Banner – first rough pencil sketch

Never without my small sketchbook I have been sketching letters for days (was most productive while half watching “All the Presidents Men” on 13th STREET channel, a movie that despite its origins in the typerwriter era is still very watchable, except for the somewhat hasty and sloppy wrap-up) and finally ended up scribbling something I can use for my still very much unfinished website. After importing it into Illustrator the typography will be placed on separate layers so that the hidden C and L can be nudged a little to the right. Still have to decide whether to make it grungy in Photoshop & Painter, or clean in Illustrator.

banner for ABCultuur website - pencil sketch
banner for ABCultuur website - pencil sketch

It’s very non-web 2.0.

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Read in a blog by Paul Miller

Paul’s latest blog (I’m sure his stop at the Semtech2009 conference will have given him lots of fresh ammunition) contains some interesting citations that provide ample food for thought. What struck me most is the following passage, Paul is citing Thomson Reuters: “(…) we’re introducing OpenCalais Social Tags. Social Tags is our attempt to emulate how a human might tag the document. Social Tags does some fairly sophisticated analysis of your entire document and maps it to a knowledgebase based on Wikipedia and other assets. From that process we generate Social Tags.“ I hear my own thoughts in my head in the high pitched voice of an amazed Stewie Griffin (Family Guy): hmm well … that’s cute. So we have a system emulating humans emulating a formal system of which they don’t know the rules. Formalised social tagging? Tagging on the basis of a set of rules? Hmm…? a thesaurus perhaps? Or a taxonomy? Or a classification…? And to give it a certain degree of human sloppyness it is mapped against the wikipedia.

There’s a strange elliptic movement here, but very interesting nevertheless. Reuters has been one of the pioneers of social tagging well before it became the megahype it is now, so there is some logic in them pushing the boundaries of a methodology that they know to the bone.

I would like to see their semantic data extraction engine, complete with Social Tags, ploughing through a large field of cultural heritage documents. It might be a great application in conjunction with Europeana.

EDIT: speaking about ‘atomizing’ ‘our once centralized content’, Paul has atomized himself, his Semantic Web blog gives additional aspects of the story.

Citations from memory

A short post.

I just remembered a citation I heard on the BBC World Service while driving to a meeting in The Hague a couple of years ago. It was a member of the House of Lords being interviewed about some minor issue which attracted much public attention, while infinitely more important matters passed unnoticed:

“What’s in the public interest is not always identical with what the public is interested in”.

Waiting in the car some weeks ago – listening to the BBC World Service again – an Indian business man about politics in India:

“The urgent and the tactical take precedence over the important and the strategic”.

Isn’t that true for many other places besides India?

Anyway, I liked the clear minds of these men, and their command of language.

post-Orientalism II

enjoying the nargileh
enjoying the nargileh

After reworking a very old pen & ink sketch in an earlier post, a dash of colour has been added in Painter. The Cintiq by now is a natural extension of the paper sketchbook.

fragment of sketchbook-page
fragment of sketchbook-page

A world in sepia

Old photographs have a strange power. Of all the types of cultural heritage they have the property to evoke genuine emotions, even if they have no relation with us personally at all. That is probably why such interesting books and essays have been written about it by a variety of writers.

One of the most brilliant tv-films I have seen in recent years is Shooting the Past, written by Stephen Poliakoff. This sensitive, very visual and witty narrative benefits from an incomparably well-chosen cast, but it is the subject-matter which is truely mesmerizing.

Poliakoff revealed the power of old photographic images, the power for example to reconstruct a life long gone – given sufficient patience and imagination. Reading old photographs is an art that we have to learn, or re-learn. All rhetoric about our ‘visual culture’ that is used to attract people to art education veils the fact that most people are virtually blind with respect to deciphering complex imagery. Pavlovian reactions to fast-cut commercials, and pre-conditioned responses to the obvious images and icons which are the product of branding campaigns are not necessarily identical with visual sophistication.

Historic images add another level of complexity. It is fun, and, in an eery way, moving to peel away layer after layer when looking at such material.

Pavers at work, Loppersum (NL), 1901
Pavers at work, Loppersum, Groningen (NL), 1901

An example, dated 1901. The uncertainty principle of Werner Heisenberg applies. The presence of the photographer, who, while setting up his kit must have attracted the attention of passers-by, and of people who were alerted of his presence, in the scene blurs the boundary between ‘snapshot’ and ‘posed’. It’s the fluid state between the gaseous state of the objective observation, and the solid state of the staged scene. The boy who is looking over his shoulder, front left, carries a wooden panel, on which is written in chalk “1901”. So the photographer put his timestamp in the picture in stead of on the picture, as a part of the reality he is trying to capture, while at the same time moulding it and influencing it. This picture is probably created to identify place and time, a bit like the ‘clapper’ in the movie rushes, and as such not intended to be used or sold.

But, this also is reality anno 1901. The presence of a photographer always had this effect. People came out of their houses, and took position, posing. It was an event, especially in the village. Social stratification is still very obvious and visible in these old pictures. It would be great if a picture like this existed which allowed us, like in “Shooting the Past”, to tell the life-story of each and every person depicted.

“La Pastorine” – continued

My last blog about “La Pastorine” left me with the dissatisfied feeling that I should give a little more information. Not having the time to hurry to Paris in a quest for “La Pastorine”, I resorted to the ancient technique of a combined keyword search on the web.

There is a lively trade of postcards on the web, and “La Pastorine” frequently appears. Many variants of Art Nouveau publicity postcards are on sale. Letterheads, and invoices also appear on eBay and on sites of private auctioneers. Background information is rare however.

One source of information shows the other side of the artistic and colourful medal. It is a “Pré-Inventaire des sites potentiellement pollués pour le Département de Seine Saint-Denis” (a pre inventory of possible polluted sites in the Seine-Saint-Denis department). “La Pastorine” is among the potential sources of pollution (the colour, and pigment industry of course, has always been one of the heavy polluters). In this inventory we can find a short historical note about the factory:

“1886 – Usine comprenant la fonte des résines par la chaux, la cuisson des huiles, l’application de ces produits à la fabrication d’un caoutchouc artificiel et de vernis. (…) M. Charnelet fonde “La Pastorine” fabricant de couleurs, peintures, vernis, siccatifs et mastics.” p. 58. (Note: Archives Départementales de Bobigny).

Well, there you have it. Founded by Mr. Charnelet in 1886 the factory produced and produces a wide range of paint, and paint related materials, including (in the early days) artificial rubber (perhaps a variant of Bakelite?)

Interesting fact is that at the moment of writing of the pré-inventaire (the eighties of the XXth C.) the factory produces a modern relative of “caoutchouc artificiel”, being “Plastolex” a substance suitable for the protection of precision, or laboratory tools against shock and corrosion.

The longer I look, the more postcards, letters, invoices and checks there seem to appear. This stuff is collectable!

EDIT: a link to the “atlas du patrimoine de la Seine-Saint-Denis”.