The ‘airbrush’ lives on!

July 6, 2010

Just in case you thought that airbrushing the past away was a dead art form associated with the USSR, guess again.  It lives on in the news of our free press.  The Economist created a new image that packed more of a punch for their headline than mundane reality, but they did it for our own good, of course (see below – italics mine).  I don’t have a big problem with the crop, but zapping away the woman is over the top.

In a statement to the New York Times, deputy editor Emma Duncan (who made the decision), said Admiral Allen was removed by the crop and that the local parish president was removed “not to make a political point, but because the presence of an unknown woman would have been puzzling to readers.”


Playfair with Images

December 12, 2007

playfair.jpg

Playfair’s Commercial and Political Atlas and Statistical Breviary, much beloved by Tufte and others, is a monument in the history of communication with imagery. The simple chart here, showing the balance of trade between Norway and England as a time-series dual line plot looks totally modern and familiar to us, but was an incredible novelty in his day. Nor was he limited to linear charts: he worked with bar charts, innovative pie-charts, and combinations of several chart formats.

The text, now available in a complete facsimile edition at the link provided above, is, in addition, wonderful to read. If you enjoy reading intellectual strivers of the Enlightenment, as I do, you will enjoy this book thoroughly. He deals with sophisticated issues of data presentation and analysis in language so plain, you wonder how we got into our present mess with statistics being always associated with incomprehensible jargon. He also gets in some zingers against Adam Smith, with whom he had some differences.

Today we are inundated with statistical graphs, so it’s hard to accept that in his day, Playfair’s innovations were regarded with suspicion! The very informative introduction to this edition describes the intellectual prejudices of his day against graphical display of information. So much for a picture being worth a thousand words – in those days, they preferred the words! Pictures were thought to be unreliable, and subject to all sorts of hidden error, while words could be parsed to the bone to cut away the fatty tissue of falsity. It was Playfair’s genius to turn this on its head successfully, although he personally never made much of a go of it financially.


Color Me Clueless

October 20, 2006


(click to enlarge the image)

When it comes to past ages, we live in a dog’s world, that is, black and white. We are so accustomed to seeing everything that way, outside of the movies, that it is a shock to come across images from before the 1950s that are in living, vivid color. Outside of the studio, it was very uncommon to take color photographs, although the technologies for it existed even before 1900.The strip of images at the top is of an emir in the Russian Empire, c. 1911. Will the real emir please step forward? That one third from the left seems just too vivid to be real? Fourth from the left? More like what we’re used to.

Here’s a snap of some Russian peasant girls outside their cabin, somewhere in the vast territory of the Tsar. The image is hard to believe – surely those are young 21st century girls in costume, posing for our camera in a period piece shot.

Oh yes, and here’s one of my favorites from another collection, this time of WWI photos in vivid color. (These were actually shot with color film, while the others were created by taking three black and white shots, each through a different color filter. They were digitally recombined, but in 1911, they would have been printed in some other way.) This one shows a soldier peering through a hole cut in a steel plate at the top of his trench. Periscopes were often used as well. Those snipers were deadly accurate!

You can view the collections yourself at these links that I found:

Color Photos of Russia, c. 1911

Color Photos of French Troops, WWI


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 172 other followers