May the Great Bird of the Galaxy Bless Your Planet

From the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, I watched Star Trek about 4 times a week.  I’ve had occasion to watch it since, and it holds up.  It’s a good show, and an interesting specimen of 1960s liberalism.  Of course, when I see it now I also feel strong nostalgia for that period 30 years ago when I watched it regularly.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve spent a good deal of time indulging in that particular nostalgic feeling.  Webzine io9 ran a story about a Flickr photostream called “Bird of the Galaxy“* maintained by a man called Tom Redlaw.  Mr Redlaw has collected a great many photographs taken on the set of Star Trek.  This photostream consists of scans of the photographs that depict moments that did not appear on the show.  So we glimpse alternate takes, deleted scenes, images meant to be combined in double exposures, stagehands at work, structures on the soundstages, miniatures under construction, bloopers, practical jokes, et cetera.  Mr Redlaw discourages embedding of his photos, so I won’t embed them  But I will link to a few:

Here’s another set of behind the scenes Star Trek photos, including some shots very similar to ones Mr Redlaw has posted.  For example, this picture seems to have been taken a couple of  seconds before the one linked first above:

*If the phrase “Bird of the Galaxy” rings a bell, you may be thinking of “The Man Trap,” the first episode ever broadcast, in which Mr Sulu thanks Yeoman Rand for a favor by saying “May the Great Bird of the Galaxy Bless Your Planet.”

Edmund Lowe

I’d never heard of Seattle-based photographer Edmund Lowe until I happened upon this photograph a few minutes ago:

Prints of it are for sale, if I hadn’t already bought Mrs Acilius’ Valentine’s Day present I wouldn’t have been able to resist the temptation.  Since this plant, the Western Skunk Cabbage (alias Yellow Skunk Cabbage, alias Lysichiton Americanus) blooms at the end of winter, it would be an appropriate symbol for a fertility festival held in mid-February.  Since it emits a foul odor (whence the name “Skunk Cabbage,”) a photograph of it would be a better gift than an actual specimen.

We will rigorously observe the laws, but only the ones we make up as we go

This issue of The Nation includes a review of a recent exhibition of photographs by Miroslav Tichý .  Tichý was a reclusive man whose major body of work consists of photographs he took without the consent, or in many cases the knowledge, of the women he was photographing.  This project might have been tolerable if Tichý had confined himself to views available in the public spaces of his hometown, Kyjov in the Czech Republic.  This, however, he did not do.  Tichý’s favorite subject was a woman’s exposed backside.  Since these are rarely seen in public spaces, Tichý seems to have made a habit of trespassing into the homes of the women of Kyjov to catch them as they came and went to the bath, changed clothes, etc.  The Nation‘s reviewer takes stern exception not only to Tichý’s activities, but also to the exhibit, protesting that the museum has presented the photographs without fully explaining how Tichý came to capture those images of those particular women.  The reviewer surmises that this was done in hopes that patrons would not ask that question, that they would behave as though the women of Kyjov were Tichý’s to do with as he liked. 

While Tichý’s treatment of his neighbors showed no regard for the laws of Czechoslovakia or for those of common decency, he did invent certain laws for himself and followed them rigorously in his work.  To quote a few remarks from the review to this effect:

If we disregard the few remarks about his original intentions that Tichy made some forty years after the fact–most of which are self-deprecating and puncture meaningfulness whenever it seems to bubble up–his work routine appears remarkably disciplined, even rigorous, and indifferent to the claims of his subjects…


A few rare shots record glances cast directly at the photographer–the women generally not looking pleased. They seem to have had a hunch about where they stood in this transaction. “To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed,” Susan Sontag wrote. “It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge–and, therefore, like power.” This dynamic may explain why backsides so predominate in Tichy’s oeuvre: besides having a clear preference for the angle, he probably found it easier to photograph women when they weren’t facing him…


In other words, nearly all of Tichy’s photographs bypass what has been, from the medium’s first decades, central to its nature: a moment of recognition. We generally expect photographs of people to record a glance, however fleeting, between the person behind the camera and whoever is in front of it; in a random lineup of major twentieth-century photographs, you could probably identify who took many of them by the expressions on their subjects’ faces… In most of his photographs, it’s the absence of exchange that grants the subjects distinction and dignity–an autonomy that, by the same stroke, Tichy denies by taking their picture without their consent.

Tichý’s habit of following laws he invented for himself and disregarding those that might protect other people from his abuse links this review to a piece on The Nation‘s website about the Obama administration’s recently revealed decision to order the assassination of an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki.  While most prominent members of the Democratic Party have deferred to Mr O’s judgment in this matter, Congressman Dennis Kucinich has spoken out against this order in particular and against the use of assassination as a tactic in the USA’s antiterrorism efforts generally:

“In the real world, things don’t work out quite so neatly as they seem to in the heads of the CIA,” says Kucinich. “There’s always the possibility of blowback, which could endanger high-ranking US officials. There’s the inevitable licensing of rogue groups that comes about from policies that are not strictly controlled and that get sloppy–so you have zero accountability. And that’s not even to get into an over-arching issue of the morality of assassination policies, which are extra-constitutional, extra-judicial. It’s very dangerous from every possible perspective.”

He added: “The assassination policies vitiate the presumption of innocence and the government then becomes the investigator, policeman, prosecutor, judge, jury, executioner all in one. That raises the greatest questions with respect to our constitution and our democratic way of life.”

Kucinich says the case of al-Awlaki is an attempt to make “a short-cut around the Constitution,” saying, “Short-cuts often belie the deep and underlying questions around which nations rise and fall. We are really putting our nation in jeopardy by pursuing this kind of policy.”

Mr O doesn’t really seem all that different from Miroslav Tichý, nor does the Democratic Party’s acquiescence in its titular leader’s practice of “targeted killings” seem all that different from the museum’s attempt to gloss over the more troubling aspects of Tichý’s method.  In each case, a man marketed as new and fresh, an outsider who challenges a repressive status quo, imitates some of the most repressive practices of that status quo.  As the outsider artist Tichy emulates the Czechoslovakian secret police’s practice of intruding on citizens and photographing them without their consent, perpetuating this practice even after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, so the “outsider candidate” Mr O becomes a president who perpetuates Bush and Cheney’s most bloodthirsty policies.

Less chilling than the lecherous Tichý and of course far less chilling than the homicidal Obama administration was Uruguayan novelist Juan Carlos Onetti (1909-2003.)  Onetti was, technically speaking, a political novelist; his work was sufficiently engagé that Uruguay’s ham-fisted dictator Juan María Bordaberry thought him worth imprisoning in 1974.  If the description of Onetti’s work in this issue’s essay is accurate, however, Onetti can hardly have represented a direct threat to Bordaberry’s regime.   His approach was so esoteric that the thought his novels might be published seemed self-evidently absurd to Onetti’s friends.  The rules Onetti followed as he composed his work were so different from those known elsewhere in literature that readers had to grope through the most disparate extremes of twentieth century prose to find parallels to them.  Eccentric as his methods may have been, Onetti’s influence on Latin American writers of the generation after him has been widespread and intense.

More Veiled Women

Hijabi Barbie

Years ago, LeFalcon posted a few stray remarks here about women’s dress in Islam.  Last year, Cymast posted a news item about Nicolas Sarkozy’s push to ban the burqa in France.  Months ago, I posted some images of veiled Muslim women.  That’s a rather slim selection of material, and yet every day search terms such as “burqa,” “hijab,” “chador,” “abaya,” and “niqab” send people to this blog.  As a service to those readers, here are some links to images of veiled women.   

  1. Indonesian Women Preparing to Pray. A dynamic study in white and red.
  2. Niqabi Riding an Escalator.   An airport scene.    
  3. Two Women With Soft Drinks. One heavily veiled, the other in Western dress.
  4. Two Women Riding the London Tube.  One in a chador, the other in Western dress.
  5. Veiled Catwalk Model.  The veil looks strange to most Westerners; this shot brings out the strangeness of a custom many of those same Westerners take for granted, the model’s catwalk.   
  6. A Partly Veiled Catwalk Model.  Recognizably Middle Eastern dress, though nothing especially “Islamic” about it
  7. The Outfit is Advertised as “Modest”  The model’s attire is quite modest, but her pose suggests a prostitute waiting for customers.  
  8. Warhol-style Hijabi.   I’m sure she’s somebody famous, but I can’t place her.  The picture appeared with this news story about the play The Hijabi Monologues
  9. Simpsons Character in Hijab.  Apparently sometime after I stopped watching The Simpsons, they introduced some Muslim characters.
  10. Punk Hijabi” She’s very clever, I’d recommend taking a moment to study her outfit. 
  11. On the Internet, No One Knows You’re Wearing a Niqab.  In the USA, the two women in this photo would probably be separated by a sheet of bulletproof glass. 
  12. Her face is covered by the colors of the American flag,  the rest of her is covered by a chador
  13. The Iranian women’s volleyball team in action.  Their opponents seem distracted by their outfits. 
  14. Academic Robes and Face Veil.  I rather wish the angle were wider.  The expression on the face of the graduate behind her makes me suspect there was a sort of contest to see who could be the most modest. 
  15. Women Holding a Sign that Reads “Hijab is My Choice, Not Compulsion”

Also worth a look is a site called “The Hijablog,” fashion commentary addressed to the conservative Muslim woman.

Disability Visibility, again

From The New York Times, 30 November 2009:

The fashion world may be the last bastion of prejudice, a field that overtly discriminates against people because of their looks. So there is something both bold and troubling about “Britain’s Missing Top Model,” a reality show that begins on Tuesday on BBC America that pits disabled women against one another to compete for a photo spread in the U.K. edition of Marie Claire magazine.

One thing never changes in the beauty industry, however: an ounce of fat is a greater hurdle than a missing limb. “Rebecca’s disability didn’t cause me any problems,” a photographer says after shooting Rebecca, 27, a stunning brunette who was born with a deformed hip and wears a prosthetic leg. “It was just the fact she’s not really in shape. Most models are pretty toned, slimmer, more agile.”

In other words, this is pretty much like any season of “America’s Next Top Model,” except when it’s not. This series comes with a paradoxical premise: it’s a contest designed to raise the profile and confidence of disabled women but makes a spectacle of their hunger for acceptance. “Missing Top Model” tries to bolster self-esteem yet revels in the piquancy of physically imperfect women competing in a profession that demands physical perfection, which one judge defines this way: “It’s what 99 percent of the population do not have and never will.”

The show wants to enlighten viewers and also keep them amused; it tries to be considerate, yet reality shows are by definition cruel.

These conflicts pop up in almost every scene, and are captured best not by the judges or the aspiring models, but by two passers-by in London who stare through a lingerie store’s window at a disabled model posing in a lacy bra and thong. A young man in a fleece cap says he is impressed that she is not scared to show her stump, “because she’s beautiful at the same time, so she’s got nothing to hide.” A middle-aged woman agrees, but worries about using amputees to appeal to prurient tastes. “Personally I think it should be emphasized,” she says. “But if it’s to sell something like lingerie I think people are going to be troubled.”

The women themselves, though, are delighted by the exposure. “I don’t know if people were really looking only at my arm,” Debbie, a 22-year-old who lost an arm in a bus crash, says, noting jubilantly that everyone was looking at her breasts instead.

I find it creepy when people have a fetish for amputees, and I suspect that many amputees find it creepy as well.  But if the premise of the project is that it’s empowering to be a model and stimulate men’s prurient interests (“everyone was looking at her breasts”,) how can you justify excluding amputees from lingerie ads?

For those times you really, really wanna know what the person who googled right before you googled.

I guess I DIDN'T wanna know.

I guess I DIDN'T wanna know.

A couple times I thought it was talking to me.

News for View Master Fans

3dstereoFrom the latest bulletin Las Vegas-based 3DStereo  sent to its mailing list:

News and More News:
Sources at Fisher-Price have disclosed that View-Master products are listed in the product list of 2010. A discontinued product line would have no such listing. And although it was not clear what new products are in the offing, it is heartening to hear that View-Master is at least listed for next year.

Of much greater significance, is the news that a tentative agreement has been reached between Fisher-Price and a group of private parties to carry on the work of the now disbanded Custom/Scenic Division. With a surviving reel making machine in Seattle, like the Phoenix rising out of the fire, it appears that the future holds in store for the world, new and favorite scenic View-Master reel sets as well as the ability for custom reel production for the commercial sector.

The Seattle based Alpa Cine, which produced the processed film for the F-P factory in Mexico has combined with Debra Borer, former, able steward of the Custom/Scenic Division pre-2006 will once again head up that exciting, new part of Alpa Cine.

But all is not perfect, probably because the absence was too short, once again Finley-Holiday is being considered distributor of the scenic reels even though their inefficient attitude to View-Master in the past and its resultant distribution practices may have been partly the initial reason that Fisher-Price gave up on scenic View-Master. But then, nothing is always perfect.

More news will be forthcoming and 3Dstereo will endeavor to keep all informed.

The Nation, 23 March 2009

Photographer Walker Evans collected picture postcards, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art is exhibiting them.  Here’s one:


Evidently Calvin Trillin reads Los Thunderlads.  Here’s the first half of this week’s doggerel:

Republicans had hoped they might rekindle
Their party’s prospects through one Bobby Jindal.
But Jindal proved an easy man to mock
(He’s like the dorky page on 30 Rock).

Below find an excerpt from an article headlined “America is #… 15?” by Dalton Conley.  23-march-2009-nationThe article is about the Human Development Index, or HDI, a statistic that has since 1990 been used to gauge the relative well-being of people in various countries.  The American HDI was released for the first time last year.  As the article puts it, “The score consists of three dimensions: health, as measured by life expectancy at birth; access to knowledge, captured by educational enrollment and attainment; and income, as reflected by median earnings for the working-age population.”  The HDI was first developed by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq to enable humanitarian aid groups and development economists to gauge the relative well-being of people in poor countries.  “With some slight adjustments, the index was retrofitted to work for rich countries,” and the results for the USA are quite disturbing. 


The Nation, 16 March 2009

nation-16-marchFrances Richard reviews recent books about the nature of photography, citing along the way several not-so-recent but extremely interesting titles.  Among these is Downcast Eyes by Martin Jay, a study of twentieth century French thinkers who have argued that vision is overrated.  Also, Michael Fried’s 1967 essay “Art and Objecthood,” in which he introduced the idea that he’s been working on ever since, that we change people and situations when we make them objects of vision and that it is dishonest of us to pretend that our making images and looking at them is an innocent activity that has no effect on anyone or anything else.   

A review of Steven Shapin’s The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation focuses on the influence of corporate money on scientific research.  The reviewer holds that this is the most important question Shapin ought to have addressed in his history of the last few decades of science, and that it is a question he takes far too lightly. 

Gary Younge argues that only an energized Left can turn the populist impulses that the current global economic crisis has spawned into something constructive.   “The last time things looked this bad globally, we ended up with Nazism, fascism and war,” Younge points out, claiming that today’s right-wing populists are little better than their counterparts of the period after the Great War.  The most memorable part of Younge’s column for me was the story at the beginning:

When I was a student in the Soviet Union, during Gorbachev’s final months, my landlady used to take the dog out for a walk at the same time every night. Since it was winter and I am no dog lover, I decided not to join her. But when the weather cleared up I once accompanied her and found that she met several other local dog owners at exactly the same time. The timing, it turned out, was no coincidence. They called it Dog Hour–the moment when the state-sponsored news program RUSSIA-VOTEVremya came on, and they therefore left the house.



Following the news over the past few months, I have felt like taking a quick walk around the block myself. Watching global capitalism disintegrate in real time is a dizzying experience.

William Eggleston

From "Cadillac"

From "Cadillac"

The only thing I wanted to note about the January 12/19 issue of The Nation was a review of an exhibition of photographs by William Eggleston.  So here are some photos by Eggleston, courtesy of The Eggleston Trust.

From "Southern Suite"

From "Southern Suite"