Sergei Vasiliev: Russian Criminal Tattoos 1989-1993

Former law enforcer and later ‘Vecherny Chelyabinsk’ staff photographer Sergei Vasiliev had the privilege of access to some of the most notorious and hardened criminals in Russian prisons and reform settlements across Chelyabinsk, Nizhny Tagil, Perm and St Petersburg, from about 1989-1993. In these years he managed to document the unique visual code on the skin-canvas of these out-of-law men. It is important to note that these tattoos, in the closed circle of the Russian underworld of the early ’90s, were not fashionable embellishments to flaunt, but rather, they were personal histories marking the criminals’ route through the prison system, their ranks in the gangland hierarchy,  successes and failures, promotions, demotions, kills, transfer of work, and so on. Unlike the more commercially pop and fairly visible Japanese yakuza tattoos, the visual code captured by Vasiliev maps a rather curious irony – that these notorious gangsters were honest in not running away from their past, never putting a tattoo which they had not earned, and always living up to what they have done and they might do, and inking it on their skins as daily reminders of who they are. And because of who they were, they are now long dead and gone.

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19th Century Photo-portraits: ‘Invisible’ mothers and visible babies

A rather curious form of portrait photographs emerged from about the mid to late 19th century – a ‘form innovation’ necessitated by a frailty of early photographic technologies viz. low emulsion sensitivity, and, consequently lengthy exposure times. The subject had to stay still for a fairly long stretch. Photographing adults was less of challenge then, but when it came to restless, excitable babies and children, the mothers were often cloaked or ‘disguised’ as supports for them, to get them to be calm and still. Mothers often covered themselves in black (or other) cloth to hold their children upright for the benefit of the camera. Sometimes the babies were propped upright from behind with the parent’s hands. Extra long child garments were also used to help hide the mother’s legs and body. The resultant images are a telling commentary on 19th century norms and photographic practice, however strange you may find them in the 21st. Take a look.

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Jean-Marc Cote: Postcards imagining the year 2000 in 1899

In the year 2000: Firemen rescuing a woman and child from a blaze.

Predicting the future is always risky business. Having been part of the drafting of various institutional ‘vision’ documents, the underlying ‘understood’ assumption was not to hold back – to give a free reign to ones imaginative capacities to conjure up definitive ‘ideal states’. French illustrator Jean-Marc Cote in 1899 had the unenviable task of future gazing 100 years, and with that, to come up with a series of postcards for the Paris World Exhibition in 1900. These postcards (En L’an 2000 – In the Year 2000) were distributed across France in the first decade of the 20th C, and were rediscovered much later in 1985, by American science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. Asimov published a collection of these postcards with his commentary as a book titled “Futuredays: A Nineteenth Century Vision of the Year 2000”. Take a look at some of these postcards, and try and not be amused. Try and imagine life in the year 3012 instead.

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Product Design – Electrolux Design Lab 2012: Finalists

Design Lab is Swedish appliances major Electroluxs’ annual student product design competition. In this tenth year of the contest, there were 1200 entries, from which these ten finalists were shortlisted to battle it out in Milano, Italy on 25.10.12. As I was going through the entries, the final thirty and now down to ten, it was quite clear that the shortlisting was done considering the Electrolux business idea of a ‘smart’ kitchen / home, with an ‘amazing range of capabilities’. I also paused to think whether there has been a collective dumbing down in this rather frenzied race for ‘smartness’. Student contests do have an exploitative edge, as major corporations seek out business-next ideas for the price of a cola can. The text accompanying each of the entries here is untouched and presented in their sugar coated, sales pitch manner. I found some of the project ideas redundant and almost laughable, and for large populations of the world, most of them are alien objects, sans meaningful form and credible function.

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Information is Beautiful Awards 2012: Entries

Dubbed as the world’s first open contest to celebrate excellence and beauty in data visualizations, infographics and information design, the Information is Beautiful contest has had a great response with quite a few ‘eye-popping’ entries. The judges for the contest were David McCandless (Data journalist & information designer), Brian Eno (Musician & visual artist), Paola Antonelli (Museum of Modern Art), Simon Rogers (The Guardian datablog), Maria Popova (Cultural curator), Aziz Cami (Creative Director, Kantar), and the online infoviz community! Take a look at some of the entries (few of them went on to win).

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Persuaded not to perspire! Early deodorant advertisements.

How did urbanites, like us, get so daily dependent on the ubiquitous spray can of deo? For a long time deodorants and antiperspirants were niche products and were often perceived as unnecessary and unhealthy. The late 19th C and the early 20th C saw advertising come to the rescue of a disastrously failing product, and the rest is sprayed history. 1888, was when the first deodorant (kills odor-producing bacteria) called Mum was trademarked and the first antiperspirant (preventing sweat-production and bacterial growth) was called Everdry and launched in 1903. Later in 1912 an enterprising young lady started a company selling an antiperspirant – Odorono (Odor? Oh No!). Yes, as blunt as that. Modern sensibilities might find some of these advertisements insensitive, sexist and incorrect. But don’t fall into that ‘armhole’.

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Early years schools: Sculpting of space and imagination.

I still remember my nursery/kindergarten classroom with a great deal of lucidity. The texture of paint on the chair and tables, the colours and the general layout of the land, as it were. In contrast, I don’t quite remember my teachers or my friends from that period – not to say that they failed me as teachers or friends, it is just what it is. I figure it has much do with being impressionable at that age and that sculpting of space has much to do with the sculpting of imagination. Having done my rounds of pre/nursery school visits in urban India this century, I am struck by how ‘Disneyfied’ everything is. I choose to call them the ‘Mickey Mouse Schools’ – the walls, tables, fixtures plastered with Goofys, Mickeys and Donalds, not to forget the Simbas and the Alladins. Predictable, dull, uninspiring, dead spaces. However all is not lost, as some remarkable architectural and interior minds have silently worked to put out school projects of remarkable inventiveness elsewhere  Take a look.

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Piero Ribelli: 50 Main Street. Same Address. Different People.

New Jersey: Prasop and Saowaluck Kiewdara, South River, NJ

New York based Piero Ribelli undertook a project of a lifetime in stretching his legs across the USA: 6 years, 50 towns, 50 people, 31,000 miles by plane, 16,000 miles by car, 12 hours on trains, 90 minutes on ferryboats. The people in his portraits share only one thing in common – their address of 50 Main Street. A Hasselblad enthusiast, Ribelli does manage to ‘paint’ more than just red, white and blue in his USA. Take a look.

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Rare mugshots of petty thieves from Newcastle, UK. 1872-1873

Alice Mullholland, 18, was a street trader who was sentenced to three months in Newcastle Goal for stealing boots.

The list of thefts committed was ominous enough, ranging from stealing of rabbits, beef, pigeons to clothes, tobacco and bed linen. In a fascinating record of early police portraiture, these men and women look into the new technology enabled apparatus sans hope, regret or amusement. Still proud, one can clearly see how they might have been asked by the cameraman to meet the ‘posing protocol’ of Victorian representation, hands/fingers locked. Not all of them care for protocol though. Take a sepia tinted look, courtesy the Tyne & Wear Archives.

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A million years of human ingenuity: Objects of the world

BBC Radio 4 took a hundred man made objects (from across the ages), that were a part of the British Museum collection and translated these into one hundred radio programmes, each tackling one object and lasting fifteen minutes each. These were broadcast in a chronological order in three tranches across 2010. Take a look at some of these objects and (probably) feel good that you are human.

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