Earthquake mashups

Shawn Clover, 1906 + Today: The Earthquake Blend

This photo mashup series by Shawn Clover that merges images from the 1906 earthquake and San Francisco today is a fantastic concept, with stunning execution.

From the artist:

To put these photos together, I first create a catalog of historical photos that look like they have potential to be blended. Unfortunately most of these photos end up on the digital cutting room floor because there’s simply no way to get the same photo today because either a building or a tree is in the way. Once I get a good location, I get everything lined up just right. My goal is to stand in the exact spot where the original photographer stood. Doing this needs to take into account equivalent focal length, how the lens was shifted, light conditions, etc. I take plenty of shots, each nudged around a bit at each location. Just moving one foot to the left changes everything.

I am in awe.

On the Driver’s Side

Recently I had the pleasure of keeping my brother company as he drove a U-Haul across half of Arizona and California. After the endless desert dotted with horribly designed billboards along I-10 and the vast nothingness along I-5, our very boring trip was brightened by cute ads at a 76 station.

First I noticed the Children’s Guide to Splattered Bugs at the pump. It was so unexpected that it took a minute for me to realize the flip side wasn’t the same, but another fun sign, Loosen up While you Fill Up, offering much-needed stretching tips. The campaign tagline, We’re On the Driver’s Side, is a clever play on the gas tank arrow. (One could debate this on more political level, but superficially it’s great.)

I did some digging, and it appears this campaign is credited to Venables Bell, and they get props for creating something with just the right amount of levity to catch attention without being over the top. It’s cute, clever, and got me to pull out my iPhone and snap photos. Job well done!

Transit Art

I love public art, and this new series of surreal scenes on (and about) BART is charming.

A few weeks ago I snapped this poster of the little girl and the duck at my local BART station, wondering what it was. Other than the station scene, the poster offered no clues to the purpose or message.

Fortuitously, a Facebook friend posted a link to this article about the posters, which are whimsical stories created by Josh Ellingson. In each scene a child’s fantasy crosses over into reality — a boy with the undersea-themed backpack spots a deep sea diver with a squid, a boy with a toy rocket sees rockets zooming past through the window, and a girl with a toy duck passes a duck with a toy girl. While they celebrate the adventure of travel, in keeping with transit poster tradition, they are mostly just plain fun and avoid seeming like ads.

Transit art is my favorite type of public art because it adds much-needed lightness and beauty to what is so often drudgery. Years ago while commuting on a bus in Chicago, I saw an excerpt of a Mark Strand poem about a snowflake that affected me so much I was inspired to jot down the name and buy the book. (And I’m not even a poetry fan!) Recently on the Metro light rail in Phoenix I also spotted mosaic sculptures built into platform shelters.

There is currently a MOMA exhibit of London Underground posters from the 1920s-40s, including pieces by E. McKnight Kauffer (one of my favorites of the era) and László Maholy-Nagy. Unfortunately this kind of poster has largely disappeared, replaced by commercial ads, but sometimes we get lucky and find ones like the new BART series or the iconic national parks posters by the amazing Michael Schwab.

I hope to see more art like this popping up. The Bay Area has a tremendous wealth of artists and stories to tap into, and in these tough times we could all use more beauty and levity around us.

Tasty Salted Pig Parts

I saw this sign at the Ferry Plaza, and burst out laughing. Tasty Salted Pig Parts?!

People think of SF as a vegetarian heaven…and it is. It’s also a city that worships local, artisanal meats, especially pork. In line with the recent restaurant trend of house-made salumi, Boccalone sell cones of salumi to Ferry Plaza passers-by, and there was certainly no shortage of customers. Even better, the folks from Prather Ranch were selling t-shirts that said “Praise the Lard.” I love this town and all its delicious food affectations.

Fun with Visualizations

The image above is a detail from a poster I have been working on for my Mythology pinball project. I was having such a good time learning about the visual language of pinball that I got a little carried away on this poster — this is the kind all-consuming project that makes it hard to get any other work done!

Something I’ve discovered in the MBA program is how much I love creating process diagrams and visualizations. I spent many years as visual designer, but my experience was largely designing identities and content rather than ideas and processes. Getting more experience with this kind of visual documentation has given me a larger set of tools for sorting information and finding relationships between ideas. Plus, it’s fun!

Play That Silver Ball

For my elective class this semester I chose Mythology, Meaning, and Design, an exploration of myths, archetypes, and symbols and how they continue to play out today in modern storytelling such as media and branding. So far it’s a very demanding class — more than an elective is worth, probably — but I’m having fun with it.

For our second module I’m investigating of the experience of pinball: why people love the game and why there has been a small recent revival. Conveniently, the Pacific Pinball Expo just took place, and in Alameda there is a local pinball palace/museum, Lucky JuJu, so I have been able to observe players in their natural habitat.

The most surprising discovery has been the charming art of pinball. Before licensed themes became dominant (the era I played in as a child) there were decades of beautiful graphic art exploring every pop culture theme from science fiction to sports to the Old West. (Hmm, see any myths there?) Rows of seemingly endless machines displayed an incredible collection of this unique but endangered American art form

So far in this project I’ve created an epic pinball infographic that think may be portfolio  material. Next, for the branding portion of the project I’m considering designing a beer company with the pinball art as a centerpiece. Can’t wait!

…Put up a parking lot

I live in downtown San Leandro, California, a city east of San Francisco that is more like a small town than a suburb. It’s one of the most walkable areas I’ve ever lived  — better than my neighborhoods in SF and Chicago, even — and the city is working hard to develop the downtown core as a transit village.

The newest target of redevelopment is former Albertson’s grocery store, Lucky before that, which sat empty for years after more than 55 years in operation. After Albertson’s pulled out, the city failed to lure a Trader Joe’s and then the neighborhood blocked two discount chains who wanted the space. The fight between those who want to gentrify downtown and those who want to bring in retailers that would serve the working-class locals is a familiar tug of war.

Fenced off and neglected, the abandoned store has long been an eyesore, a constant reminder of a struggling city in a tough economy. As I learned when researching a food project, empty grocery stores are a particular challenge to re-let — they have an architecture and square footage that is unique to grocery stores, yet other grocers are wary of taking on a failed space. After many tanked plans and heated discussions, the city has purchased it to use as a temporary parking lot while they rebuild a downtown garage. After that, they will attempt to find retailers to anchor a mixed-use space. I can only hope by then the economy will have strengthened and other city development plans will have taken strong enough root to support it.

The company in charge of the demolition claims to be “environmentally conscious”, recycling 75% of materials generated and properly handling toxins. It’s such a specific claim it makes me wonder if this is unusual, or if most firms do it but don’t talk about it. After all, they are paid for scrap and charged for landfill runs so it would be logical for most demolition companies to encourage recycling at a minimum. On the other hand, I have watched firsthand as a construction crew junked leftover, whole pieces of expensive material. Even if the owners and contractors don’t support waste, this ethic may not trickle down the the workers who simply want to get the site cleared as fast as possible.

Olivetti

These vintage typewriter ads for Olivetti (shown above)  just blow me away. They are such lovely, illustrated compositions, so different from the full page photo + headline ads of today. Italians certainly know how to design beautiful things, in this case not only the machine but also the ads for it. Illustration is becoming a lost art.

Something I like especially about the Olivetti ads is the focus on the typewriter itself and its functions as art. Showcasing industrial design in this way was unusual. An added bonus is this approach kept the ads from becoming dated in the way so many of its competitors’ ads were, with their appeals to the vanity and simple-mindedness of women.

Of course, this kind of gender bias was par for the cultural course at that time. In the first episode of Mad Men, Joan shows Peggy her desk and remarks that the typewriter looks complicated but that’s it’s so easy a woman can use it. The funny thing is, they have the wrong motivation but the right result — an office machine should, in fact, be designed so that anyone can easily use it.

Barcelona

After 5 long years, I’m finally getting around to organizing my Europe photos. I’m starting with Barcelona, a city that stole my heart.

Gaudi has a lot to do with why I loved Barcelona so much — his work is whimsical, colorful, and imaginative in a way that makes me wonder if hallucinogens were in vogue at the time. Every inch of this town is covered with textures and patterns and it was incredible to be enveloped so completely by detail. Even when it was too much (as Gaudi often is) it made me giddy to be in a city that lives and breathes design this much.

What I loved most was how the mundane — chimneys, attic ceilings, benches, vents — was transformed into the exotic. Form follows function, of course, but I see no reason why everything practical can’t also be whimsical or elegant.

Gardening Ethic

There’s an article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle discussing Stanford professor Robert Pogue Harrison’s new book, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition. From the article:

“This gardening ethic is very much in danger these days, where the emphasis on cultivation has given way to an emphasis on consumption,” says Harrison, asserting that a Stanford student would be more inclined to inspect another’s backyard on HGTV than to investigate one of the many campus gardens.

“We live in a kind of frenzy of consumerism which forgets that the true source of human happiness is not in the consuming but in the cultivation, in seeing something grow, or caring for something that is not yourself. And I don’t know how much we teach the young this ethic of caring for something that is not yourself. Or even caring for things such as an object or a plant. Consumption and cultivation are at war with each other.”

The idea of a “gardening ethic” is interesting. It’s true that lately I’ve been noticing gardens and plants more, and in turn this is making me feel more connected to my neighborhood and the natural world around me. There’s something to be said for literally taking time to stop and smell the roses.