A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.6 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
In developing a history of vertical lines I thought that I would look at single vertical lines, but having just stumbled across this in our WWI News Photo Service archive, I just could not resist. There is of course plenty of vertical arrangement here--just orders of magnitude more than what I was setting out to find. So it goes.
(The image is available from our blog bookstore, here.) And the detail:
I find this a soaring image, in its own odd way--this is a celebration scene, after,all, a decoration exercise, a military display of French forces that liberated the town of Reims, all taking place in front of the battered cathedral. Notre-Dame de Reims was the place of the coronation of French kings, and was a spectacular 13th century structure built on top of other buildings stretching back the site's inhabitation to at least the 5th century.
But German artillery shelling caught the cathedral right at the beginning of the war and very nearly wrecked it. The building was badly damaged by fire, a fire caused by the Germans, which spread along the scaffolding on the building which fed the wooden supports and superstructures, the flames finding its way throughout the building. The fire was hot enough to melt the lead in the roof, which poured down as molten rain and out of the mouth-spouts of the building's gargoyles.
As I brought out the further figures against the base of the cathedral one can clearly see the enormous stands of sandbags, the piles stacked up twenty feet or so behind the makeshift wooden fence. IT was some sort of protection for the building, but not muc.
This was yet another battle for the city, this one taking place 1550 years or so after the first, the Alemanni defending against the Romans; and then 104 years after the next major encounter, this between Napoleon and a Russian/Prussian force. The liberating battle (the Battle of Reims, or the Second Battle of the Marne) took place 15 July 1918 to 6 August 1918, and it was a major failure for the German army, and spelled the collapse of the Spring Offensive, opening the door to the end of the war. There were more than 135,000 Allies killed or wounded in this campaign (including 95,000 french troops), plus another 130,000 German troops.
The process of victory in front of the wounded church seems exhausting and exhilarating, but not without a good sense of anticipation.
Overall, these soldiers look to be in pretty good spirits, even if they were told to be so, they still looked fairly genuine. And who wouldn't be, at least to some degree? They were a few of the millions of soldiers who were wounded in WWI, which means at least that they were among the millions of the dead.
The caption that accompanies these News Photo Service image (made by the Central News Photo Service and dated May 11, 1917, says that they were enjoying the donated headsets--Electrophones--and represented a few of the hundreds that received them. This device was basically a telephone receiver, and years after Bell and Edison dreamed of social integration and advancement and wide-ranging culture, of delivery literature and music to people flung near and far, these soldiers were enjoying the benefit of limited concerts and other entertainments via telephone lines.
Here's a very good quote on the electrophone from the highly interesting The Cat's Meat Shop, written by Lee Jackson, author of Dirty Old London, the Victorian Campaign Against Filth. (It is an interesting topic--filth and its control--because you really can't have an Industrial Revolution without lots of workers living close to their jobs, which means that lots of people live close together, and you can't have that unless you somehow control for good sanitary conditions, which means you've got to take care of filth.)
The original image is available for purchase via the blog's bookstore, here.
"The most picturesque and entertaining adjunct of Telephone London is the electrophone. There is not a leading theatre, concert-room, or music-hall but has the electrophone transmitters - in shape like cigar-boxes - installed before the footlights, out of sight of the audience. They are at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; and in many of the principal places of worship a wooden dummy Bible in the pulpit bears the preacher's words, by means of the N.T.C. telephone lines, to thousands of invalid or crippled listeners in bed or chair in their homes or hospitals. It was thus that Queen Victoria, seated at Windsor Castle, heard 2,000 school children in Her Majesty's Theatre, in the Haymarket, cheer her and sing "God Save the Queen" on her last birthday. King Edward was likewise relieved from ennui at Buckingham Palace during his illness, for the brightest music, mirth, and song of London were ever on tap at his side. Queen Alexandra is also a devotee of the electrophone, more especially throughout the opera season. On the other hand, the cruel lot of certain hospital patients, of the blind, and even the deaf - for the micro-phonic capacity of the electrophone enables all but the stone-deaf to hear - is thus greatly brightened by science. The sadness of the bedridden, the incurable, or the sufferer from contagious disease is enlivened by sacred or secular song and story, and, as a much-to-be-welcomed addition to the alleviations of London's strenuous life, the benefits of the electrophone are innumerable. It may be added that in the imposingly decorated salon in Gerrard Street from time to time fashionable parties assemble and "taste" the whole of London's entertainments in one evening. Thus, over mammoth aerial and subterranean wire-webs does London, annihilating distance, work and play by the aid of Science.--George R. Sims (ed.), Living London, 1902
In a play on the concept of the Powers of Ten, I had a look at a photograph depicting the French victory at the Somme; or was it a British victory? Or German, via the lure of the others to a semi-victory? Its hard to say who won, or if there really was a winner. The Battle, which looks to me to be a sub-war within the war, occurred over the period of July through November 1916. When the smoke settled, there were some 1.5 million casualties on both sides.It has long been held that the battle really was won by someone, the British, the French; but there was so little that was accomplished by the action that there probably wasn't a winner, just losers.
And big losers, at that: Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa and Newfoundland lost 419,654 casualties, with 95,000 killed; the French lost 204,000 casualties and 50,000 killed. That made a total of 623,000 casualties and 146,000 killed for the allies; Germany lost 465,000 casualties and 164,000 dead. The advances made along the battle front went a few miles one way and then the other along a 12-mile stretch of battlefield, which four lives were traded for every inch gained along that porous front.
The first image here (above) is a very sharp detail from the overall picture published in The Illustrated London News for 6 January 1917, representing about 1% of the entire photo
The next image places the micro-detail in more context; this detail is itself about 5% of the main image, which is found just below this one.
The overall image from which these two details are removed is below. In turn, this large image is but a small detail of the greater overview of the battlefield, making up perhaps a few percent of the field of operations.
I'm trying to get a feel for the enormity of the battle, but I really can't, not even via powers of ten, manipulating the idea of orders of magnitude.
In one last try, I hypothesize that the 1.5 million casualties could not be displayed in 10 of these large images. .
This is an excellent example of appreciating images in context. The photograph seemed line an ordinary image of a soldier peering through a periscope on action ahead of his trench, in some miserable battlefield, somewhere in Europe, 1918. The image is the product of a photographic pool, the photographers working in semi-unison to produce acceptable images to be used in publications illustrating the war. The images could not be too terribly graphic, and must not relate any useful military intelligence--they would pass through the hands of very active censors whose job it was to slightly inform the reading public and to also keep morale high, a difficult balancing act.
And so I thought my thoughts. Until I turned the image over--it was stamped "Photo by Central News Photo Service". It was also accompanied by a typed caption, the bit of text that was to be the standardized caption for this photograph when and if it was used by a magazine or newspaper.
The title is "The Belgian Collector".
The Belgian collector was a sharpshooter. He would scan the field looking for any unfortunate who might have left themselves exposed. Then he would shoot at them. Collect them.
In a sense, "collect" like "John Fowles The Collector, only killing them with a rifle.
But that was his job. And it was war. And if he was on your side, then you'd want him there.
I found "the collector" name to be poetical, and chilling.
So, combining the context with the image in this case was a truly sensational thing.
The original photo may be purchased from this blog's bookstore, here.
I'm not sure that I understand this photograph and what is going on in it. I do know that it was made in 1918, and that the back is stamped "Photo by/Central News Photo Service/26-28 Beaver St., N.Y....", a product of not-very-discrete control of war images. The vast majority of photographic efforts of WWI were very deeply controlled, with little left to chance and uncontrolled. This lively image may be Doughboys inspecting female volunteers for lice--perhaps that was a job performed by these volunteers. Or something else, though I can't see what--the soldiers aren't using clippers, and they seem to be separating the hair.... So the subject matter isn't scrumptious, but the faces are--a break in the not-routine routine business of war.
[Doughboy: The origin of the term "Doughboy" is unclear, or varied, or rich, but it is at least pretty oldm beginning around the time of the Mexican American War in 1846-1848--evidently when the soldiers marched through dry, tough terrain they wound up being covered by earth with the color of dough. Doughboy.]
Everyone knows this image: the Madonna of the American 1930's, the Migrant Mother, a photograph made by Dorothea Lange, a photographer for the Federally-funded Farm Security Administration. Lange was still very new to the FSA project when she made this photograph in the spring of 1936. On the tail end of a month-long road trip she was nearing the end of her day when she spotted a hand-lettered sign "Pea-Pickers Camp" by the side of the road. Lange briefly considered stopping but went ahead, questioning her judgment continuously for the next 20 miles, when she finally turned around to find the turn-off for the camp. She drove down the dirt road and found a ramshackle assembly of tents, one of which contained "an exhausted mother sitting forlornly with her children". Lange spent only 10 minutes with the woman, making five exposures. She learned that "the crops had frozen, and the woman and children were living on vegetables scavenged from the fields, and the few birds that the children managed to catch. The mother could not leave; she had sold the tires from her car". It was published almost immediately and quickly became one of the great iconic images of the Depression, as well as for the American century.
I was thinking about this because of a typewritte, offset-printed pamphlet I bought written Paul S.Taylor, "What Shall We Do With Them" ( an address before the Commonwealth Club of California, San Francisco, April 15, 1938)--the "Them" being the dustbowler, the migrant workers, the disposed. Paul Taylor was at this time three years into his marriage with Lange—he was a progressive thinker and a FSA operative who helped Lange land her job and was a part of an extraordinary team of very expansive ability that documented a pivotal period in American life. He was also co-creator with Lange of their great documentarian centerpiece of the 1930's, An American Exodus, a Record of Human Erosion, which was published in 1939, the same year as the publication of The Grapes of Wrath and the release of the Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind.(Two years later--1941--James Agee (text) and Walker Evans (photographs saw their long-developing Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was published.)
In this pamphlet Taylor gave testimony on migrant workers and nearly the height of the Depression—he was an expert, having traveled and lived among them and written academic papers on what he found. He outlined possible answers to the question, which had mainly to do with stability, which of course was the primary concern for the many of thousands of individuals and families who were once-stable but now very mobile, not having place to live or places to go. Taylor thought that opening dams and supplying irrigation and affordable government-owned houses would be the first of many steps to take to relieve the widespread suffering. In all of the alphabet-soup programs uundertaken by the Roosevelt administration, none were nearly as "successful" in ending the national social erosion as the events that were to unfold less than a year later.
Dorothea Lange “Three Families, 14 Children” US 99 San Joaquin Valley, California, November 1938. An American Exodus
Lange describes her encounter with the Migrant Mother as follows:
"I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it". (From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).
[Source: "Eli W. Buel (American, active ca. 1870) Top Hat, ca. 1870, albumen print carte-de-visite, museum purchase, George Eastman House",here.]
This is a great example of "everyday objects shriek aloud" as Magritte said somewhere along the path of his life. I thought about him right away seeing this much earlier vision of a floating hat and that it fit somehow into a Melville ("I would prefer not to") Duchamp ("This is not a pipe") and Magritte continuum:
The founders of the Physikalische Gesellschaft zu Berlin (1845, “Physical Society at Berlin”, which would become the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft (“German Physical Society”) in a lovely and very uncommon perspective, taken ca. mid-1850's. These founding membership pictured above included some first-class heavyweights in their fields:
Top row: Gustav Karsten, Wilelm Heintz, Carl Hermann Knoblauch.
Bottom row: Ernst Brücke, Emil du Bois-Reymond, Wilhelm von Beetz.
[Source: a very interesting paper by Fritz Scholz, "From the Leiden jar to the discovery of the glass electrode by Max Cremer" published in the Journal of Solid State Electrochemistry (Springer-Verlag, October 29, 2009, online). Apologies for not being able to link to this article behind the paywall.]
I could hardly resist this 1918 image: the young girl, her hands in her pockets, ribbons on her chest, her submarine fashioned over a tricycle with the two flags (Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack).
The sun is low, rising or setting, and it is catching the girl in the face, the home-fashioned hardboard visor of her home-grown officer's headgear doing nohing to shade her eyes. She's in her dress whites, maybe proud of someone else's handiwork on her ten foot long submarine.
The image comes from my small archive of 200 or so WWI news service photos, this one no doubt intended to stir some home fires to help raise money or spirits. I have no idea of the image was ever published.
And of course the details:
And this of the stern flag, the Union Jack:
And this, with the hand-sewn eagle on the hand-made jacket, with all of the trimmings a creation of mom, or someone else as kind:
And you can purchase the original: World War I news service photo, made 1918. 8x6 inches. Good condition. $350
Long before John Brown led his armed Abolitionist revolt, he was--like many people on the inner edge of the frontier--trying to make his way in the world at a host of different businesses, some of which did well, some not. He had a farm, operated a tannery, raised sheep and cattle, a bit of this and that, a man with a big family (he would have 20 children in his life) who absolutely had to make some money one way or the other. Some of these enterprises involved loans, which when combined with the Panic of 1837 and the Crisis of 1839 put the man under water. He was so deeply done that by 1842--at the age of 42--John Brown was bankrupt.
I'm writing about this now because Rebecca Onion published (in her excellent Slate Vault blog) a list of all of the worldly possessions of Brown and his family, collected and listed out by order of federal bankruptcy laws. The resulting list is heartbreaking and hopefully, and probably representative of a broad-spectrum slice of American semi-pioneer daily life about what the working family owned at mid-century somewhere along the speedily disappearing frontier.
What appeared to me first was the worn and worn out material, all listed in workman-like observational undertones, especially in the housewares and daily life category: "6 feather beds old and poor", "3 tables old", "5 chests old", "6 pots cracked", "6 bedsteads old", "4 wooden pails old", "2 earthen ware crocks broke". There was the broken stuff, and then just the inexpensive: the 75-cent writing desk, 50-cent washtub, the pepper mill for a quarter, three soup bowls for a quarter, the pot hook for a skinny dime, and so on.
Most of the value of the family was in the livestock and food stores, mostly because there was so much that could be done with that, and by every/anyone. Though even there are found some shriveling disappointments: the 75-cent nail hammer, the 12-cent inkstand, and the 25-cent pitchfork ("work needed to be done on same").
The listing of possessions was complete--also found here under guided supervision was the clothing of the family in their house as well as what everyone was wearing; and for a large family, there wasn't much at home that wasn't already being worn. "2 overcoats - 5 coats - 10 vests - 12 pairs Pantaloons - 26 Shirts 10 Womens & Girls dresses - 3 Skirts - 2 Cloaks - 4 Shawls - 8 Womens and childrens aprons - 5 pairs of Boots - 3 pairs of Shoes - 13 pairs of Socks & Stockings - 7 Stocks & Handkerchiefs - 4 Bonnets - 1 Hat 5 Palmleaf Hats - 8 mens & Boys cloth caps - 1 Fur cap - & 1 Wool cap."
It is the children's clothing that is really hard to read about.
Photographs of the original documents as well as transcriptions are available here
I do believe that this is a Lewis Machine Gun, one of the most popularly-used automatic weapons by the BEF (and of American design). It was a gas-operated weapon firing a .30-06 Springfield at 500/600 rpm withan effective range of about a half-mile. The drum magazine (not present here so far as I can see) held 47 and 97 rounds. These soldiers were all business. (Source: this is one of perhaps 400 WWI news service photos down in the warehouse...)
This fantastic photograph calls to mind the importance of the little things of battle--dry socks, headgear, water, food, scissors. And of course a good coat in the winter--a good coat that can be kept closed to allow the body to stay warm, or dry. I mentioned in an earlier post here that it was a small thing that may have led to the demise of Napoleon's army in Russia in 1812--the buttons on the overcoats of the soldiers were made of tin, and as tin becomes brittle in severe cold, it is conceivable that the buttons failed and therefore allowed the jackets to blow open much more easily than normal. Little change that has an enormous impact.
This photograph--an official French photo published by the Western Newspaper Union in November 1918--shows a group of French telegraphic soldiers, taking a break, and mending their clothes. The original text for the photograph (below) points out that their uniforms were torn and made shabby by continuously running themselves up and down telegraph poles. It is important to keep yourself fit and fed and your uniform in good order, so they calmly awaited the repair of their uniforms y the one man with a needle and thread.
Both images are details from this lovely tintype, a piece of photographic Americana I picked up in an antique store, found while looking for odd bits like it to construct an imaginary mug book for people who committed imaginary crimes, crimes against teh imagination. But not this man--he held his imagination in his little hat, a hat too small for his head. The original is really rather small, only about an inch tall, but for all of its minor dimensions it has major visual attractions.
I'm not sure at what point during the War this image was made (though I suspect it was midway through the American experience) and shows what I think is the enlistment and draft numbers for U.S. soldiers. The progress of the growth of the Army is charted against German cities that were to be conquered or had already been engaged. The Doughboy in the graphic along with everything else looks clean and hopeful and determined--the end result of all of this determination was Victory and Defeat and people dead everywhere.