A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.5 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places...
The "Experimental Visual License" is a very nice turn-of-phrase, and it occurs in a technical and less poetic sense in this nteresting and nicely designed pamphlet from the earliest days of popular commentary on the new medium of television. The ABC of Television was published in 1937 by the exceptional and extremely busy Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967, basically the inventor of the SciFi magazine) in his Short Wave & Television journal.
The pamphlet includes technical basics ("fundamentals of scanning", "mechanical systems", "Cathode ray emission", transmitter operation") as well as some popular and necessary information, like "when will we have television" and a list of television stations.
Just for the record, this publication lists 25 active stations, including low wattage stations like W2XAX, the Atlantic Broadcasting Company, in NYC at 50 Watts--there were 9 broadcasters with 150 Watts or less of the 25 listed. There's also a list of nine other "discontinued" television stations ("experimental visual licenses and permits discontinued or expired"), which is where that phrase crackles into life.
Ted Nelson had a lot of ideas about computers, though not that many are remembered today, in spite of a bunch of them being pretty smart. (He coined the words "hypertext" and maybe "hyperlink", for example.) In any event there's this little diagram of the possibilities of his "world wide network", which I think no doubt is one of the earliest "maps" of the yet-to-exist internet.
[Picture source: Ted Nelson, Dream Machines (1974) via Alex Wright, Glut, Mastering Information Through the Ages (2007), p 215.]
It is also interesting to see that the frontis illustration for his book uses Tik-tok, a metal/machine character from a series of books by (Oz) L. Frank Baum, this one Tik-tok of Oz (1914).
Following this blog's series on the History of Holes and the History of Dots will be a new series: the History of Tubes, the first note of which is on the flying tubes of TomorrowWorld. Today's installment is a simple picture post:
It is interesting that a reporting agency like Poor's Industry Service would have such a provocative cover illustration when reporting on the not-so-good economic news of 1932.
Poor's presented the city of the future as the standard banner for their report on the motion picture industry. The city is massive, a portrait of concrete masses, especially seen in the dam or terminal in the immediate background, and also in the assembly of conical buildings at rear right. Very impressive, especially considering it was the fourth year of the Depression.
Their report on the film industry was crisp and fairly bitter, carrying on about risky behavior and out-and-out mismanagement, leading most of the studios into loses and the industry in general to a plunge in composite net earnings and common dividends--a poor year. In any even I was interested in the illustration, which seems an unlikely place to find such a severely International Style vision of the future.
The future is everywhere and nowhere, hidden and obvious, localized and distant; and sometimes it is there when it really isn't, and vice versa. This image of the future is the last of these descriptions, though perhaps not even that, because it is a peep at a peep into the future, a reference to a reference.
First, the cactus, seen here, from G.B. Ramusio's (1485-1557) Navigationi et Viaggi, printed in Venice in 1565 (and finally in three volumes, links to which are below). Ramusio was a geographer and largely a scholar/reader/armchair-traveler, who collected travel accounts of explorers and published them together--the first such effort of its kind.
The second image works better if you squint somewhat while looking at the cactus--it comes from the great and slightly problematic Thomas Nast, the Harper's Weekly social/graphic warrior. The image appeared in 1881, and depicts New York City in the near future, he result of newly-advanced building techniques, including the elevator (and importantly!) the elevator safety brake, which allowed the construction of buildings to great and fabulous heights. Nast saw a little bit of overeager sky-scraping in it, and pictured variegated but probably dark future from the architectural commotion.
I'm well aware of this being an enormous stretch, but I couldn't think of anything else to get these two images together on a single post. (Original article here for the Nast.)
Full text for the Ramusio volumes from the Internet Archives site:
In the history of Mile High Things I doubt there are many entries for airports--or half-airports. This if not highly questionable structure inverted the horizontal concept of airport into something else, or at least changed the take-off into quite something different while leaving the landing strips the same. (This is the "half-vertical" part of the title to this post; "half-vertical" doesn't mean "horizontal", though I like that idea.) The new method of getting a plane into the air was straightforwardly breathtaking: haul the plane up one mile in an elevator and drop it through one of the "launching chutes". After everything is said and done, this is one idea that really didn't need to be three-dimensional.
There was a ride something like this on Coney Island that was very popular for years, a parachute ride where folks were hoisted skyward in a seat on a parachute and then dropped--a much better idea than this mile-high monster.
Here are a few other examples of Mile-High/Long Bits that are posts in this blog:
There are different types of mystery as any quick look at Medieval legacies will tell you. Some are mysterious mysteries never meant to be understood outside of obliqueness given their allegorically ambiguity, and some are just, well, different, but answerable.
The history of the future lends itself a little to the Ecclesiastical (or first) sort of mystery as just described--sometimes, anyway. Sometimes looking at an imagined future drawn years ago for a period of time that has already passed may lend itself to some fair-game comedy. But getting things "right" as a futurist/illustrator may be quite beyond the point, as with the example above, drawn by Jim Powers.
Being furiously correct was not the point Powers was trying to achieve. TO me he was drawing to a certain deep sight, presenting an allegory of possibility, trying to excite some interest in speculation in someone by elements of what he was drawing, not in the overall image.
In the alphabet of 'RAMAS, perhaps the most famous of them all is futurama, which (real or imagined) is part of the continuum of motoramas version of raceoram's spaceorama. It was in this envelope of futurama that Jim Powers worked his mysteries in a series of images for Life in the Year 2000, laboring away at insight in the mid-1950's. Surely he could0 not have believed in these rocket-stuffed ultra-streamlined mega-finned interplanetary autos would come into being in five decades, but I'm pretty sure that he believed that somewhere in the details of his work were useful bits/ideas for someone else. Surely he did not think that the overall vision was more significant than the sum of all of his very interesting parts.
I think that a pre-proto-neo-antiquarian or whatever Cubist representational form is very clear in the 1812 engraving, which was a relatively simple formulaic presentation of ship/sail construction found in Rhees' Encyclopedia. "Clear" of course to someone here in the print's future, seeing what that form could actually become apart from showing the naval necessaries. But it always puzzles me how an image like this could appear and someone didn't take the next step and turn the thing into "art" of some sort. That would all happen soon enough, the loosening of form and its representation via impressionistic and geometrical ways--Mr. Turner was already 37 years old when this print was published, and on his way (at least intellectually) to his magnificent Romantic career.
Why wasn't this art in 1812, aside from people not being quite ready for it? Maybe there is no other "thing" apart from that. It would take nearly another hundred years before the representational form of say a ship was lessened and stripped away, softened , modified, rubbed, erased, into something that is the object but really isn't.
Perhaps what we have here is a peep (like with Durer's geometric man) into the future at modern art, a dissonance between abstraction and realism. There is a regeneration of form taking place in this image, but it is only something on its way to creating a more idiomatic engineering representation of naval needs, and not a new art form--that would have to wait for Braque and Gris and Leger and Delauny and Villon and Picabia and Duchamp and the rest. So this pre-non-Cubist engraving is not a key to a new vocabulary of vision--it is just a drawing of ship's sails.
Here's another example of pre-modern art peeping out from the pages of this same encyclopedia, this one being a Prehistoric Rayograph, or a proto-non-photographic example of Man Ray, but from 1810 (and which I wrote about here):
Which is a detail from:
The engraving below is another fine example of futuristic bubbles, this one a possible example of Steampunk Dada, and appears innocently (and beautifully, and importantly) in Architectura Hydraulica (1740),
and titled "Demonstration of Friction". I've simply inverted it and
removed some of the numerical notation--and then, suddenly, it becomes a
sort of Steampunk Balloon Machine--a lovely collection of small
balloons lifting large wheels and cogs, assembling some sort of
something in mid-air, demonstrating very little friction, of lightness
Seems to me that if you look hard enough that these examples are, well, kind of everywhere. They just aren't yet what they could've been.
Here's another example: Geology of Images: Finding Pre-biotic, Neo-Dadaist Images in Antique Astronomy Prints (here)
That's the hopeful outcome in the opening paragraph of this urbano-centric tale.
In the piece of speculative fiction, "The Man who Unmade Cities" by George Holmes (found in Illustrated World, May 1916), a Mr. John Watterson becomes the ultra-Ford of aviation. Watterson introduces massive reform in airplane design and production such that the new machines are available to, well, everyone--instead of selling thousands of the new planes, millions are sold.
The story begins with Watterson in childhood, developing his flying interests and, by 1950, andhe becomes a world-beater, and destroyer of cities. The plane allows people to fly off, leaving the cities in swarms, and "within three years the motorcar was on its way to oblivion".
The revolutionary planes were "flimsy-looking", "dwarfish contraptions", "spindle-shanked", and so light "that a man could carry it" and "sold for a song of one's own singing", and were collapsable, carry-able, and capable of reaching speeds of 70mph.
And at the outset of this triumph "the great city was killed; John Watterson was triumphant".
But the article, reporting from somewhere in the near-future, reported that the city would return, benefiting from the need for closer stores, and the want for a walk, and the plummeting prices of evacuated city spaces--people were drawn back into the city in much the same way they were drawn out to the suburbs.
In general I'm not in favor of left turns for autos in cities of a size where traffic congestion is an issue. It seems that from a main thoroughfare that three rights should make a left, easy congestion in the center of a busy street, eliminating lines of cars waiting behind a left-turning car waiting for a break in oncoming traffic, and so on. This semi-crackpot notion was just sparked after seeing this As Seen on TV-style pre-televsion promotional for an artificial hand for a left-turning hand-directional 1916 automobile. The hand is actually illuminated, which would have made it more effective than a stark hand in the night. It seems that they were just about <this close> to figuring our a less mechanical-anthropomorphic and more elegant solution than the illuminated artificial hand-held hand.
"The Electric Engineer", by Herbert C. Crocker, was an article in the December 1916 issue of Illustrated World, and featured this extraordinary idea:
"This mechanical marvel may furnish the warring armies of Europe with a new engine of destruction", page 504.
"King Grey", the creation of Vern Pieper of Alton, Illinois, turns out not to be an extraordinary giant as depicted in the cover art, but a giant on the humanish scale, topping out at nine feet tall and 750 pounds, "a marvel of steel plates, knuckles and cog wheels", that would have its own guns and haul a small armored cart. It looks quite a bit like a more-famous British steampunk version of this idea from mid-century.
These lovely images are found in a long, shining and slightly darkroom-smelling The City of Light, which was a pamphlet made for the Consolidated Edison exhibition at the New York City World's Fair of 1939. Con Ed I think just wanted to get the point across that they saw into the future and were getting ready for it, NYC being stuffed to the gills with buildings and each window stuffed and outlined in Con Ed-supplied electric light. The vision is vaguely threatening to me, though, the buildings in a stadium-seating arrangement that is unsettling, like they're part of our robot-overlord future--someone or something must be living in those room filled with Con Ed light, though...
The Burroughs Adding Machine company did about as much as anyone to objectify the worker in America during the 1880-1915 period, making the worker a part of a machine within the machine. In a way it was like creating the Ford assembly line for people sitting down.
The company was founded on the work of William S. Burroughs' grandfather, William Seward Burroughs (1857-1898 and native son of Rochester, NY), who created a mechanical calculator to help him add long columns of numbers in his job as a bank clerk. American Arithmometer Company was founded by him and others in 1886, later evolving into Burroughs Adding Machine Company (1904), Burroughs Corporation (1953), and then into Unisys (combining with Sperry Univac in 1986) before sliding away.
In any event the adding machine connected millions of people to a mechanizing process of what had previously been a mental operation--the flywheel in the side of the head of the clerk/accountant in this add for Technical World (More Fascinating than Fiction) for August 1915 wasn't too terribly far from the truth. Interesting that on the other side of the head of this fellow, behind the other ear, is a pencil.
(Jean Baptiste) Amedee Couder wrote L'Architecture et l'industrie comme moyen de perfection sociale, which was published in Paris (by Brockhaus et Avenarius) in 1842. (Its actually a fairly scarce book, with only two copies found in the WorldCat directory.) I was surprised by this lovely plan among its slim 52 pages--it reminds me of a snowflake. (See also Snowflakes and Fort Construction, which appeared earlier on this blog, here.)
Projet d'un palais des Arts et de l'industrie. 18x14 inches.
[(Please not that the image below is from http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b530065524--I've used their digital image rather than my own because my copy is folded in quarters and is too large and too-attached-to-the-book to get a decent image of it.]
[Image source: the wonderful Frank Wu (sci-fi fanasy artist) website, here.]
This is the delightful and reaching cover art by the great Frank R. Paul for the October 1929 Science Wonder Stories, illustrating "Into the Subconscious" by Ray Avery Myers, a story of a physician/shrinkologist/physicist who concocts a way of reading into the memories of his subjects--long, deep, ancestral memories. The doc (Macey) is seated at right on the cover, somehow retrieving images from the patient--an idea that has had long legs, and seen famously in the end-all road movies, Wim Wender's 1991 PunkNoir film, Until the End of the World. Or perhaps its more future-driven than that, where each viewer is viewing the other's memories or dreams or visions, rather than their own, the images flickering to life onto the monitors, initiated by the simple proximity of another person...all memories available, nothing secret.
At least in the Wenders portrayal of the dream-end of this idea, there was precious little time for anything but dreams.