane, always interesting.

Experiments in pink + orange

What’s interesting about distortion is that ordinary photos or videos can instantly become more interesting. VSCO has some excellent filters for converting your photos into different looks.

While my favorite is still the Nike Sportswear Mars-like filter, I love the pink, blue, and orange effects as part of the VSCO D-series.

All photography is in the edit

When you experiment with visuals in post-production, you never know what you’re going to get.

Here today, gone tomorrow

All gifs/videos by Wells Baum

Standing in Grand Central Station reminds us of the temporariness of life, that what’s here now can be gone in a flash.

We should be dubious of ephemerality, especially in the internet world where things get consumed and promptly forgotten. Good feelings are equally fleeting; they ascend and descend like a sine wave.

Instead, the overall wager should be on long-term serotonin rather than one-off surges of dopamine.

Here now, gone in an instant

Better to find our feet in the urban wilderness rather than orbit around a flock of sheep. In the hierarchy of happiness, stillness plays the long game by persisting through noisy places.