It Ain’t Hard To Tell – Illmatic at 20

The album’s cover has a seven-year-old Nasir Jones, a preternaturally adult glare on his face, transposed over the Queensbridge projects. In the music, Nas darts around in memory. He might be dwelling on the mayhem of crack (“I lay puzzled as I backtrack to earlier times”), flexing gangster bona fides (“I used to watch ‘Chips,’ / now I load Glock clips”), or just touching on childhood days in freestyle. The reflection rounds out an otherwise elusive persona, one that sounds young and old, and so equally involved and detached that it can be confusing. The voice of “Illmatic” boasts a crew yet seems solitary, celebrates the projects and draws them as a prison, talks hard while lamenting crime’s havoc and saying that the streets have him “stressed something terrible.” Improbably, this voice feels like a flood of real life.

Read the rest at The New Yorker. Or listen to Life’s A Bitch below again, with visuals from La Haine. Or listen to It Ain’t Hard To Tell.

Beneath the waves: the ancient sunken city of Herakleion

It is a city shrouded in myth, swallowed by the Mediterranean Sea and buried in sand and mud for more than 1,200 years. But now archeologists are unearthing the mysteries of Heracleion, uncovering amazingly well-preserved artifacts that tell the story of a vibrant classical-era port.

Known as Heracleion to the ancient Greeks and Thonis to the ancient Eygptians, the city was rediscovered in 2000 by French underwater archaeologist Dr. Franck Goddioand a team from the European Institute for Underwater Acheology (IEASM) after a four-year geophysical survey. The ruins of the lost city were found 30 feet under the surface of the Mediterranean Sea in Aboukir Bay, near Alexandria.

Read more here. (found via Reddit)

Ellis Island 100 years ago

From the time Ellis Island opened in 1892, to 1954 when it closed, more than 12 million immigrants from all over the globemany of them childrenpassed through its doors. Almost 40 percent of Americans can trace at least one of their ancestors to Ellis Island. As child migration surges along the southwest border, a look back at some of the children that embarked on a long voyage across the ocean in the hope of becoming Americans.

See more at New Republic.

The lights of Los Angeles: Angel City by Gavin Heffernan

Watch this in full screen!

Shot by Gavin Heffernan / Music: HEAT by Elliot Goldenthal.

Looking to beef up my Los Angeles timelapses, I rented a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II Lens from and spent September 4th-11th shooting in a series of epic vantage points with two Canon 6Ds. The light of the latest “Supermoon” provided incredible extra definition in the darks of the city panoramas, while also giving some great separation to the skyscrapers.

Since we’re only 452 days away from the 20th anniversary of one my favorite movies HEAT, I set it to one of the soundtrack songs, an incredible piece of music by Elliot Goldenthal. The cityscapes of HEAT inspired me to make movies long ago, so it was a special treat looking down on LA from some similar angles to the classic Michael Mann film. I finished the edit with a few city captures from previous shoots and here’s the result! Motion control shots Stage Zero and others using 5K QT Panning.

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Or check out the album of the best Sunchaser Timelapses right here:

The great lightbulb conspiracy

On 23 December 1924, a group of leading international businessmen gathered in Geneva for a meeting that would alter the world for decades to come. Present were top representatives from all the major lightbulb manufacturers, including Germany’s Osram, the Netherlands’ Philips, France’s Compagnie des Lampes, and the United States’ General Electric. As revelers hung Christmas lights elsewhere in the city, the group founded the Phoebus cartel, a supervisory body that would carve up the worldwide incandescent lightbulb market, with each national and regional zone assigned its own manufacturers and production quotas. It was the first cartel in history to enjoy a truly global reach.

Once Everything Was Much Better Even the Future

The globe is large—more than seventy-eight inches; the photo above doesn’t do justice to its scale—and it’s filled not with “snow” nor even “sno,” but with flakes of twenty-four-karat gold. Its vivid, lustrous amber color comes from mineral oil, and at its center is an ominous, gently swaying pumpjack. As the gallery notes, Hod’s work contains a “dark glamour that is both alluring and menacing”—this piece in particular brought to mind the iconic poster for Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood.

As Hod, who was born in Tel Aviv and lives in New York, told the Creators Project last month, “A generation ago, there seemed to be more collective romanticism, and I’m nostalgic for that.” That romanticism isn’t immediately in evidence here, but if you peer into the amber for long enough, you start to get a sense of it: the pumpjack, which begins as an emblem of rapacity, takes on a sentimental sheen without your even noticing.

“I’ve been told a number of times that people innately feel bad for the pumpjack because of the feeling of loneliness and despair imbued in it,” Hod said. I came away feeling faintly starry-eyed: how could such a beautiful machine do such violence to the landscape, et cetera, et cetera, the beauty of polluted sunsets, et cetera, are we all doomed, and so on. Then I stepped onto Twenty-seventh Street and was nearly hit by a cab, and the spell was broken.

Sole Searching – Store found in Buenos Aires packed with blue box vintage adidas

After a tip off about a store stacked high with vintage adidas products Aspden put together a team of fellow adidas fanatics to travel to Buenos Aires. Invitees were musician Ian Brown, notorious adidas collector Robert Brooks and adidas enthusiast Mike Chetcuti – whilst photographer Neil Bedford and film maker Greg Bond documented the trip.

See more here. Hat tip to Johnny Allbones.

Back to the future on Mexico’s abandoned rail tracks

This is such an awesome concept. As explained by Allison Meier in Hyperallergic:

When much of a railway intended to connect Mexico City to the Atlantic Ocean was abandoned in 1995, communities were stranded and tracks were left to decay. From 2010 to 2012, Mexican artists and brothers Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene set out to ride those nearly 9,000 kilometers of rails in a retro-future exploratory vehicle called the SEFT-1.

SEFT-1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe – Modern Ruins 1:220, presented by the Arts Catalyst at Furtherfield Gallery, opens in London this Friday, with artifacts from the project along with the SEFT-1 itself. The silver vehicle looks not unlike a rail-ready version of Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Car, a small invader on the long-empty tracks in which Puig and Domene lived and slept while venturing into the unknown.

Their journey also took them to abandoned passenger railways in Ecuador, collecting interviews with locals along the way (the whole trek is documented online). Christening themselves “Los Ferronautas,” they modeled the SEFT-1 after a mid-20th-century vision of a spaceship and positioned themselves as explorers of this isolated world.

You can never have too many fireworks in Manhattan

From New York Times:

It was a few days before the Fourth of July, and the man known to his friends as Scruff was ticking off his final to-do list. A grocery run for steak and shrimp. A haircut. And more fireworks.

History has shown, Scruff observed, that you can never have too many fireworks.

All over the country, people will gather for pyrotechnic displays this weekend, none larger than the Macy’s Fourth of July show taking place this year over the East River, by the Brooklyn Bridge. But even as millions of people watch that show on television, another Independence Day tradition will be honored on the other tip of Manhattan.

For at least a quarter-century, residents of Inwood, in northern Manhattan, have gathered around Dyckman Street for an unsanctioned fireworks competition, pitting various neighborhood blocks against one another, and all of them against the police.

“The lunatics run things now—they write the first headlines”

I really enjoyed this brief article by John Herrman on why comments are a lost cause for publishers:

The online publishing narrative of the last few years, crudely, is this: Social networks are increasingly where people find things to read; people use social networks most often on their phones. It follows, then, that an increasing number—on some sites, a majority—of readers are coming to articlesthrough comments, which command them to click on or tap all manner of internet objects, including but not limited to acts of journalism. Reading news on Facebook is like reading the old internet upside down and inside out; it’s sort of like an infinite scrolling front page composed exclusively of reader comments, which are responsible for leading you, backwards, to the articles they reference. The lunatics run things now—they write the first headlines. They also happen to be your friends.

This means that publishers are not really in a position to solve the problem of comments—it’s the commenters deciding, day in and day out and with no sense of duty or preciousness, what is to be done with news. (It is to be ignored, mostly.) The comments this project refers to, the ones it’s trying to save, are comments in an older sense; words tacked onto the side or bottom of stories written by professionals for very popular websites, written for everybody and nobody at once.

The goal posts of Brazil

A goal post is seen in Tavares Bastos slum in Rio de Janeiro May 18, 2014. (REUTERS/Pilar Olivares)

From CityLab:

With the sport so deeply engrained into its culture, goal posts of all shapes, materials, and sizes can be found from its beaches to its favelas. Recently, Reuters photographers captured the many kinds of official and unofficial goal posts to be found around the country.

A goal post is seen in Rio de Janeiro May 23, 2014. (REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes)

A series of goal posts are seen in Brasilia April 29, 2014. (REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)

A goal post is seen in Rio de Janeiro May 23, 2014. (REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes)

Vultures perch on a goal post in the Mare slum complex of Rio de Janeiro March 30, 2014. (REUTERS/Sergio Moraes)

Broken English: A Type House Divided

You must read this brilliant piece by Jason Fagone in New York Magazine on the fallout from the end of Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones’ partnership at the type foundry that brought the world Gotham, Mercury, and Archer:

They had some very good years. The best thing that happened to them was undoubtedly Gotham; most type foundries rely on one or two blockbuster sellers to generate the majority of revenue, and Gotham soon became that for H&FJ. They were making a lot of money. But another way to measure their success was in the rising social status of type designers as a class. More and more, design magazines and websites and even art museums were recognizing digital type as a true and important art form, seeking out its leading practitioners—people like Spiekermann in Germany, Zuzana Licko and Rudy VanderLans in Berkeley, and Neville Brody in London—and exalting them as icons. And Hoefler and Frere-Jones probably enjoyed more of this sort of treatment than most. There was something about the union, the partnership, not just one font master but two, like a pop band (later, during the split, design geeks would say it was like the Beatles breaking up), an irresistible concentration of design wisdom and firepower, the two men regularly giving interviews and talks together, racking up prestigious awards. In 2011, the Museum of Modern Art acquired 23 digital typefaces for its permanent collection, including four of H&FJ’s fonts—Gotham, Retina, Mercury, a serif-text font, and HTF Didot. “Type is a design universe unto itself,” a MoMA curator wrote, “an essential dimension in the history of modern art and design.” Hoefler and Frere-Jones were also interviewed and featured prominently in the 2007 documentary Helvetica, about the ubiquitous Swiss-designed font; a lovely exploration of how type can rewire our collective visual consciousness, Helvetica bubbled up from the type-design world into the wider nerd universe and became a surprise festival hit.

By 2011, though, the distinctive personalities of Hoefler and Frere-Jones were generating a slow friction. Jay Moore, an account manager with software-industry experience who worked at H&FJ between 2011 and 2012, describes Hoefler as “pretty intense” and prone to fits of pique. But as much as Hoefler embraced conflict, Frere-Jones avoided it. Moore adds, “Tobias has the capacity to let things go a bit longer, and I think Jonathan has the capacity to harden like steel.” They didn’t spend as many long nights in the office as they used to, in part because both men now had families; Frere-Jones and his wife, Christine, a lawyer from Australia, were caring for a newborn baby, and Hoefler and Borsella would vacation together in France. Borsella was becoming his confidante, taking on a larger role in the company, planning business strategy with Hoefler.

Read the whole piece here.

The nostalgic pull of TV networks’ forgotten indents

This article by Allan Ripp in the Atlantic struck a chord because I found myself watching the Granada and Thames TV indents on YouTube the other day too. Nostalgia is a funny old thing.

NBC actually launched the bird not to promote its programs but as a marketing gimmick by corporate parent RCA to get consumers to purchase its color TVs. Just as I envied friends whose fathers drove cars with power windows and FM radios, I resented the fact that as late as 1965 I was still sentenced to watchingWalt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in wonderless black-and-white. Back then, you could buy a tinted plastic sheet that affixed to your B&W screen and gave a pretense of color—I remember seeing one at an Italian restaurant our family frequented and couldn’t understand why Ricky and Lucy kept changing complexions. When my parents finally purchased a 24-inch RCA color set with stumpy legs, I barely left their bedroom, often sprawled on the floor much closer to the cathode screen than the recommended six-foot safety zone that reportedly protected your brain from rot.

And not only was there glorious color—there was something called “hue,” which created myriad possibilities for enhanced viewing. I was forever fiddling with the extra dial to get the infield grass the right shade of green during the baseball game, or to capture the deep blue of Mr. Spock’s shirt, though sometimes it was fun just to see what Walter Cronkite looked like with a purple face (does anyone ever touch the hue setting anymore?). Eventually we upgraded to a large Zenith console (with curved, French provincial legs), announcing to all that we’d finally arrived to a wonderful world of our own.

Read the rest of this wonderful piece here. Below is a compilation of UK TV indents from over the years, including Channel 4, Anglia, ATV, Border, Carlton, Central, Grampian, LWT, Thames, Southern, TVS, HTV, Yorkshire, Tyne Tees, HTV West, Granada, Scottish TV, and Ulster.


When the Hollywood sign said Hollywoodland

From Southland:

Looking at photos of the Hollywood Sign in its early years is a little like seeing the Statue of Liberty with a third arm, or the Golden Gate Bridge with a second deck. The sign has become such an effective icon of Los Angeles that we assume its present configuration must conform to its Platonic ideal.

But when those white, sans-serif block letters first rose from the face of Mount Lee in 1923, they were simply a real-estate advertisement, not a cultural symbol, and there were four more of them: L-A-N-D. The thirteen letters—illuminated at night by 4,000 incandescent bulbs—promoted the Hollywoodland subdivision to the rest of the booming city of Los Angeles. And as Leo Braudy writes in his authoritative history of the sign, they were meant to be seen from an automobile; the sign’s principal designers, publicist John D. Roche and Los Angeles Timespublisher Harry Chandler, scaled the letters—50 feet tall by 30 feet wide—to be read from Wilshire Boulevard.

Peter Steinhauer’s photos of Hong Kong high-rises in cocoons of bamboo

Another brilliant photo series featured in Wired:

If you wander through the streets of Hong Kong, you’ll notice something odd about some of the buildings.

It’s hard to miss. These buildings, which soar dozens of stories into the sky, are sheathed in a bright, primary-colored nylon mesh material. It looks like a large-scale art project, but it actually has a purely practical application: Shielding construction sites and their debris from Hong Kong’s densely-packed streets.

American photographer Peter Steinhauer, has worked as an artist in Asia since the early ‘90s (he currently lives in San Francisco). In his Cocoon series, he documents the surprising beauty of Hong Kong’s in-progress construction.

Steinhauer recalls the first time he ever saw a wrapped building back in the ’90s. “I saw a giant, 40-story package in the middle of this dense city,” he says. “It was just oddly beautiful to me; it captured my imagination immediately.”

Samantha VanDeman’s photos of abandoned hotels

From Wired:

Samantha VanDeman‘s No Vacancy series might look like ruin porn, a genre of photography heavily criticized for how it fetishizes destruction and poverty. But instead of making kitschy art from what’s left, she tries to bring life to abandoned spaces.

She has long found her way into abandoned motels to photograph what remains. Her photography concentrates on the objects she finds inside; she hopes seeing them helps viewers understand that real people experiencing real things occupied those long-forgotten rooms.

“I know this sounds silly, but in some ways I feel like I’m rescuing the objects or spaces,” she says.

The project started in 2009 when VanDeman drove by the boarded up Purple Hotel near her home in Chicago and decided on a whim to explore it. The hotel, built in 1960, was Hyatt’s first in the Midwest and its Chicago flagship for many years. It closed in 2007 and was in complete disrepair when VanDeman found her way in.

Afghan Star

Another day, another awesome documentary. This one is from 2009. From the producers:

After 30 years of war and Taliban rule, pop Idol has come to Afghanistan. Millions are watching the TV series ‘Afghan Star’ and voting for their favorite singers by mobile phone. For many this is their first encounter with democracy. This timely film follows the dramatic stories of four contestants as they risk all to become the nation’s favorite singer. But will they attain the freedom they hope for in this vulnerable and traditional nation?

Last Train Home

I watched Last Train Home last night. It’s a beautifully made documentary by Lixin Fan. Here’s the overview from the makers of the film:

Every spring, China’s cities are plunged into chaos, as all at once, a tidal wave of humanity attempts to return home by train. It is the Chinese New Year. The wave is made up of millions of migrant factory workers. The homes they seek are the rural villages and families they left behind to seek work in the booming coastal cities. It is an epic spectacle that tells us much about China, a country discarding traditional ways as it hurtles towards modernity and global economic dominance.

Last Train Home, an emotionally engaging and visually beautiful debut film from Chinese-Canadian director Lixin Fan, draws us into the fractured lives of a single migrant family caught up in this desperate annual migration. Sixteen years ago, the Zhangs abandoned their young children to find work in the city, consoled by the hope that their wages would lift their children into a better life. But in a bitter irony, the Zhangs’ hopes for the future are undone by their very absence. Qin, the child they left behind, has grown into adolescence crippled by a sense of abandonment. In an act of teenage rebellion, she drops out of school. She too will become a migrant worker. The decision is a heartbreaking blow for the parents. In classic cinema verité style, Last Train Home follows the Zhangs’ attempts to change their daughter’s course and repair their ruptured family. Intimate and candid, the film paints a human portrait of the dramatic changes sweeping China. We identify with the Zhangs as they navigate through the stark and difficult choices of a society caught between old ways and new realities. Can they get ahead and still undo some of the damage that has been done to their family?

Everything we’ve been told about food and exercise for the past 30 years is dead wrong

I’m looking forward to watching this:

Everything we’ve been told about food and exercise for the past 30 years is dead wrong. FED UP is the film the food industry doesn’t want you to see. From Katie Couric, Laurie David (Oscar winning producer of AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH) and director Stephanie Soechtig, FED UP will change the way you eat forever. The film opens in theaters across the country on May 9th.

Cookies don’t scale and other startup lessons

I enjoyed this glimpse behind the scenes of running a startup, with all the absurdity that can entail, something I’m all too familiar with:

There was a problem with the cookies.

When Jordan Metzner and Juan Dulanto launched Washio, it had already distinguished itself from other laundry and dry-cleaning services. There was no storefront, no rotating rack, no little pieces of paper to keep track of. Customers ordered their clothing picked up via the website or a mobile app, and it was returned to them not in a tangle of WE ❤ OUR CUSTOMERS hangers but in sleek black bags marked with the Washio logo, an understated silhouette of a shirt collar. The company called the drivers who completed these deliveries, usually in 24 hours’ time, “ninjas.” Still, the founders wanted to make sure their business stood out from the competition—that Washio established itself as the washing and dry-cleaning service by and for the ­convenience-loving, whimsy-embracing millennials of the New Tech Boom. “So we came up with the cookies,” says Metzner.

Inspired by Silicon Valley guru Paul Graham’s seminal essay to “do things that don’t scale,” they sourced cookies from bakeries in their three markets—snickerdoodles in San Francisco, frosted red velvet in L.A., classic chocolate chip in Washington, D.C.—which the ninja delivered, wrapped, along with the freshly laundered clothing. The gesture added another logistical wrinkle to an already complicated business, but it was worth it. “In the beginning, people loved it,” says Metzner. “Our social media went crazy, like, ‘Oh my God, Washio is the best!’ ”

That was in the beginning.

Read the rest here, it’s a great tale.

Saltwater taps and other stories

I’m a huge fan of Jonathan Goldstein’s Wiretap podcast which is… kind of hard to describe. But you should definitely check it out if you like the sound of what the Toronto Star describes it as “[pitting] the absurd against the plausible. The sense is of a world not completely unlike our own that runs parallel… conversation, storytelling and introspection, culled from equal parts real-world experience and the warp of Goldstein’s imagination.”

Here’s an extract of a transcript from a recent episode called Forgotten History. You can listen to that episode (at the time of writing) right here.

During a recent visit to New York City, I did something I’ve always meant to do. I got on the 6 train and, at the last stop, after everyone got off, I stayed on board. As the train re-entered the subway tunnel to restart its route, I saw in the darkness a piece of forgotten history: the now defunct City Hall subway stop.

Built in 1904 to look like a miniature Grand Central, this ghost station was once the most beautiful stop in New York. It had brass fixtures, vaulted arches and skylights. But in 1945, deemed too expensive to renovate for modern trains, those skylights were boarded up.

The City Hall stop got me thinking about how glimpses of the past — signposts marking what once was, tombstones, monuments — are rare. What once was disappears without a trace making it easy to forget that it ever was. And so we forget that we’ve even forgotten.

I asked my father, who grew up in Brooklyn and would have been 11 when the station closed down, if he had any memories of it. He didn’t.

“We hardly left Coney Island,” he said.

My father grew up there in the 1940s. He’s told me stories about premature infant incubators lined up on the boardwalk that people visited for entertainment, and clowns who chased women around with air pumps to blow up their skirts.

But perhaps his most outrageous memory of all that — Google as I might, I’ve never been able to confirm it — is this: In the beachside apartment where his family lived, my father says that beside the bathtub’s hot and cold water taps was a third tap. And from this third tap flowed sea water. Directly from the ocean.

I’ve never seen such a tap represented in books, films or TV shows. It’s as though the culture as a whole has forgotten.

“Maybe you dreamt it,” I say when he brings it up.

“I did not!” he cries.

Although my father has a fine memory, like any son worth his salt, I doubted him. So to get to the bottom of it all, I enlisted the help of my friend Starlee who hosts a radio show where she solves small-scale mysteries. Together, she and I phoned my father.

“If the apartment was across the street from the ocean,” Starlee asked, “why would you need a saltwater tap.”

“What if you’re a shut-in?” my father responded. “This way you’d still have access to the ocean through your tap!”

And so it goes on.

A tribute to Over The Wall

I enjoyed this tribute to the brilliant band Over The Wall by my good friend Nick Lawford, co-founder of Hello Thor Records:

The train journey to Edinburgh is not a bad one.  Actually, it’s a pretty good one – especially Newcastle and upwards.  The rugged Northumberland coastline seems to have the perfect mixture of beauty and bleakness, of peacefulness and severity.  Particularly on a spring morning, with a hangover, soundtracked by the euphoric pop music of Glaswegian duo Over The Wall.  That’s where I found myself a couple of weekends ago – on my way from Nottingham to Edinburgh, on a pilgrimage, of sorts.

A good friend once described the relationship between Hello Thor and Over The Wall as “so intense it’s almost pathological”.  I’m not sure I’d go that far but we do love them, it’s true.  They make music which lifts spirits, pop songs which mean a lot.  And they perform them with heart, with honesty and with humour.  At Over The Wall shows I’m either grinning from ear to ear, dabbing the tears away or punching the air.

The first time we heard them was on Myspace, which is a thing that people did in the past.  Then we went to see them at the Bodega, loved it, and got chatting to them after the show.  We were pleased to find that Gav and Ben are as funny and charming and real in person as they are on stage and record.  We tried to woo them by giving them each Hello Thor badges.  Unfortunately, though, we only had one badge, which is a potentially divisive gesture to make to a two piece band.

Happily we made things better by posting another badge to Glasgow and we went on to put Over The Wall on at Hello Thor gigs on four occasions in Nottingham – each a totally joyous occasion.  Even the one when the venue roof started leaking on Ben’s keyboards and the soundman was worried that someone might die.  They also generously contributed a track to a special compilation that we put together once and along the way we became friends too.

Earlier this year Over The Wall announced that they’d be splitting up, calling it a day with two final shows in May.  There was no way I was ever going to miss this, which is why I was now in Edinburgh, drinking an Irn Bru at the top of Arthur’s Seat.

The show itself – at the brilliant Limbo night at the ridiculously grand Voodoo Rooms – was as thrilling and as emotional as I could have ever hoped.  Over the Wall at the top of their game.  They played songs off each of their singles and EPs and plenty off their album.  The reaction was as it should have been – totally celebratory from beginning to end.  An hour of melancholic, magical, totally mega pop music, topped off – predictably, but comfortingly – with Thurso.  From Gav’s hilarious “Eric Clapton Unplugged”-style intro to the euphoria of Ben’s trumpet solo (and the sound of a room full of people jumping up and down and singing along), this song, as it always does, summed it all up perfectly.  “See how far we came”, indeed.

If you are anywhere near Glasgow this Saturday then I urge you to go along to their final show.  And if you do, punch the air for me.

Thank you, Over The Wall.