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Posts Tagged ‘digital archives’

Now Lay Me Down in a Grotto of Moss, and Other News

October 15, 2015 | by

A grove of mosses from Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur, 1904. Image via Public Domain Review

  • Today in persistence, doubt, the slow burn, and eventual triumph: Marlon James, who won the Booker earlier this week for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, saw seventy-eight different houses reject his first novel. (Can you beat that record? Let’s talk.) “ ‘I had to sit down and add it up one day and I had no idea it was that much … I did give it up. I actually destroyed the manuscript, I even went on my friends’ computers and erased it.’ He said he retrieved the text by searching in the e-mail outbox of an old iMac computer.” James is the first Jamaican writer to win the Booker.
  • Behold, the awesome generative power of the image search, which has given rise to millions of mood boards and a lust for an intimate connection to pictures: “As the longing for emotional connection spreads from how we want our clothes or living room to feel to how we want our minivan or constitutional democracy to feel, the mood business continues to expand … fueled, in large part, by the sheer overabundance of available images. It’s hard to remember that a couple of decades ago, finding pictures of things involved countless, tedious hours of random page flipping. Now a few seconds of furious keystroking produces endless examples … As vast files of metadata and personal search histories are ferreted away in some server farm in god-knows-where, we crave the kind of anodyne, gauzy experiences that at least promise something warmer and more human.”
  • But even as the Internet helps us find too many things, it loses them. A thirty-four-part series of investigative journalism from 2007—nominated for the Pulitzer, even—disappeared from The Rocky Mountain News’s Web site, where it had been exclusively published. “If a sprawling Pulitzer Prize–nominated feature in one of the nation’s oldest newspapers can disappear from the web, anything can … today’s web is more at-risk than the iterations that preceded it. The serving environments are now more complex, and the volume of data involved is astonishing … Saving something on the web, just as Kevin Vaughan learned from what happened to his work, means not just preserving websites but maintaining the environments in which they first appeared—the same environments that often fail, even when they’re being actively maintained.”
  • Richard Spruce, a nineteenth-century biologist, was obsessed not with spruces or even conifers at large, but with mosses, liverworts, bryophytes: the true underdogs of the plant world. Most scientists of his kind found them boring, but mosses had an active life in other quarters of the Victorian imagination: “Bryophytes had a way of working themselves into art and literature as signifiers of privacy and secrecy … Moss in particular served to create some botanical, aesthetic sense of a setting that allowed for illicit sexual encounters and for primal yearnings … Moss provided a soft bed for sexual romps that had to take place outside of stuffy Victorian homes. Serving, perhaps predictably, as a slang term for pubic hair, moss was understood to be consistently moist and jewel-like, glittering like emerald colonies under light … Hidden moss grottoes conjured up an image of something semi-religious, some secret refuge from the trials of urban—and overwhelming imperial tropical—life.”
  • Hilton Als on Truman Capote’s early stories, and their approach to queerness, blackness, and the social politics of their day: “As an artist, Truman Capote treated truth as a metaphor he could hide behind, the better to expose himself in a world not exactly congenial to a Southern-born queen with a high voice who once said to a disapproving truck driver: ‘What are you looking at? I wouldn’t kiss you for a dollar’ … It’s interesting to think about him maybe taking in news reports from the time, like that story about those four black girls in Alabama, one of his home states, blown to bits in a church by racism and maleficence, and maybe wondering how, as the author of 1958’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, he could have written of Holly Golightly, the book’s star, asking for a cigarette and then saying: ‘I don’t mean you, O.J. You’re such a slob. You always nigger-lip.’ ”

Books from the Met, Unsorted

May 21, 2014 | by

A Stallian, Habiballah of Sava, 1601-6

Habiballah of Sava, A Stallion, 1601-6

A Prospect of the City of London, Westminster and St James Park, Johannes Kip, 1710

Johannes Kip, from A Prospect of the City of London, Westminster and St. James Park, 1710

Camera Work, No. 14

Alfred Stieglitz, Camera Work, No. 14, 1906

Alphone J Lie'bert Barracks Post, Place de la Bastille Canal Tunnel and July Column, 1871

Alphonse J. Liébert, Barracks Post, Place de la Bastille; Canal Tunnel and July Column, 1871

bauhaus archive Gertrud Preiswerk

Gertrud Preiswerk, from the Bauhaus Archive

La Caricature Charles Philipon 1830-35

From La Caricature, a journal founded by Charles Philipon, 1830-35


Fishes, Seki Shūkō, from the Meiji period (1868–1912)

Le Jardin des Supplices Octave-Henri-Marie Mirbeau, 1902

Le Jardin des Supplices, Octave-Henri-Marie Mirbeau, 1902

Manuscript Illumination with the Visitation in an Initial D from a Choir Book late 19th c

Manuscript Illumination with the Visitation in an Initial D, from a choir book, late nineteenth century

The Singer of Amun Nany's Funerary Papyrus

The Singer of Amun Nany’s Funerary Papyrus, c. 1050 BC

Two Lovers in a Landscape, 17th c, Iranian

Artist unknown, Two Lovers in a Landscape, seventeenth century, Iranian

Yesterday, the Met released nearly four-hundred thousand images—394,253, if you’re counting—into the public domain. Verily this is a horn of digital plenty, and the museum has made it easy, even fun, to peruse: users can sort the images by artist, maker, culture, method, material, geographical location, date, era, or department. To give you a sense of the collection’s scope, I sorted it, not especially imaginatively, to show only books, which left me with an unwieldy 2,701 results—and then I dove in. Above are a few of the more striking images I found, all of them deeply miscellaneous.

There’s something enjoyable in a stochastic approach to browsing, though you’d be right to call it dilettantish. The pieces I found have nothing in common—no cultural background, no thematic unity, no philosophy or aesthetic, no chronology, not even a shared mode of production—except that they all come from books, and they were all created by, you know, the people of Earth. Imagine wandering a library in complete disarray, with no organizing principle and no particular ambition: all the context disappears, along with most notions of the cumulative, but it’s hard not to come away feeling humbled by the vastness of artistic accomplishment. If this is a cheap kind of awe, it doesn’t feel that way; a few minutes of randomized images did wonders for my sense of humanism, and I saw only an infinitesimal fraction of the collection.

You can peruse the Met’s online collection here, as purposely or as arbitrarily as you’d like. Bookmark it and return whenever you’re feeling misanthropic.