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America’s Public Libraries

April 17, 2014 | by

A photo essay for National Library Week.

Library built by ex-slaves, Allensworth, CA

Allensworth, California.

Cairo, IL

Cairo, Illinois.

Ocean Park Carnegie branch library, Santa Monica, CA

Santa Monica, California.

Reading Room, Main Library, Philadelphia. PA

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Central Library, Seattle, WA

Seattle, Washington.

Bookmobile librarian, Baker, NV

Baker, Nevada.

Esparanza Moreno branch library, El Paso. TX

El Paso, Texas.

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

Rockaways Queens NY_p45

Queens, New York.

Abandoned library, Sunflower, MS

Sunflower, Mississippi.

There are approximately seventeen thousand public libraries in the United States. Since I began this project in 1994, I have photographed hundreds of libraries in forty-seven states.

I didn’t intend this project to last eighteen years. Many of the early libraries were photographed during longer journeys, when I had the time. The photography was usually connected to some other effort, such as when I taught workshops in Alaska in 1994 and Key West, Florida, in 1997. In 2000 my family and I took a long drive throughout the American West, occasionally photographing libraries along the way. In 2007 we traveled through Louisiana and parts of the South, again photographing a few. Every summer we have stayed in a little cabin in Vermont. I have always brought my camera along on each of those trips and gradually began to accumulate photographs from places other than my home in California. In the late 2000s I began to focus the project. I made specific library photo trips throughout Nevada and to Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Chicago. I began to realize that if I wanted to make this a national study, I had some more traveling to do. Read More »

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Kingsley Amis’s James Bond Novel

April 16, 2014 | by

Colonel_Sun_a

Happy birthday to Kingsley Amis, who would be ninety-two today. In his 1975 Art of Fiction interview, Amis says,

I think it’s very important to read widely and in a wide spectrum of merit and ambition on the part of the writer. And ever since, I’ve always been interested in these less respectable forms of writing—the adventure story, the thriller, science fiction, and so on—and this is why I’ve produced one or two examples myself. I read somewhere recently somebody saying, “When I want to read a book, I write one.” I think that’s very good. It puts its finger on it, because there are never enough books of the kind one likes: one adds to the stock for one’s own entertainment.

Amis was always a staunch defender of genre fiction—and one of the “examples” he speaks of having produced is Colonel Sun, a James Bond novel he published in 1968 under the pseudonym Robert Markham. Read More »

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Happy Motoring

April 15, 2014 | by

Rand McNally published its first road atlas on April 15, 1924. It was called—in a touching testament to the marketing of yore—the Rand McNally Auto Chum. Many hours of intrepid googling have failed to yield a photo of the Chum, but I did find a retrospective of atlas covers, and this commemorative press release, which catalogs some of the decidedly unchummy features of the 1924 atlas. A few of the things it didn’t do:

  • Did not identify roads by number; instead roads were listed by their names, such as Roosevelt Highway. In fact, the atlas depicted zero miles of interstate, as those roads did not yet exist.
  • Did not include an index for cities, or other places. If a driver didn’t know where a town was located, he or she would have to page through the atlas to find it.
  • Did not appear in full color. The 1924 atlas was printed in only two colors, dark blue and red. The first full-color edition was printed in 1960.

One can only imagine the faces of so many vexed motorists as they tossed their unindexed, two-tone Chums out the windows of their stranded Model Ts.

As with so many reference texts, the road atlas has fallen into desuetude, for reasons obvious to anyone with an Internet connection. In its coverage of the Rand McNally anniversary, Yahoo! News already presumes that its readership knows nothing of atlases past; their tone is that of a nostalgic grandfather. “Before there were smart phones and Google Maps,” the story begins, “people relied on road atlases and paper maps stored in their glove boxes.” Gee!

We’ve also lost the complimentary road maps once offered by gasoline companies, a few of which are pictured above. (Look closely for the title of a Flannery O’Connor short story in one of them.) It was the gas giants who helped to underwrite the cost of the first atlases: better maps meant more people on the road, and more people on the road meant more gasoline sold.

The Yale University Library hosts an old but serviceable guide to early road maps, and its text, by Douglas A. Yorke Jr. and John Margolies, provides an excellent précis on the importance of oil-company cartography, which, with its flashy art and sloganeering, amounts to a kind of petrol propaganda:

The oil-company road map became the primary medium through which Americans found their way on the ever-growing network of the national roads and highways … By the twenties, most major oil companies had some form of promotional map program. The covers often featured a man and a woman discovering the joy of driving through the countryside, enjoying the freedom and mobility the automobile offered … The 1927 Standard Oil map of Ohio compares the motorist to the pioneer in the Conestoga wagon, blazing trails and discovering new lands. The Kentucky Standard Oil map of the same year has a three panel spread, depicting a motorist using a free map to plan their descent into the rolling valley below. Oil companies were encouraging the automobile owner to travel and explore the country—using their gasoline.

 

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Where They Create

April 14, 2014 | by

If you’ve seen the photos of last week’s Spring Revel, you might be under the impression that life at The Paris Review is a ceaseless parade of Bellinis and photo ops, full of mirth and joie de vivre and toast after graceful toast, all elegantly lit and impeccably groomed. And don’t get us wrong—it’s all of those things. But we cannot lie. Every once in a while, it’s quieter around here.

Last month, Paul Barbera—who curates Where They Create, a site that chronicles the studios and work spaces of artists and writers—photographed our office on behalf of Svbscription, “a new ser­vice that deliv­ers lux­ury, hand-selected prod­ucts, and expe­ri­ences to your door.” Paul’s excellent photos capture an average day on 544 West Twenty-Seventh Street; we’re happy to present a selection of them on the Daily. (Note that the desk of a certain Web editor—cluttered with books and papers, and looking not unlike the carrel of a wayward theologian who’s just discovered the threshold to hell—is very judiciously not pictured.)

You can see the rest of Paul’s Paris Review photos here, and read Svbscription’s interview with Lorin Stein here.

 

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In Extremis

April 10, 2014 | by

Alfred_Kubin_-_Self-Reflection,_c._1901-1902_-_Google_Art_Project

Self-Reflection, c. 1901-2

Alfred Kubin Danger

Danger, 1901

Alfred Kubin into the unknown c 1901-2

Into the Unknown, c. 1901-2

alfred kumin epidemic 1901

Epidemic, 1901

Alfred_Kubin_-_Dolmen,_c._1900-1902_-_Google_Art_Project

Dolmen, c. 1900-1

Alred Kubin black mass 1905

Black Mass, 1905

kubin siberian fairy tale

Siberian Fairy Tale, c. 1901-2

Kubin the moment of birth

The Moment of Birth, c. 1901-2

Alfred Kubin was an Austrian artist and, to hazard a guess, a fairly tortured soul. Today is his birthday, and as a peg it’ll have to suffice, though I don’t imagine he was the type to put on a party hat. He was known to live in a small castle in Zwickledt, and his biography includes a nervous breakdown and a suicide attempt—the latter on his mother’s grave. His early drawings, shown here, often feature monsters, deformities, disfigurements, human bodies in decay—a grim phantasmagoria of the bleak, the macabre, and the merely unsettling, with a palette that tends toward soot. What keeps me looking at it is some element of detachment in his style, as if a savage disembowelment by a fantastical creature were no big thing; we’re not accustomed to seeing the brutal without the lurid. As Christopher Brockhaus notes, “these drawings revealed Kubin’s abiding interest in the macabre. Thematically they were related to Symbolism, as shown by the ink drawing The Spider (c. 1900–01; Vienna, Albertina), which depicts a grotesque woman-spider at the center of a web in which copulating couples are ensnared. This reflects the common Symbolist notion of the woman as temptress and destroyer.” Not surprisingly, Kubin admired Schopenhauer. Read More »

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The Disappearing Face of New York

April 8, 2014 | by

optimo-cigars

What was once Optimo Cigars is now a boutique cupcake shoppe. Photo: James and Karla Murray, via Facebook

Smithsonian Magazine, Beautiful Decay, and others have recently featured photographs from Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York, published in 2008 by James and Karla Murray. In 2004, the couple “began a project to capture New York City’s iconic storefronts—the city’s unique, mom-and-pop restaurants, shops, and bars—before they disappeared.” Now, ten years later, they’ve revisited the storefronts to find that most of shops have, in fact, disappeared:

lenox-lounge

Many traditional “mom and pop” neighborhood storefronts that had prevailed in some cases for over a century were disappearing in the face of modernization and conformity, and the once unique appearance and character of New York's colorful streets were suffering in the process … We noticed very early on while photographing the original stores that if the owner did not own the entire building, their business was already in jeopardy of closing. The owners themselves frequently acknowledged that they were at the mercy of their landlords and the ever-increasing rents they charged … When the original 2nd Avenue Deli location in the East Village closed in 2006 after the rent was increased from $24,000 a month to $33,000 a month, and a Chase Bank took over the space, we knew the contrast of before and after was severe.

More of the photos can be seen on James and Karla’s Facebook page. They’re especially sobering given the sad fate of Rizzoli Bookstore, which will shutter its beautiful, historic Fifty-Seventh Street location on April 11.

 

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