JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 20
I welcome the chance today to use our non-classical Homer instead of the beautiful Paolo Uccello to look at an issue of imaging a certain form of perspective drawing. I've always been intrigued by antiquarian images that looked straight down, or up, at things--90 degree, perpendicular, real straight-on stuff, giving a feel for depth (or height) and perspective. Funny thing is that in the wide world of scientific images, they really don't show up very often.
A Mock-straight-down is found in this prettily-designed example (French, ca. 1860)--it seems to be view form a height of 250 feet or so down on the square of a low- (Western) renaissance town. That's partly true, except that it is a mosaic from Pompeii (or Herculaneum), found imbedded in the floor of one of those mummified houses.
Another pretender is this god's-eye view (from Abraham Rees' mammoth encyclopedia of 1800-1820) of the universe, centered upon our own helio-centric Solar System, which is centered, nested, amidst a whorl of other (contiguous and touching but not overlapping) solar systems, all of which is held in the infinite but knowable confines of an ourobus. This again qualifies as a straight-down/up if and only if (iff) you squint real hard and imagine you're seeing the scene through your CreatorView (TM!) glasses. (The Creator needs glasses?)
The drawing by Leonardo of the town of Imola (currently resident with the Windsors) does come quite close to the concept--it has more artistic features than the common city plan , and is definitely at a perpendicular to its subject.
But it is this that is so terribly interesting to me--a small part of a little print from an unidentified encyclopedia from the turn of the 19th c. It shows a picture of the earth looking straight down from a balloon, looking through an opening in the cloud cover, down to a small town. There is an iconic work on the representation of the world as known to succeeding generations where the picture of the world is seen through a succession of gradually diminishing clouds (being opened like drapes over time), but I honestly cannot think of an early image of looking at clouds from above and straight down. My sense is that this image would have caused as much interest and wonder as the first (Soviet) images of the other side of the Moon (back in 1959).
Even when moving into the pre-satellite 20th century image, the straight-down picture is a rarity. In the last few years after having looked at dozens of thousands of popularly-published images (for another project), the straight-down/up were a scant tenth or perhaps hundredth of a percent of the total. There were a number of photographs made looking straight up (as in the two examples here, looking up the main mast into the crow’s nest of the Queen Mary, and the other with the same view, only in the Bremen.
Occasionally the view like this will show up (looking laterally through the Vickers-Armstrong “Wellington I” bomber aircraft (June 1939)
I can't leave this topic without mentioning two recent additions to this genre--the first is the Eames' wonderful Power of Ten movie (go to youtube HERE, where in 40 steps we look at existence from quark to quasar.
The second is a little goofy but I like it nonetheless--the introduction to the Jodie Foster movie Contact (go to youtube HERE) built on the bones of the Carl Sagan book. Here we swing out from the Earth and into space, following a broadcast-audio trail of humanity into the not-too-distant time/space (ignoring the signal degradation bit but so it goes), and then leaving that quickly behind, hurling itself backwards, to the outer reaches of the universe, until (and we don't see this in the youtube clip) we wind up back in the iris of the heroine (and a bit too much like the Dave Bowman trip in "2001 a Space Odyssey").
But we don't see stuff like this very often, and I'm happy to go along for the ride. It really is just about seeing something new, after all.
Perhaps the lack of this perspective is summed up by our old friend Homer J. Simpson. In one episode of the Simpsons (long ago and far away…or last week) Homer explains (to Lisa?) why cartoon characters’ faces are always oblique in profile. Homer turns and looks directly into the
camera,” and his face gets all pancakey. It's just not done “because it's goofy” he says. And at least in Homer’s case, the proof is definitely in the puddin’.