“Celebrating our legacy”

Read the whole thing here.

Google Street View goes into the wild

New frontiers in nature photography:

From Wired magazine:

The Trekker is basically a smaller version of the equipment the Google uses in its Street View cars — a cluster of 15 camera lenses, each respective lens with a resolution of 5 megapixels, shooting a photo every 2.5 seconds. The resulting images come out at a combined resolution of 75 megapixels. Everything is controlled by an HTML5 app running on a USB-attached Android phone called Trekker Interface. The app allows Googlers to not only start up the rig (which takes about 10 minutes in good weather) but also to see the shots they’re getting shortly after photos are snapped, for a bit of quality control.

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≡  via PetaPixel

Selling off “part of this great institution’s history”

{ Read the whole thing here. }

To those who have inquired:
No, the Society’s office furniture is not (yet) for sale.

Innovation vs. titillation

National Geographic may no longer be on the cutting edge of photography and photojournalism, but our Society is second to none when it comes to simulated bestiality:

Tank Man, uncropped

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≡  via i.minus.com  

Stop the insanity

via ngm.com

To: Chris Johns, Editor of National Geographic magazine
Re: Cory Richards

You’re watching The Magazine die a slow death. Or, if you believe John Fahey, not-so-slow.

You want to sell iPad apps.

And you think sending Cory Richards up the West Ridge of Mt. Everest might be a good way to demonstrate that, as Editor, you’re still alive & kicking.

Chris Johns, Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic magazine

But you need to bring Cory Richards home. Now. Because there’s no good reason for him to be up there, and no reason for our Society to be underwriting what is a pointless and very dangerous stunt.

This whole Mt. Everest trip is a ghoulish game in which Cory and others go to the brink of death — or over it — while you put on your Serious Editor Face and blather about “the brotherhood of the rope.”

You need to stop this insanity. Because this isn’t a “story” you’re covering. It’s a circus which you (and The North Face) dreamed up, and funded, and promoted — and from which you’re trying to earn some cash. (How are the page views doing now that Cory is in critical condition?)

You’ve choreographed what is, in effect, a reality TV show where the only suspense is whether the characters return home alive or dead.

This so-called “drama” is a stage show of your own making.

It’s also the modern equivalent of offering a human sacrifice to slake the thirst of the Angry Gods of Publishing.

In Cliffhangers: The fatal descent of the mountain-climbing memoir, Bruce Barcott writes:

… For all the trauma, mountaineers are astonishingly casual about death. Photographs of fellow climbers are labeled “before he was killed in the Verdon Gorge” or “before they died . . . near Kathmandu.” The longer you linger in this library of death the more natural the captions seem. If done properly (during an ascent, descent, or bivouac), erasure from the list of the quick confers glory all ’round: on the dead for proving their will to climb, on the mountain for the new respect it demands, and on the survivors for their courage to continue in the face of disaster. Unlike any other sport, mountaineering demands that its players die. …

If Cory Richards (or anyone else) dies during this publishing stunt, you’ll need to explain why you believe it was worth someone else’s life.

Images of Reality vs. Reality Itself

In the Los Angeles Times, Neal Gabler marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, by Daniel Boorstin:

Author Daniel J. Boorstin in May 1974. (Associated Press via The Los Angeles Times)

“… Even now on its golden anniversary, there may be no single book that has so shaped ideas about the country’s cultural transformation in the era of mass media, no single book that has so well framed how the American consciousness was reformed from one that seemed to value the genuine to one that preferred the fake. In many ways, “The Image” invented what would later become known as postmodernism — the odd cultural Moebius strip by which so many elements of our lives become imitations of themselves.

… [H]e lamented that that was exactly what mass culture was doing to the country. It was substituting the false for the true, the dark arts of public relations and self-aggrandizement for the higher purposes of human existence.

Everywhere Boorstin looked, and he looked everywhere — at journalism, at heroism, at travel, at art, even at human aspiration — he believed that the eternal verities that had once governed life had given way to something cheap and phony: a facsimile of life. Of journalism, he would say, “More and more news events become dramatic performances in which ‘men in the news’ simply act out more or less well their prepared script.” … Of travel, he would say that tourists increasingly demanded experiences that would “become bland and unsurprising reproductions of what the image-flooded tourist knew was there all the time.” …

Whether we share his anger or not, we all know we live in a world of images, a world where everything seems planned for effect rather than substance, and Boorstin no doubt would have had a field day dissecting “reality” shows that have nothing to do with reality beyond the description. They are practically designed to the specifications of Boorstin’s thesis.

Still, there are limitations to “The Image.” … Boorstin didn’t appreciate the adaptability of culture to circumstance. The fetish for images is not necessarily a blight on the world. It is its own thing — different from, not less than. Sometimes people don’t want the original. Sometimes they want the imitation, not because they are culturally brain dead but because they want release from the heavy hand of reality that Boorstin so revered.

Boorstin may not have been able to admit that because he knew too much about humankind. He knew that you couldn’t keep ’em down in reality once they had seen the image. …”

Which is why we often say that John Fahey’s mission statement for National Geographic — if it had been vetted by the Society’s crack Research staff — would actually say: Inspiring people to care about pictures of the planet.

(I’d argue that’s not a worthwhile or a sustainable mission for the National Geographic Society — but at least it’s true.)

Words vs. Pictures

“When you sever yourself from a print-based culture, and you rely on spectacle and image, and you confuse these potent mediums for understanding, then you’re doomed. Totalitarian societies are image-based societies.”

Chris Hedges, author of The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress

The Center Will Not Hold (part 7)

When someone eventually writes a sequel to Bob Poole’s (highly recommended) history of the National Geographic Society, this moment will no doubt be a centerpiece:

It isn’t easy

“The moral of Kodak’s fate is that technology trends are often clearly visible, but changing a successful company is exceedingly hard. NCR was not able to adapt to the world of personal computers. Xerox could not find the right formula to compete in a world with many rivals. AT&T failed to adjust to the Internet (and was acquired by one of its smaller “baby bell” local phone companies, that later took its former parent’s grand name).

Kodak fared the worst since the shift to digital photography was so massive and sudden. … No firm, however strong, can count on continued success: market dominance is only a snapshot in time.”

– from “Gone in a flash: Kodak files for bankruptcy protection,” in The Economist

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John Fahey National Geographic

Dear John,

We know the challenges you face are enormous. We know that finding a new business model for National Geographic is not an easy job.

But please consider the possibility that we’re really not in the picture business. At least, we can’t be today. Great photography is everywhere, and most of it is free. But we could still be a Society, with all that might entail.

You once told us that “no one wants to belong to anything.” But we think people do. They just need someone at National Geographic to give them a compelling reason to join.

NO NEW POSTS will be published here after February 6, 2014. THIS IS WHY.