- Our Staff
- For Students
- For Instructors
Updated: 20 min 13 sec ago
Image Credit: Entertainmentwise
Celebrity fashion is a no-holds-barred spectators’ sport, and, like the fashion industry itself, it features and targets women as its primary audience. Free Thought blogger Greta Christina described the language of fashion succinctly in her recent post “Fashion is a Feminist Issue”, arguing that if we interpret fashion as a “language of sorts…an art form, even,” we can begin to view fashion as “one of the very few forms of expression in which women have more freedom than men.” But, she continues, “it’s [no] accident that it’s typically seen as shallow, trivial, and vain. It is the height of irony that women are valued for our looks, encouraged to make ourselves beautiful and ornamental… and are then derided as shallow and vain for doing so. Like it or not, fashion and style are primarily a women’s art form. And I think it gets treated as trivial because women get treated as trivial.”
This post seeks to read the rhetoric of celebrity fashion coverage in light of remarks like those of Greta Christina. How can we read celebrity fashion as an arena that in principle grants women more freedom than men, but in practice consistently limits the freedom of both men and women to express themselves? How do the voyeuristic, hypercritical impulses of celebrity media intersect and inform the world of fashion, particularly women’s fashion? I take as my case study here the much-photographed couple Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, sometimes known as a couple by their nickname “Kimye.”
American Mine (Carlin, NV 1), 2007
Image Credit: David Maisel
You must be thinking, "Gosh, that's marvelous! What is it?" Well, I'll give you some hints about what it's not. It's not a computer-generated image (so you can rule out "digital vat of candy for a Willy Wonka film"). And it wasn't captured by NASA on a trip to Neptune. If you guessed geode, then you're getting warmer, but you're still way off in terms of scale. Perhaps it looks to you like a place where a leprechaun might stash his gold. Well, strangely, that guess may be closest of all.
It turns out this absolutely mesmerizing photograph by David Maisel is an aerial view of a toxic manmade pond in Carlin Trend, Nevada, "the most prolific gold mining district in the Western Hemisphere" according to Maisel's website. The disorienting quality of the photo is a hallmark of Maisel's environmental photography, which explores the visually haunting, otherworldly transformations humans inflict on the Earth's surface. For decades, Maisel has been flying over and photographing sites of environmental wreckage, like the scored and chemically soaked basins of America's pit mines or the wasted lakebeds that once supplied Los Angeles with water. Beyond increasing awareness about these environmental disasters, Maisel's photographs enact a terrifying tug-of-war between ethics and aesthetics. As viewers experience and take pleasure in their sublime beauty, they are forced into the uncomfortable knowledge that these environmentally ruinous conditions have an irresistably attractive dimension.
I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to view a trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby adaptation yet, but I think I’ll see the film. This comment says nothing about my expectations for the film’s critical success, but rather reflects what a visual feast this production is sure to be. From what I can tell, the movie attempts to marriage a 1920s aesthetic with the sorts of gratuitous celebrations I remember last seeing 1990s rap music videos. The parties in the Great Gatsby film, as you can glimpse above, seem to be indulgent and overly choreographed affairs. At times the frame rate even appears to slow down a bit (like the polo shot in the trailer above), and I think this is meant to give viewers an opportunity to take it all in. I remember first seeing this technique in rap music videos, when the director would give us a slow-motion pan shot of an eclectic street party. It’ll be interesting to see how successful Luhrmann’s marriage of this 1990s aesthetic is when added to the necessary narrative components of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. One of my reservations is that there’s a way in which the novel is anxious about gratuitous wealth, especially about the ways wealth can potentially corrode moral fiber, and idealizing such parties seems out of step. My other reservation is that, judging from the trailers alone, the movie looks like a 2010s fashion catalogue.
About 2 months ago Austin was lucky enough to be among the handful of cities selected as a stop on a one-day presentation and workshop featuring Mr. Edward Tufte. What's more: The DWRL agreed that covering the cost of admission for a few of their staffers to be money well spent (thanks, Will Burdette).
For the uninitiated, Mr. Tufte is the granddaddy of all things related to visual representations of large amounts of data, complicated concepts, historical trends, and- quite literally- just about anything else you could think of. Hailed as “The Leonardo Di Vinci of Data," by the New York Times. Tufte was synthesizing massive amounts of information into beautiful visuals before the term “big data” had even pushed “the cloud” out of the way as the buzzword(s) of the moment.
An Arnold Newman "selfie" from 1987. Image credit: The Jewish Museum
One of my favorite parts of the Harry Ransom Center’s current exhibition on Arnold Newman is the way it resists chronology. Newman’s photographs are organizes by particular attention to one of ten elements of Newman’s photography as artistic practice: “searches,” “choices,” “fronts,” “geometries,” “habitats,” “lumen,” “rhythms,” “sensibilities,” “signatures,” and “weavings.” What results is an exhibit that resists a notion of Arnold Newman’s transformation over time. Instead, the exhibit suggests, audiences might read Newman by his unique manipulation of photography’s formal elements throughout his entire career.
The resistance to chronology is apparent, too, in the weaving, wandering nature of the physical exhibit. Temporary half-walls throughout the exhibition space designate no beginning or end point for audiences. Instead, the exhibit inspires audiences to accept Newman’s particular artistic practice across ten themes as definitive criteria for photographic excellence, and therefore evidence for celebrating the photographer himself.
Such a construction has encouraged me to think about the relationship between celebrated photographer and celebrated subject. Are there ways that these two categories inform each other in the case of Arnold Newman? Can we trace, even amidst the Harry Ransom Center’s achronological curation, a chronological shift in fame from photographer to photographed? How does fame work as a mechanism for those who garner fame by representing it and perhaps cultivating it? Can those who represent fame create it as well?
(Image credit: Harry Ransom Center)
It shouldn’t be surprising, but I was drawn to the photographs of architects in the Harry Ransom Center’s ongoing exhibit, Arnold Newman: Masterclass. They made the exhibit for me. Those of you who’ve kept up with my blogging in recent months know that I appreciate the art of designing interior and exterior spaces, and so to see photographs of architects in the Arnold Newman exhibit…it was a highlight. Jim and Rachel posted earlier this week about how Newman liked to place his subjects in front of something relevant to their work. Thus Igor Stravinsky was photographed next to a Steinway. I suspect this strategy served two purposes. First, and perhaps most importantly, framing subjects with their objets d’art allowed Newman to establish an aesthetic through which his own audience could gage his portraits. (We’d assume the JFK portrait was by Newman even if the photograph wasn’t attributed, because of the contrived way the White House sits in the background.) This surely eased Newman’s routine, as he had a formula to bring to each new shoot. Secondly, framing subjects with their objets d’art allowed Newman to comment on his subjects’ work, in much the same way that we might consider a modern Shakespeare production to be an interpretation of a Renaissance text. All of this is obvious and provocative in Newman’s photographs of architects.
Image Credit: The Harry Ransom Center
Porch and Chairs, West Palm Beach Florida, 1941
In between portraits of famous luminaries at the Harry Ransom Center's Arnold Newman Masterclass exhibit, there are a group of images from the photographer's early career that feel anonymous and private. They include pictures of landscapes, nameless figures, and modest structures--all subjects that seem to have been chosen for their compositional character rather than the associations they bring to mind. The above photograph from that period of a decontextualized porch and chairs resists our curiosity to see the whole house and place it in a particular setting, focusing us instead on form and line. The un-forthcomingness or formal starkness of this picture seems dramatically foreign to the photography of Newman's later career, the period of his well-known "environmental" portraits, which situated iconic individuals in settings that explained or extended their identities. (Rachel's post further glosses and complicates this term). Despite this, I'd like to point out some unifying threads between this quaint little study from West Palm Beach and a few, more recognizably Newmanian photographs, all of which are currently on display at the Ransom Center.
Image Credit: The Harry Ransom Center
Walking through the Harry Ransom Center’s Arnold Newman: Masterclass exhibit with a photographer friend helped me notice more than Newman’s numerous famous subjects. Creating a portrait requires more than just telling someone to smile or to stand in fair light; good photographers must understand how composition affects the final product. Framing matters, whether that’s done by putting wood around a picture or deciding where and how you crop the shot. The exhibit allows visitors to examine Newman’s artistic process, showing the evidence of how he edited his raw photographs into finished portraits. I want to look at in this post both his famous shot of Igor Stravinsky and his created “portrait” of Marilyn Monroe to think more about what we can learn about visual and non-visual editorial practice.
Image Credit: Photo from Arnold Newman Exhibit, Harry Ransom Center, taken by author; protected under Fair Use.
On February 12th, the traveling exhibition Arnold Newman: Masterclass began a four-month stop at UT’s esteemed Harry Ransom Center. As Newman was a prolific photographer with a strong belief in the instructional potential of photographs, the chance to see his life’s work first-hand was nothing short of spine-tingling to those of us with an unusually strong interest in visual culture and artifacts, especially when they have pedagogical implications! (Pretty dorky, I know.)
Louisville Cardinal players react to Kevin Ware's leg injury during March Madness. Image Credit: Yahoo Sports
I’ll admit, I stayed up way past my bedtime last night listening to the Boston police scanner, following as closely as I could the developments in the Boston Marathon bombing. In the wee hours of this morning, I thought about documenting the dozens of news items (as well as widespread speculation across message boards and social media) to take a tally of how much of the information proliferating in the uncertainty of Friday morning would be disproved by Friday afternoon.
As I began the project, it soon proved futile—there was far too much information and I ran into (as I might have anticipated) problems discerning journalistic fact from fiction right from the get go. It was only when I stopped documenting and trying to quantify the evidence that I began to think about the relationship between violence and speculative practice and assemble a quite different archive. [GORE WARNING: the images beyond this cut are NSFW and may shock and disturb some viewers. Discretion is advised.]
Image Credit: plus.google.com
At the end of my last post I promised to examine Brad Paisley and LL Cool J's controversial duet "Accidental Racist" in light of Paisley's 2011 "Camouflage" homage. This follow-up post offers that analysis as well as some context from Paisley's pop-country contemporaries and a recent national dialogue about race.
A few weeks ago a 2001 press conference with Bob Dylan emerged on youtube. Dylan, usually cagey and recalcitrant with reporters, is unusually earnest in the interview. He says a lot about his career and his Love and Theft album, which he was promoting at the time. You can check out a clip above, and the interview’s other five segments can be found on youtube. The reason I choose to bring this to the attention of the blog is that in the interview Dylan makes some interesting comments about the state of literature in America, and in particular some comments about how digital media is affecting the ways we feel. The comments, which I’ll outline below, are particularly relevant after yesterday’s massacre at the Boston Marathon, but I’ll leave that connection to your own reflections – we’ve all seen coverage of that tragedy, and I don’t want to add to the noise. As the version of Bob Dylan who appeared on the day of that interview might suggest, this post isn’t a work of art and thus I have no business telling you how to feel.
Above: An example of books serving in Ancillary Capacity #422: "The To-Do List"
In his book, “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable,” Nassim Nicholas Taleb unapologetically and only somewhat jokingly points out some of the “superficial” benefits of the printed book versus the e-reader:
[I have realized] the foolishness of thinking that books are there to be read and could be replaced by electronic files. Think of the spate of functional redundancies provided by books. You cannot impress your neighbors with electronic files. You cannot prop up your ego with electronic files…Objects seem to have invisible but significant auxiliary functions that we are not aware of consciously, but that allow them to thrive- and on occasion, as with decorator books, the auxiliary function becomes the principal one. (Taleb at 319)
While the ability to impress your friends with your lofty collection might not be seen as a terribly compelling argument in the print/e-book debate, implicit in what he says is an acknowledgment of a separate, secondary (or tertiary, and so on) “meaning” that books can have that is entirely detached from the words written therein. Books, precisely because they are physical, tangible objects, lend themselves to a connection with the reader on multiple levels.
Image Credit: Deeras23
In my previous post, I outlined DeCordova’s arguments about the emergence of a discourse on acting in the early 20th century, and the contributions that discourse made to modern conceptions of celebrity, beginning in silent film. In this post, I’d like to translate those arguments into a discussion of 21st century media and attempt to outline a discourse on “gifing,” and what that can tell us about the intersections of gifs and celebrity in the 21st century public sphere.
Image Credit: Mark Humphrey, AP
The media reacted volubly to Brad Paisley's song "Accidental Racist," a ballad on his newly released "Wheelhouse" album that openly tackles the problem of racism. Staging a dialogue between Paisley and rapper LL Cool J, the song imagines the tense process of "remembering and forgetting" slavery, as one critic put it, from highly stereotyped white and black perspectives. Many voices from the blogosphere last week, including Stewart and Harris from Jezebel and Slate, fumed at the song's presentation of racial history and relations, while others viewed it as simply a provocative song characteristic of Paisley's other work. That it was selected by the NYTimes.com for one of the online "Room for Debate" forums is, perhaps, an indication of how ripe the song's lyrics are for critique and how generative they are of competing rhetorics.
Here I will consider how controversial lyrics from "Accidental Racist" alongside resonant verses from Paisley and other mainstream country artists foreground surfaces and appearances--clothing, physique, and color, for instance--to talk about identity, race, and social perceptions.
(Image credit: Southwest Airlines)
I found myself in an odd place a few nights ago: I was flying at 40,000 feet from Chicago to Austin in a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737, and I was listening to this season’s first night of Major League Baseball. How did I do this, you might ask. Nope, didn’t leave my cell phone’s 3G on. I purchased Southwest’s in-flight Wi-Fi for the price of $8, and at 1 mbps I was set to go. You wouldn’t believe how much I enjoyed the flight. It was pure fun. Much of this must have had something to do with the fact that ever since 9/11 I’d associated air travel with inconvenience. I’d even assumed that in-flight Wi-Fi would be unwieldy. For, previously I’d heard that Southwest’s in-flight Wi-Fi hovered around 1 mbps, and being a literature guy even way back in high school when we covered such things in my computer science class (which means that I’d spend those nights reading Lord of the Rings rather than about bandwidth in my computer science textbook), this seemed like an inordinately small amount of bandwidth. Hence my elation when the sounds of summer were back and I was enjoying Major League Baseball by the time the beverage cart came around, with no bandwidth problems to speak of.
This was one of the ads on my NYTimes.com edition today. Upon first glance it appears to be a simple ad for an e-book by Amy Harmon called Asberger Love, but the New York Times masthead and the words "Byliner Original" suggest that the Asberger Love is an in-house publication. And that's just what it is: an "e-single" written by a NYTimes journalist, packaged for Kindle, iBooks, and Nook, and hosted on a partner site, Byliner.com.
(Image credit: Jay Voss)
There’s an odd thing happening in Austin’s older neighborhoods: people are moving in, tearing down whatever 1930s homes they find on their lots, and in these spaces constructing decidedly modern dwellings. The subsequent structure stands out on its block like you wouldn’t believe. There’s such a disparity between the neighborhood’s older ranch homes and these new structures of corrugated metal and cantilevered edges. It’s a contrast between the standout and the ubiquitous, and the standout wins the eye every time. To make things more interesting: the locals I’ve asked hate these new structures, while those of us who’ve moved here recently tend to find them more inviting. I’m not sure where I stand on the issue. Although I see and understand the detriment one might perceive in continuity’s disruption, isn’t such materialistic continuity exactly what Austinites are constantly going out of their way to subvert? What gives? Aren’t we all supposed to applaud when something immaterial keeps Austin weird? Coming at the issue from a different angle, I’m a fairly serious student of architecture, and so for me it’s always refreshing to see tasteful structures going up (no matter what the situation, really). To this end I think architecture in its purist form encourages balance and harmony, and building a mansion amidst cottages (just for irony’s sake, I guess) is arrogant and misguided.
Image Credits: Amazon.com
In researching and writing my last blog posting, which sought to explore the possible dangers associated with the expurgation of the literary classics we use in the school setting, I found myself digging a little deeper into a story from a couple of years ago that I was only vaguely familiar with. In that last posting, I focused upon the ways in which e-books were, by the nature of the medium, particularly susceptible to modification and/or censorship. But these concerns are not ones we should only ascribe to the digital; I wanted to demonstrate that modification of canonical works for the purpose of “protecting” people from any content that might be unpleasant to the modern reader’s sensibilities can and does happen with our “old-fashioned” paper textbooks, too.
Image Source: Gorgonetta
As gifs begin to occupy more and more space in internet discourse, I’ve been contemplating the various ways they occupy older media forms. New media theory tells us this is an inevitable historical trajectory; it is not just a characteristic of post-broadcast media but embedded in mediation as an ideological concept. What I find particularly interesting about gifs is not just how they remediate the television shows, films, Youtube videos, and memes from which they derive meaning, but also how the relate to a much older form of media: silent film. And in such a reading, the overlap between the production of fame and celebrity in the silent film tradition and in current gif discourse is remarkable—and worth discussing.