Abercrombie: Algerian Alley

Scrolling down a cobblestone alley to the bottom of the page where a white-thobed Algerian is intentionally but unknowingly the focal point of Thomas J. Abercrombie’s photo composition.

Another time, while traveling through Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter, Mr Abercrombie’s sport-utility vehicle broke down, forcing him to repair the radiator hose with items from his first-aid kit and patch another leak with a poultice of camel dung and barley paste.

A passageway in Algeria. Photograph by Thomas J. Abercrombie, National Geographic Creative (year unknown)

A passageway in Algeria. Photograph by Thomas J. Abercrombie, National Geographic Creative (year unknown)

Here at the bottom of the page, after scrolling down a cobblestone alley, we find Mr Abercrombie as a senior photographer and writer for National Geographic magazine, who had traveled to all seven continents in a career spanning over 40 years, three decades of which were spent as the magazine’s Middle Eastern expert covering Morocco to Afghanistan, where he once slipped off his yak and narrowly escaped plunging into a 1,000-foot chasm.



Erwitt: Kitchen debate

Factoid via The Guardian’s 2003 Elliott Erwitt profile:

However, his reputation was secured by a number of landmark assignments during the late 50s and early 60s, all of them courtesy of his homeland, Russia. The first took place in the summer of 1959 when Erwitt was sent to Moscow to get pictures of an industrial fair.

By coincidence he arrived on the same day that vice-president Richard Nixon was due to appear with Communist party chairman Nikita Khrushchev. In front of a model kitchen, which had been assembled by Macy’s department store, Khrushchev launched into the infamous “kitchen debate” with Nixon.

Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon 1959, Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos
Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon 1959, Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos

“It was ridiculous,” Erwitt recalls. “Nixon was saying, ‘We’re richer than you are’, and Khrushchev would say, ‘We are catching up and we will surpass you.’ That was the level of the debate. At one point Nixon was getting so irritating I thought I heard Khrushchev say in Russian ‘Go fuck my grandmother’.”

More importantly Erwitt got a snap of Nixon belligerently prodding Khrushchev in the lapel, which later appeared on posters during Nixon’s presidential bid.


Erwitt: Visual wit

Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt caught this high-flying gent soaring to and fro over a rain-soaked concourse in a seemingly choreographed moment. I thought at first I was seeing the famed Parisian leaper across-the-imagesphere in a photoshopped reversal, but viewed side-by-side, these are separate photographs shot within minutes of each other, if the nuanced movement of the embracing couple holding windswept umbrellas is considered.

Elliott Erwitt: Paris, 1989, Eiffel Tower, 100-year anniversary, © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos
Elliott Erwitt: Paris, 1989, Eiffel Tower, 100-year anniversary, © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos
Elliott Erwitt: Paris 1989

Elliott Erwitt: Paris 1989

Or these two high-flying gents are engaged in a vaulting competition.

Erwitt joined the Magnum Photo Agency in 1953 and in 60+ years has become “one of the most celebrated photographers of our time.” Yes I’m one of those who didn’t recognize Elliott Erwitt by name so I’m celebrating his vast body of instantly recognizable photography in various and sundry posts.

Las majas vestida y desnuda,  Museo del Prado, Eliot Erwitt 1995

Las majas vestida y desnuda, Museo del Prado, Eliot Erwitt 1995

Purveyor of the “non-photograph”, he combines a deceptively casual approach with an unrivalled, sometimes gloriously silly, visual sense of wit. – The Guardian

It seems choreographed, too, that Erwitt happened to be at the Prado when a troupe of male art museum patrons ogle Francisco Goya’s “La maja desnuda” as a lone women admires the stylishly-clothed “La maja vestida.”

La maja vestida, Francisco Goya 1800-1805

La maja vestida, Francisco Goya 1800-1805



Kandinsky: Synaesthesia

Kandinsky’s four-color lithograph,“Small worlds IV,” reminds me of an art project in a 2-Dimensional design course I took over 25 years ago. The instructor’s basic guideline was to create a geometrically-inspired design flow within a circle sitting on top of an isosceles trapezoid, the whole similar in shape to a skeleton keyhole, in black India ink on whiteboard. The predominant circle (as shown below), with same thickness of border, would be the focal point.

As it turned out, my design employed many of Kandinsky’s elements: open and filled circles; straight and squiggly lines; triangles and trapezoids; and most notably, a checkerboard motif.

Small worlds IV, Wassily Kandinsky 1922

Small worlds IV, Wassily Kandinsky 1922

Kandinsky taught at Bauhaus school of art and applied design for 11 years beginning in 1922. My 2-D design instructor was, most probably, influenced by Kandinsky’s design coursework for his form-theory class, ‘The Basics of Artistic Design’, in the Bauhaus style of craft functionality.

In his second theoretical book, Point and Line to Plane (1926), Kandinsky developed a theory of geometric figures and their relationships —  the circle, for example, is the most peaceful shape and represents the human soul.

The second book refined also his color theory (via Arnold Schoenberg Center) developed in his 1912 manifesto, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, where the color red was not only the sound of a trumpet confidently striving toward a goal, as noted on my Kandinsky: Red Rider post, it could be a tuba, the deep notes on a cello, or a high clear violin. A ‘darker blue’ could also be a cello, the notes of which presumably were not quite as deep as those of red. 

Green composition, Wassily Kandinsky 1923

Green composition, Wassily Kandinsky 1923

Green is like a fat, very healthy cow lying still and unmoving, only capable of chewing the cud, regarding the world with stupid dull eyes. — from Concerning the Spiritual in Art.

Green is passive but with hidden strength. Ever prone to verbosity, green does not have stupid dull eyes, but is the mixture of blue and yellow — yellow being “disturbing for people” in a middle C on a brassy trumpet. 

As in “Green Composition,” my 2-D art project had an element of black and white stripe on the diagonal.


NOTE: Kandinsky supposedly had synaesthesia. He claimed to hear color as sound, and see sound as color. The German expression artist Gabriele Münter once told him that he was trapped in his own intellect.  

Kandinsky's theory of color and music

Kandinsky’s theory of color and music

Bridge of Lions

The Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine carries A1A over the Mantanzas Bay to Anastasia Island and south to Key West, where State Road A1A actually begins. A pair of marble Medici lions adorn the bridge, completed in 1927 by the “Father of the Bridge of Lions,” Henry Rodenbaugh, a vice president and bridge expert for Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway.

Henry Flagler and John D. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil, but by 1885 Flagler had left the corporation (he still sat on the board of directors) to essentially develop the entire east coast of Florida, he being known as the “Father of Miami and Palm Beach.”

Flagler first moved to Jacksonville at the advice of his wife’s doctor as she was very ill and the warm climate would suit her well. She died two years after their arrival. Flagler married her care-giver in 1881; they honeymooned in St. Augustine which Flagler found to be a charming city but lacking hotels and infrastructure.

"Replicas of the Medici lions at the Bridge of Lions" by Michael Kagdis via Wikimedia Commons

“Replicas of the Medici lions at the Bridge of Lions” by Michael Kagdis via Wikimedia Commons

Flagler decided to develop the city into a winter resort for wealthy northern elites. The 540-room Ponce de Leon Hotel (now Flagler College) opened in 1887 to immediate acclaim. It was wired for electricity by his friend Thomas Edison.

To service his hotels (plus Hotel Alcazar, 1889, now the Lightner Museum) Flagler bought up several short-line railroads which became Florida East Coast Railway, when some 40 years after construction of the Ponce de León Hotel began, an FECR vice-president would organize a bond issue to build “The Most Beautiful Bridge in Dixie.”

Its construction came at the height of the extravagant Florida land boom of the 1920s, and the bridge is one of its greatest landmarks. It was designed not merely to carry cars, but to be a work of art.

"Bridge of Lions" by Mainstreetmark  via Wikimedia Commons -

“Bridge of Lions” by Mainstreetmark via Wikimedia Commons 

The Bridge of Lions is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It gets its name, of course, from the pair of lions replicating those found at Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, Italy. The statues were a gift from Dr. David Anderson, who sold Henry Flagler land for the Ponce de Leon Hotel.


NOTE: St. Augustine celebrates its 450-year Commemoration on September 8th. The city is not calling it a Sesquiquadricentennial, though, as Jacksonville had done in 2012 for the anniversary of the 1562 discovery of Ft. Caroline by Jean Ribault.

Cross-posted at Flipside Florida, again.

Autochrome: Genus Panthera

“More and more, as it becomes necessary to preserve the game, let us hope that the camera will largely supplant the rifle.” – Theodore Roosevelt, 1901

Perhaps somewhere on the plains of the Serengeti, did Roosevelt happenchance upon this family of lions basking in the midday sun, to shoot them down for the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., so a woman gazing at them in 1931 would be preserved in an autochrome photograph by Charles Martin, a staff photographer for National Geographic.

Photograph by Charles Martin, National Geographic Creative

Photograph by Charles Martin, National Geographic Creative

Referenced earlier somewhere on this blog, autochrome is an additive color “mosaic screen plate” process consisting of a glass plate coated on one side with a random mosaic of microscopic grains of potato starch dyed red-orange, green, and blue-violet which act as color filters. 

So too referenced was Theodore Roosevelt’s year-long safari to British East Africa sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute as a scientific exhibition in 1909 after Roosevelt left his presidency.

This means the woman gazes at a 20-year-old exhibit of lions that outlived Theodore Roosevelt, as he had died in 1919, never having fully recovered his health after the disastrous Roosevelt–Rondon Scientific Expedition in 1913–1914, the first exploration of the 1000-mile long “River of Doubt” (later renamed Rio Roosevelt) located in a remote area of the Brazilian Amazon basin.

Photograph by Charles Martin, National Geographic Creative 1935

Photograph by Charles Martin, National Geographic Creative 1935

“A Tibetan spiritual figure holds a Mongolian blade after twisting it with his seemingly superhuman strength” is also an autochrome photograph by Charles Martin, a staff photographer for National Geographic. The leopard skin in the backdrop is from the genus Panthera within the Felidae family comprising of not only the leopard, but the tiger, jaguar, and lion, all of which Theodore Roosevelt may have encountered on his African expedition sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute.


NOTE: Scribner’s magazine paid Roosevelt $50,000 to write a monthly account of his adventures that were gathered together and published as African Game Trails. Above photographs courtesy of Found, National Geographic’s tumbler blog.




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