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On form and beauty

Saturday, November 28th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — capable photographers capture “form” in their viewfinders, not just “content” ]
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A toothy sea
A toothy sea

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I have just been browsing someone’s choice of the “100 best photographs ever taken without photoshop”, and was struck by the ways in which form in general, and contrasts in juxtaposition more specifically — two of my recurring interests, form and the DoubleQuotes respectively — kept cropping up. I’ll get to them, and offer some stepped-down images from the series —

but first, take a look at the whole series as posted at The 100 best photographs ever taken without photoshop. Even the reduction to 60% of published size necessitated by the ZP column width loses much of the beauty — and imagine how they’d be as actual framed prints, in their original full sizes!

Someone’s choices? Yes, and by no means necessarily the best choices — this selection no doubt answers to a selection bias in the individual who put the series together — so the patterns I’m seeing here may belong either to that individual, or to the general human delight in contrasts, parallelisms and oppositions.

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Earth and Sky, Heaven and Earth:

Waterspout on Lake Victoria, Uganda
Waterspout on Lake Victoria, Uganda

Fickle moods
Fickle moods

Volcanic eruption in IcelandVolcanic eruption in Iceland

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The seasons: time as change

An autumn forest. 50 percent Downloaded
An autumn forest. 50 percent Downloaded

Autumn and winter meet in Colorado, USA
Autumn and winter meet in Colorado, USA

Autumn and winter meet in Miklukhin, Rostov region, Russia
Autumn and winter meet in Miklukhin, Rostov region, Russia

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Human impact observed:

Two worlds divided, New York, USA
Two worlds divided, New York, USA

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founder
Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founder

An Italian beach
An Italian beach

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On reflection, sheer, simple symmetries:

The aftermath of a flood in Ljubljana, Slovenia
The aftermath of a flood in Ljubljana, Slovenia

An eagle soaring over a lake in Canada
An eagle soaring over a lake in Canada

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And that’s only a fraction of what the whole series of a hundred photos offers us. Each of these, I’d submit, is what I’d term a DoubleQuote in the Wild.

One final shot, color against grey — perhaps the loveliest of all:

A temple covered in ash from the Ontake volcanic eruption, Japan
A temple covered in ash from the Ontake volcanic eruption, Japan

So much humanity, so much pathos there.

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Brilliant minds in both the arts and sciences focus as much on form as on content — on patterns, repetitions, symmetries for their own sakes, as much as on the particulars of the fields they study and in which they find them. At heart, this is a matter of aesthetic cognition.

We would do well to cultivate this kind of double vision — the awareness of form as well as content — across the board, from education and the arts to the sciences and strategy.

The moment we become polarized, however, in terms of a political or other form of partisanship, content becomes all we see (and agree or disagree with), and form effectively evaporates. In terms of the images above, we see earth or sky, summer or autumn, town or country — left or right — but not — but no longer — the whole.

Which best captures the fleeting present — past or future?

Monday, October 26th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — architectural history as a question in philosophy — Palmyra ]
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Future?

Past?

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I’ll admit my preference for “past” — but is it just “the patina of antiquity”I’m appreciating?

What building from the first decades of this millennium might people think worth preserving — or destroying — a thousand years hence?

And what if the present should arise and fade, unaided?

On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: five

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Hofstadter Langdon Kim — for Gabi Nasemann, & in recognition of Gödel Escher Bach ]
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My friend the photographer Gabi Nasemann recently inquired whether I knew John Langdon‘s book, Wordplay, and I responded, DoubleQuote-style, with Scott Kim‘s Inversions:

SPEC kim langdon

I had the pleasure of meeting Scott Kim lo these many years past at the Computer Game Developers Conference, and he was kind enough to say of my HipBone Games:

Your game does seem to really call to mind the Bead Game. Almost a divination system, much more metaphorical than most games.

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Scott Kim and his friend Doug Hofstadter both have a keen interest in Bach, so I thought it might be neat to see Scott’s treatment of the name — an ambigram, lower panel below — and how John Langdon might treat it — upper panel:

SPEC bach

Langdon’s Bach I assembled from his own typeface, Biform, which apparently seeped from his grasp into the wider world under the entirely irrelevant name Lampoon.

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Of all Langdon’s ambigrams, the one that’s no doubt best known — since Dan Brown used it in one of his execrable books — is his square of the four elements, upper panel, below:

SPEC langdon oronce

It was a nice touch, though, that Brown offered Langdon an hommage by naming his professor of symbiology after him. No doubt the fictional Robert Langdon would be familiar with the glorious diagram of the elements created by Oronce Fine, which he’d have run across in a 1549 Harvard Houghton Library volume, Le Sphere du Monde, and which I have elsewhere compared with Jewish and Christian diagrams:

Sembl and HipBone gameboards are in the same genre.. being games of linkage that you play with your mind:

games you play in your mind

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Sources and further readings:

  • John Langdon, Ambigrams
  • Scott Kim, Ambigrams on Google Search

  • Scientific American, Remembering Martin Gardner, with Douglas Hofstadter
  • Slate, Can You Really Be a Professor of Symbology?
  • The New Yorker, Harvard_ No Symbology Here
  • Wikipedia, Robert Langdon
  • Random House, The Official Website of Harvard Symbologist Robert Langdon

  • John Langdon, Biform
  • John Langdon, Lampoon

  • Triple Canopy, This is your brain on paper
  • Sunday surprise: kundalini’s rising and the jukebox blows a fuse

    Sunday, October 18th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — some examples of deep dreams, mechanical and spiritual ]
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    In the upper panel, a claim made for the Deep Dream Generator:

    SPEC kundalini deep dream

    In the lower panel, an image of the chakras or lotuses in the subtle body, through which the kundalini serpent rises from deep sleep to full spiritual awakening.

    The “sixth level” in the chakra system would be the Ajna chakra:

    The Ajna chakra is positioned in the brain, directly behind the eyebrow center. Its activation site is at the eyebrow region, in the position of the ‘third eye.’

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    Deep Dreams:

    Here’s what Google’s Deep Dream Generator comes up with:

    Deep Dream

    Here’s an early statue of Arya Lokeshvara from the Potala Palace, dating to the 7th century and described as the Potala’s most sacred statue:

    Bhairava thangka 600

    This is a detail from Hieronymus Bosch, The Temptation of St Anthony:

    detail, the-temptation-of-st-anthony-1516-1 bosch 600

    From one of the marvellous array of manuscripts of the Beatus commentary on Revelation:

    Beatus 600

    Here’s a deep dream in words, from Hermann Hesse..

    GBG as organ 600

    Another, from Shakespeare:

    shakespeare 600

    A secular deep dream..

    Alice red queen 600

    and a deep dream — as surreal as all the rest, yet capturing “no more than” simple reality — in a photo posted today by Bill Benzon:

    Benzon coke 600

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    Roll over, Beethoven:

    EXTRA, EXTRA! See all about it!

    Sunday, October 11th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — a second, off-the-cuff Sunday Surprise this week ]
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    Here’s your basic DoubleQuotes-formatted pair of images — Rembrandt‘s Nightwatch which you’re probably familiar with in the top panel, and Bill Benzon‘s Night Light Standing Guard which I believe he only posted today:

    SPEC then and now

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    Consider the differences.. then, and now.

    I wanted them in DoubleQuotes format to make the comparison clear — but here are larger versions of the two images, still in sizes this blog column can handle:

    Rembrandt Nightwatch 602

    and:

    Benzon Night Light Standing Guard

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    But for a really detailed digital looksee, click on these two links, and then if you’d like, click again for maximum magnification, very possibly too large to fit a computer screen & requiring some scrolling to catch significant detail:

  • Rembrandt, The Night Watch
  • Benzon, Night Light Standing Guard
  • Even better, you could befriend and visit Benzon, and view the Rembrandt in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Either there, or by some other means, you and I and Benzon and Rembrandt should commune. As Emerson wrote:

    The world is young: the former great men call to us affectionately.


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