Tag Archives: photographs

Robots organize your photos, so you can procrastinate

If you’re like many people, you have thousands of photos on your phone, long forgotten after you’ve posted a few on Instagram or Facebook.

They don’t have to stay forgotten. Apple and Google are both applying a form of artificial intelligence called “machine learning” to organize your pictures and video _ and along the way, help you rediscover last year’s vacation, dinner with close friends and a casual summer outing to the park.

Apple’s tools are part of last month’s iOS 10 system update for iPhones and iPads. The Google Photos app for Apple and Android devices has a digital assistant to automatically organize these memories _ and Google signaled last week that it will only get smarter. And on Wednesday, Google introduced additional features for rediscovery.

Here’s a look at how they take you down memory lane:

APPLE’S MEMORIES

Apple’s new Memories feature automatically generates video highlights around a theme, such as a trip or birthday party. Individual photos and snippets from video are chosen for you, as is the music, though you can change it to reflect a different mood.

This isn’t just a slideshow. There’s slow zooming and panning, reminiscent of Ken Burns historical documentaries. Some of the photos also come to life, at least on newer iPhones that automatically take three seconds of video with every photo.

When you’re ready to share, the app creates a standard movie file _ so it works on Windows and Android devices, too.

For me, Apple’s app created a “Florida to Illinois” package for a three-week trip in January and one for a day trip to Philadelphia last November. But Apple goes beyond date and location. Apple created a “Together” package for shots with family over the past two years. It also created an “At The Beach” package with beach photos since 2013. Other scenic themes could include mountains, lakes and sunsets.

Apple offers up to three new Memories a day. You can create more based on photos you add to an album and generate new automated ones by scrolling down to “Related.” You can also add or delete images within Memories _ in my experience, a few included mundane screenshots I had to get rid of.

Nothing will ever replace the human touch. But let’s face it, even though I keep meaning to organize my photos, I never find the time. The machine-generated selections aren’t necessarily ones I’d choose myself, but with a small amount of tweaking, they’re presentable and will tide me over until I get around to catching up manually … someday.

 

GOOGLE’S ASSISTANT

Google Photos has been at this longer and offers more types of packages. With collages, Google combines smaller versions of several shots into one layout . Animations combine a bunch of photos taken in succession so that they resemble as a moving image . Unlike typical “GIF” animation files, Google applies its magic to align successive shots, so buildings and bridges look steady _ without the shake common with handheld video. Google also offers albums and video highlights, though without the Ken Burns effect.

Google’s Assistant generates much of this for you automatically. You can edit auto-generated albums and video highlights, but not collages or animation _ although you can create your own from scratch. (That does defeat the purpose of letting the robots do the work, though.)

Sharing is easy and doesn’t require recipients to have Google Photos.

The results vary in quality. I tend to take several shots of the same subject, just in case some are blurry. Yet I get collages and animations out of those repetitive shots. The albums and video highlights I got are grouped by location and date, though Google says it will be doing more with themes , such as following a kid growing up.

Most of my computer-generated creations are animations and collages. As with Apple, Google’s choices aren’t necessarily ones I’d make, if only I had the time. But some are good enough that I look forward to alerts for new ones to check out.

I also enjoyed a feature called “Rediscover this day.” Google will automatically create collages from shots taken on a day, say, two years ago. On Wednesday, Google said it will apply that to people, too, so you’ll get collages of you with a specific friend or family member.

 

SEARCHING

Apple and Google are both getting better at image recognition. Apple’s version tends to be more conservative. While Apple found four photos in a search for fireworks, Google found dozens. Google also found more photos with hats, though one was actually a strange hairdo and a few were of a headband. Then again, Apple thought an illustration of a hut was a hat.

Google is also bolder with face recognition. Its technology is smart enough to recognize the same child at 2 months and 6 years, while Apple often separates the same child into multiple identities (you can merge them, and things will be fine after that).

Google has an edge over Apple in part because it taps its powerful servers to process photos. Apple leaves all the machine thinking to your device as a privacy measure. But Apple says it also favors being right more than complete to reduce the work people need to do to fix things. Being wrong can also have consequences: Google had to apologize last year after its software got too aggressive and mistakenly labeled two black people as gorillas.

 

STORAGE

To free up space, both services will automatically clear photos from your phone after uploading them to the internet, once you activate the option. You still have a lower-resolution version on the device and can get the sharper image anytime, as long as you’re online.

Google Photos offers unlimited online storage of photos at up to 16 megapixels and videos at 1080p high definition _ good enough for most people. It will compress larger photos, or you can store the original and have it count toward your Google Drive limit, which starts at 15 gigabytes for free. Apple’s iCloud Photo Library requires paying once you exceed 5 gigabytes, which is enough for a few thousand photos.

 

On the Web

Apple Memories video from January trip.

Google animation of fountains.

Google collage.

MOWA captures a state’s love for the polka

Photographs of accordions, tubas and Pabst Blue Ribbon signs may not be the norm for an $11.2 million art museum that features nationally recognized sculptors, painters and other media artists.

They fit right in at the Museum of Wisconsin Art, located along the Milwaukee River and just east of West Bend’s quaint downtown.

Since late January, the museum’s second-floor Hyde Gallery has been home to Polka Heartland: Photographs by Dick Blau.

In 2013 and 2014, Blau, a professor of film at UW-Milwaukee, traversed Wisconsin with Rick March, an author, musician and musicologist from Madison. Blau and March, whose book, Polka Heartland, is scheduled to be released in October, set out to capture the styles of the state’s diverse polka scene.

More importantly for Blau was documenting the feeling and emotion of the official state dance.

“It’s really about the way people make a kind of social happiness with one another,” Blau said by phone from his home in downtown Milwaukee. “It produces a feeling of warmth, euphoria and happiness.”

Wisconsin has its own Polka Hall of Fame with such notables as “Tuba Dan” Jerabek, Vern Meisner, Don Peachey and Louie Bashell. Polka festivals can be found around the state in Ellsworth, Wisconsin Dells and Pulaski. The tiny village of Willard, east of Eau Claire, celebrated its 40th annual event last year while the Wisconsin State Polka Festival at Olympia Resort in Oconomowoc is set for May.

In June, there’s the Roger Bright Polka Festival in New Glarus, Polish Fest in Milwaukee and in Madison, the Essen Haus, a year-round pit stop for polka bands from around the country.

Blau’s exhibit features 27 photos, some more than 3 feet high and nearly 6 feet long, but there is no musical accompaniment. Instead, visitors take in the images in relative quiet, much like they would with other exhibits in the 32,000-square-foot museum.

That’s not to say polka music is absent from the colorful exhibit.

When the photo gallery debuted, more than 650 people filled the museum, many of them dancing to The Squeezettes, a Milwaukee band named polka artist of the year in 2012 and 2013 by the Wisconsin Area Music Industry and featured in Blau’s photos. On March 14, the Brewhaus Polka Kings performed at the museum for what was dubbed “Polka Saturday.”

“It’s going to be a flat-out polka dance,” Graeme Reid, the museum’s director of collections and exhibitions, told the Wisconsin State Journal. “It is very much a part of Wisconsin’s intrinsic culture.”

The Museum of Wisconsin Art was founded in 1961 when it was known as the West Bend Gallery of Fine Art. The museum was established by the Pick family to collect and exhibit the work of a relative, Carl von Marr, who was born in Milwaukee in 1858 but was trained in Munich, Germany.

For much of the museum’s history, it was located in a 20,000-square-foot space in what had been the corporate headquarters for West Bend Insurance. In 2007, the museum changed its name to the Museum of Wisconsin Art and announced plans to build a new facility. Fundraising began in 2008 as the economy began to tank but in 2012, ground was broken on property that had been home to an outlet mall. The museum opened in April 2013 and last year had 35,000 visitors compared to 2,900 the last full year in the previous museum building.

“It’s had phenomenal growth,” says Laurie Winters, MOWA CEO and executive director. “It’s a platform for Wisconsin artists.”

When I visited last week, I not only took in the work of von Marr but of painter John Steuart Curry, who in 1936 was appointed as the first artist in residence at the Agricultural College at UW-Madison. Curry traveled the state where he promoted art and painted rural scenes from the era. There also was work from the Cedarburg Artists Guild and in the atrium, sculptures of canoes by Truman Lowe, a Ho-Chunk from Black River Falls.

Blau’s polka photos are in contrast to the rest of the museum’s artwork but just as vital.

Blau’s and March’s travels took them to Turner Hall in Monroe, Martin’s Tap in New Berlin and Amerahn’s Ballroom in Kewaskum. There were stops at Pulaski Polka Days, the Laak Ballroom in Johnsonville and to the now-defunct Las Vegas Latin Club in Oregon, south of Madison.

That’s where the band, the Mazizo Allstarz, came decked out in sharkskin suits and used electronics and a brass section but had no accordion. A mirrored ball, fog machine, laser lights and well-dressed dancers added to the ambiance of the club, located in a former indoor athletic facility.

Blau’s photos captured it all, even though his shots were taken while seated at a table because he didn’t want to intrude.

“It was quite an exotic experience,” Blau says. “It’s different stylistically and represents something most people haven’t seen. I think people in Wisconsin aren’t really aware of how large and vital the Latino population has become.”

When Blau created his first book on polka, Polka Happiness, he shot in Buffalo, New York, and it primarily consisted of Polish polka bands. It also was 1992 and he was limited to a film camera with flash to make small black-and-white images.

Polka Heartland is shot in color, using natural light and with a digital camera that allowed for much larger images.

“It actually changes the relation of the viewers to the images because it allows them entrance into them, and that’s not possible when you have smaller pictures,” Blau says. “It makes them want to dance.”

Are you missing out on our ticket giveaways and free discount coupons? Simply like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Email  editors about this story, or with a story idea.

Holiday Gift Guide: Deck the tables with oversized gift books

As self-purchases, coffee table books may seem like pricey indulgences, but as gifts they’re an easy way to please a connoisseur, hobbyist or wannabe.

Usually image-driven, often encyclopedic, coffee table books come in all sorts of genres for all sorts of people. Consider …

MUSIC

The Rolling Stones, edited by Reuel Golden, brief foreword by former President Bill Clinton. If it’s large-scale satisfaction you crave for your superfan, this 13-by-13-inch tome will do the trick at 522 pages of images, with limited text. Photographers David Bailey, Peter Beard, Cecil Beaton, Bob Bonis, Anton Corbijn, Annie Leibovitz and Helmut Newton are among the contributors, with a few Linda McCartney-shot images thrown in. Taschen, $150. 

Jimmy Page, by Jimmy Page. This visual autobiography by the Led Zeppelin guitarist travels from his days as a choirboy to this promise at the end: “It might get louder.” It includes the work of rock photographers, and personal and tour memorabilia in 512 pages. Genesis Publications, $60.

All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release, by Jean-Michel Guesdon and Philippe Margotin, consulting editor Scott Freiman. As if there’s anything more for the truly obsessed, this 672-pager drills down to the genesis and production of 213 Beatles songs released in less than a decade, with photos and breakout factoids for fanatics. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, $50.

POP CULTURE

The Art of Discovery, by Jeff Vespa, edited by Robin Bronk. This volume features more than 100 celebrity portraits (Jessica Chastain, Shailene Woodley, Jared Leto, Seth Rogan) and quotes in 216 pages describing important moments in their lives. A portion of proceeds will go to support the arts advocacy programs of The Creative Coalition. Rizzoli, $45.

The World of PostSecret, by Frank Warren. It’s been 10 years since Warren first asked people to anonymously send him handmade postcards with their deepest secrets. Since, he’s received more than 1 million, traveling the world to talk about his project and lending them to museums. This is his sixth book of postcards (288 pages) and might be his last as he contemplates turning over the project to someone new. William Morrow, $29.99.

Don Martin: Three Decades of His Greatest Works, foreword by Nick Meglin. Martin gathers more than 200 cartoons from his days as Mad magazine’s “maddest artist.” There’s an abundance of color work, along with a selection of his posters and portraits. Running Press, $30.

FASHION

Joe Eula: Master of Twentieth-Century Fashion Illustration, introduction by Cathy Horyn, image curation by Melisa Gosnell and Dagon James. This book is an odyssey in sketches by the legendary fashion illustrator Joe Eula. He was there for Yves Saint Laurent’s first Dior show in 1958 and, over five decades, also worked as a costume designer, stage director and creative director at Halston. Quotes culled from interviews are included. Harper Design, $85.

Study of Pose, by Steven Sebring and Coco Rocha. Rocha, a dancer-turned-supermodel, is known as the “Queen of Pose” in fashion. Here she strikes 1,000 of them for the photographer, filmmaker and digital innovator Sebring. Each page is one numbered black-and-white photo showing Rocha in a simple dancer’s leotard and tights. And she did it inside Sebring’s famous “Rig,” an igloo-like contraption fitted with 100 cameras that shot her from numerous perspectives, all of which will be included in a companion app. Harper Design, $60.

Cartier in the 20th Century, by Margaret Young-Sánchez, Pierre Rainero, Stefano Papi, Janet Zapata, Martin Chapman and Michael Hall. A glamorous and droolworthy 272-page history organized by theme in text and photos, with archival shots of Elizabeth Taylor and various royalty. In a slip box from The Vendome Press, in association with the Denver Art Museum, $75.

PHOTOGRAPHY

Vivian Maier: A Photographer Found, by John Maloof and Marvin Heiferman. The authors present more than 235 full-color and black-and-white images shot by the mysterious nanny photographer who is also the subject of a documentary film, Finding Vivian Maier. Maier’s street and travel photography was discovered and her life reconstructed through interviews and the 150,000 images she had saved. Harper Design, $80.

Camera Crazy, by Christopher D. Salyers and Buzz Poole. The cutesy history and specs of toy and novelty cameras, a term that generally spans simple plastic box cameras with fixed focus, limited aperture settings and a single shutter speed. Prestel, $29.95.

OUTDOORS

Rainforest, text by Lewis Blackwell. From aerial to macro, leading nature photographers — new work by Tim Flack included — bring the rainforest alive from Peru to Borneo. With attitude. “Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal,” the book opens. Abrams, $60.

The Gardener’s Garden, introduction by garden designer Madison Cox. In 480 pages, more than 250 private and public gardens around the world are covered. Each is shown in full color from several angles with detailed text covering their history and plantings. Organized geographically for gardens on five continents and 45 countries, from a 15th-century specimen in Japan to Versailles. Phaidon, $79.95.

Are you missing out on our ticket giveaways and free discount coupons? Simply like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Email  editors about this story, or with a story idea.

Redline exposes Cuban handicrafts

Out of small seeds come great and unexpected things. In 1985, artist Rolando Estévez Jordán and poet Alfredo Zaldívar established a workshop in Matanzas, Cuba, about 70 miles west of Havana. Their first visual works were fliers promoting meetings for writers and artists interested in sharing their work and ideas. This modest initiative developed into a publishing house for handmade artists books, produced under the name Ediciones Vigía.

Twenty-seven of their delicately crafted books, along with large color photographs by Joseph Mougel, are currently on view in Experiencing Cuba at RedLine Milwaukee. This is an intimate exhibition, exploring creative pleasures that largely bypass political and economic complexities. 

These artworks are deliciously insular. Each is made like an illuminated manuscript drawn and written by the artist’s hand, aided in details by the DIY-aesthetic of the photocopier and hand-applied collage elements. Some of the works are accented with woven strings and other materials, such as driftwood. Many unfold in nontraditional ways, such as a foldout cityscape or long scrolls in accordion folds, displayed to great advantage by hanging from the ceiling between glass panels.

While a reading knowledge of Spanish is helpful for decoding the text, it is not necessary for admiring the imagery. The cover of La Revisita del Vigía features a somber portrait of José Martí (1853–1895), a renowned poet in his homeland. Underneath his image, a scroll of text declares, “I have two homelands: Cuba and the night.” He is illuminated by dark figures on his shoulders hoisting oil lamps and a larger lamp superimposed on his forehead. The lamp is the logo of Ediciones Vigía, representing a bright spot in dark places and a source of inspiration. 

Nancy Morejón, a Cuban poet laureate, composed a poem and book dedicated to the artist Ana Mendieta (1948–1985). Mendieta became renowned in the contemporary art world for sculpture and performance art in which her body melded with the earth in forms reminiscent of either the womb or the grave. Rolando Estévez’s book-cover design echoes Mendieta’s art, casting a woman’s silhouetted body underneath sparse linear forms like twigs. The design includes a collage of tiny icons such as crosses and leaves, accented by the application of broken eggshells. 

Similarly compelling for the use of inventive materials is the magazine cover for Barquitos del San Juan (Little Boats of San Juan). A young woman strums a guitar against the intricate drawing of a cobblestone street and colonial building. An arched opening breaks the illusion, revealing the texture of a real wall in the distance.

Surprises like these — the placement of unexpected details and elegance of craft — adds great delight to these pieces. 

As the works from Ediciones Vigía are largely displayed in vitrines and hanging displays, the walls are given over to photographs by Joseph Mougel, assistant professor and head of photography at UWM. In the exhibition catalog, Mougel recounts his experiences in Cuba, both when he was stationed there in the U.S. Marine Corps and subsequent visits. 

His images record moments of people and places in a cordial, documentary manner. He captures views of city life: a woman sitting in a doorway nonchalantly smoking a cigar or an elderly man paused in the middle of a street, cautiously pleased to be photographed. In a domestic view, a modest bed with a thin pillow and floral-printed cover is neatly made up, its exuberant color echoed by the bright pink walls. The color belies the condition of the peeling, cracking plaster. It’s a dignified decrepitude, a poignant statement about living graciously regardless of circumstances. 

That same impulse is part of the work of Ediciones Vigía. Materials for art may be difficult to come by in Cuba, but the desire to create something of beauty and aesthetic reward is unquenchable, as sustained as the illuminating lamp that is their symbol. 

Experiencing Cuba: Artists Books of Ediciones Vigía and Photographs by Joseph Mougel continues through Dec. 20 at RedLine Milwaukee, 1422 N. Fourth St. 

In other news …

CLOSING EXHIBITIONS 

Janet Werner, Ariana Huggett, and Elly Hazard

Closing Nov. 15

Canadian artist Janet Werner has had scant showings in the Midwest, although she’s a highly regarded figure in her home country and internationally. Although she retains the qualities of a traditional portrait painter, what makes her work more compelling is its psychological intensity, augmented by subtly active brushwork and flourishes of color. Painter and designer Ariana Huggett adopts home and office interiors as a form of portraiture, executing small canvases over a few days that capture the silence of personal spaces. They are warm, gorgeously colorful and conspiratorial, as though awaiting the return of their inhabitants. Emerging artist Elly Hazard reconstitutes the experiences of daily life in expressionistic paintings that meld figure painting and notes of still life into a rush of frenetic angst and energy.

At the Portrait Society Gallery, 207 E. Buffalo St., on the fifth floor. 

2014 Día de los Muertos Exhibition

Closing Nov. 22

For more than two decades, WPCA has hosted an annual exhibition of ofrendas, or altars, created for Day of the Dead celebrations. While the subject of death is one that might inspire reticence, these are physical gestures that combine mementos, photos, objects and artifacts of a personal nature that form a representation of identity. While some are very traditional, others take on the character of contemporary art installations, each functioning like a large-scale memento mori, a reminder of mortality. In the end, this is not a bleak proposition, but one that celebrates life and sustains the spirits of the departed in the minds of the living.

At Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, 839 S. Fifth St. 

Meditation on time, existence at Haggerty Museum of Art

Three exhibitions at Marquette University’s Haggerty Museum of Art offer a powerful meditation on time and existence. Works by Alfred Leslie are built upon multiple layers of perception, and the echoes of memory in the present. The photographs of Nadav Kander ask if the cosmetics of new bridges and buildings are capable of destroying history. Collectively, the work of these artists draws up the edges of personal and cultural history with aesthetic persuasion.

Alfred Leslie and Frank O’Hara: ‘The Last Clean Shirt’

You know they found him in the back seat

of an old abandoned Ford

When I touched the hand of my brother Bill

It was stiff as a running board

— From Brother Bill (The Last Clean Shirt), written by Charles Otis, Jerry Leiber, and Mike Stoller. 

The funereal lyrics of this song, spirited gibberish in Finnish, poetic existential observations and quotidian matters form a backdrop to a black-and-white film made in 1964 by Alfred Leslie and Frank O’Hara. A black man and a white woman get into a convertible for a drive through Manhattan. A small round clock is strapped to the dashboard with tape, and off we go, our vantage point from the back seat. The man drives, actively listening to the woman’s energetic chatter. In the spacious front seat, she twists and turns, adjusting her position as though on a living room couch while the city, cars, and its inhabitants roll on past. 

So it seems an ordinary moment on an ordinary day. But repetition makes it something transcendent. The film runs three times over, with the same visuals but different audio. In the first iteration, we just hear the women’s voice and street sounds. The reprise includes text by poet O’Hara, presented as subtitles that offer an obtuse, surprising angle to the monologue. In the ultimate iteration we hear the mind of the silent man: on social critique, aspirations, thoughts of distance and wishes to be elsewhere. Leslie’s conception of the piece folds time over on itself, as the layers of thought and dialogue that must happen simultaneously are stretched in a linear sense in the screening room. 

The nature of time was revisited by Leslie in the suite of paintings, The Killing Cycle. O’Hara is involved in this series as well — as it was his unexpected death that prompted it, along with the fiery destruction of much of Leslie’s work. 

Alfred Leslie: ‘The Killing Cycle’ 

There are difficult years, and then there is the year 1966 in the life of Alfred Leslie. His close friend, poet Frank O’Hara, was spending the summer on Fire Island, and one night, the car he was traveling in along the beach broke down. While waiting for assistance, O’Hara wandered away. In the darkness, he was struck and killed by another car. 

To make matters worse, that autumn, just before a major retrospective at the Whitney Museum, Leslie’s home, studio and much of his work were destroyed in a massive fire. The conflagration and the tragedy of O’Hara’s death formed the motivating energy behind The Killing Cycle. 

Leslie was part of the Abstract Expressionist circles in New York City, but these canvases show his extraordinary power as a visual narrator. 

In “The Accident,” gaunt swimmers or furies emerge from the ocean, both terrifying and terrified as death plays out behind them. The nocturnal light illuminates the details of the scene. Leslie’s handling of paint and his creation of the human body in all its emotion is where the extraordinary power of his work resides. He borrows from the long historical traditions of painting — compare the strange tenebrous light and composition of “The Loading Pier” with Caravaggio’s “The Entombment.” 

But he also offers cool detachment — the acknowledgment that as death strikes, the world continues to move. The viewer may be immediately taken in by “The Cocktail Party,” where the golden, sculptural bodies of a young man and woman linger languidly on a summer night. The scenario of O’Hara’s accident is visually a minor note in the far distance, but it sets a major tone in the stark juxtaposition of idyllic summer and life that ends without warning. 

About this series, Leslie says, “What this work is really about I can’t say, except that formally it is meant to be multi-leveled with its implied meanings focused enough that they are all fighting for ascendency. And that these jostling meanings seek out the viewer’s perceptions to combine and recombine with each person so that no one interpretation succeeds.” 

Nadav Kander: ‘Yangtze — The Long River’

Photographer Nadav Kander is an explorer of time. Whereas Alfred Leslie’s sense of time is one where memory exists as strongly as the present, Kander’s photographs in The Long River understand time and memory as fragile, able to be erased, rewritten or subsumed by ambition and industry. He notes, “China is a nation that appears to be severing its roots by destroying its past. Demolition and construction were everywhere on such a scale that I was unsure if what I was seeing was being built or destroyed, destroyed or built.” 

In these large-scale photographic prints, the juxtaposition of humanity, nature and industry reappears in numerous forms. “Chongqing IV (Sunday Picnic)” is a moment of pleasure taken upon what is essentially a pile of rubble that used to be buildings and houses. The relationship of present to past is certainly uneasy — and even melancholy. Enormous bridges and buildings dwarf humble human inhabitants and dominate the Yangtze, a perpetual presence in these images. 

There is little that is overtly picturesque, but Kander brings a vivid sense of color and modern gravitas to these works. The ceaseless march of progress through the transformation of the built environment is a condition of every city. In that sense Yangtze — The Long River is in part a documentary and part an elegy. 

On exhibit

The Last Clean Shirt, The Killing Cycle, and Yangtze — The Long River continue through Dec. 23 at the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University, 13th and Clybourn Streets. For more information, visit marquette.edu/haggerty. 

Are you missing out on our ticket giveaways and free discount coupons? Simply like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

— Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Flowers London/New York.

Thai mega mall top location on Instagram in 2013

Sure, the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal and the Grand Canyon have inspired many photographs. But a shopping mall in Bangkok has claimed this year’s crown as the world’s most photographed location on Instagram.

In its Top 10 year-end list, the photo-sharing app dubbed Siam Paragon as the planet’s most “Instagrammed” spot in 2013. It edged out No. 2 Times Square and No. 3 Disneyland in California on the list that also includes New York’s Central Park and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Paris’ iconic steel tower got bumped off the list. And if Siam Paragon seems like an improbable winner consider this: last year’s most “Instagrammed” place was again from Thailand – Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, which this year was at No. 9.

Instagram spokeswoman Tiffany Testo said in an email response that the California-based company does not release data on how many pictures were taken.

The luxury mall in the heart of Bangkok is not exactly a world-famous landmark. Sightseeing visitors to the city typically head first to the majestic Grand Palace or take in the serenity of Buddhist temples like Wat Pho. The mall is a trendy meeting place in Bangkok that claims to have more than 100,000 visitors a day. But why is it so avidly photographed?

“All the celebrities come here and post photos of themselves,” said Sayamon Srichai, a 33-year-old Bangkok office worker walking past Paragon’s tropical Christmas garden with an outstretched arm as she smiled for her smartphone. “Regular people like me want to walk in their footsteps.”

Thailand has long been called the Land of Smiles, but it could also be called the Land of Selfies. Thais love taking pictures of themselves, documenting their daily activities and uploading the images instantly so friends know what they’re up to. The Southeast Asian country is also one world’s biggest users of social media, which could explain why a building that may not be the most photographed in the world still ends up as the most visible on Instagram.

“Taking Instagram pictures is sort of like a daily ritual,” said Jitlada Mahan, 18, another shopper posing for her phone outside the sprawling five-floor complex. “This is how I communicate with my friends. Now they know where to find me.”

Combine that passion with Thailand’s love of shopping malls, which offer air-conditioned refuge from the steamy outdoors, and the photo ops are endless.

Many shoppers treat Paragon like their personal catwalk: Visitors pose for pictures everywhere – at the aquarium, at the cineplex, the bowling alley, the outdoor Christmas garden and inside its hundreds of shops and restaurants.

Diners in the food court pause before eating to photograph their food

“I take photos of food here all the time. Almost every day,” said Jirathip Khajonkulvanich, an 18-year-old student who has 1,035 Instagram followers and has learned how to boost her online popularity. “When you take photos of food, people press `like’ more than with other pictures.”

Jirathip was having lunch with a group of fellow students from Chulalongkorn University, one of the country’s most prestigious and a short walk away from the mega mall.

Historical sites can’t compete when it comes to uploads, said one of the students, Suthasinee Tilokruanochai, who said her friends upload multiple pictures from every visit to the shopping mall.

“If you go to the Eiffel Tower, you go once. You take a picture and you leave,” said Suthasinee, a 22-year-old engineering student. “We come here every day after school.”

iPad art gains recognition in new Hockney exhibit

Happily hunched over his iPad, Britain’s most celebrated living artist David Hockney is pioneering in the art world again, turning his index finger into a paintbrush that he uses to swipe across a touch screen to create vibrant landscapes, colorful forests and richly layered scenes.

“It’s a very new medium,” said Hockney. So new, in fact, he wasn’t sure what he was creating until he began printing his digital images a few years ago. “I was pretty amazed by them actually,” he said, laughing. “I’m still amazed.”

A new exhibit of Hockney’s work, including about 150 iPad images, opened in late October in the de Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, just a short trip for Silicon Valley techies who created both the hardware and software for this 21st-century reinvention of finger-painting.

The show is billed as the museum’s largest ever, filling two floors of the de Young with a survey of works from 1999 to present, mostly landscapes and portraits in an array of mediums: watercolor, charcoal and even video. But on a recent preview day, it was the iPad pieces, especially the 12-foot high majestic views of Yosemite National Park that drew gasps.

Already captured by famed photographer Ansel Adams, and prominent painters such as Thomas Hill and Albert Bierstadt, Hockney’s iPad images of Yosemite’s rocks, rivers and trees are both comfortingly familiar and entirely new.

In one wide open vista, scrubby, bright green pines sparkle in sunlight, backed by Bridalveil Fall tumbling lightly down a cliff side; the distinct granite crest of Half Dome looms in the background. In another, a heavy mist obscures stands of giant sequoias. 

“He has such command of space, atmosphere and light,” said Fine Arts Museums director Colin Bailey.

Other iPad images are overlaid, so viewers can see them as they were drawn, an animated beginning-to-end chronological loop. He tackles faces and flowers, and everyday objects: a human foot, scissors, an electric plug.

Some of the iPad drawings are displayed on digital screens, others, like the Yosemite works, were printed on six large panels. Hockey’s technical assistants used large inkjet prints reproduce the images he created on his IPad.

Exhibiting iPad images by a prominent artist in a significant museum gives the medium a boost, said art historians, helping digital artwork gain legitimacy in the notoriously snobby art world where computer tablet art shows are rare and prices typically lower than comparable watercolors or oils.

“I’m grateful he’s doing this because it opens people’s mind to the technology in a new way,” said Long Island University Art Historian Maureen Nappi, although she described Hockney’s iPad work as “gimmicky.”

Writing about the historic shift of drawing from prehistoric cave painting to digital tablets in this month’s MIT journal “Leonardo,” Nappi said that while iPad work is still novel, the physicality of painting and drawing have gone on for millennia.

“These gestures are as old as humans are,” she said in an interview. “Go back to cave paintings, they’re using finger movements to articulate creative expressions.”

Hockney, 76, started drawing on his iPhone with his thumb about five years ago, shooting his works via email to dozens of friends at a time.

“People from the village come up and tease me: ‘We hear you’ve started drawing on your telephone.’ And I tell them, ‘Well, no, actually, it’s just that occasionally I speak on my sketch pad,”” he said.

When the iPad was announced, Hockney said he had one shipped immediately to his home in London, where he splits his time with Los Angeles.

He creates his work with an app built by former Apple software engineer Steve Sprang of Mountain View, Calif., called Brushes, which along with dozens of other programs like Touch Sketch, SketchBook Mobile and Bamboo Paper are being snapped up by artists, illustrators and graphic designers.

Together, the artists are developing new finger and stylus techniques, with Hockney’s vanguard work offering innovative approaches.

“David Hockney is one of the living masters of oil painting, a nearly-600-year-old technology, and thus is well positioned to have thought long and hard about the advantages of painting with a digital device like the iPad,” said Binghamton University Art Historian Kevin Hatch in New York.

Hatch said a “digital turn” in the art world began about 25 years ago, as the Internet gained popularity, and he said today most artists have adapted to using a device in some way as they create art.

A similar shift happened almost 100 years ago with the dawn of photography, he said, when innovations such as the small photograph cards and the stereoscope captured the art world’s imagination.

And Hatch said there are some drawbacks to the shift to tablet art.

“A certain almost magical quality of oil paint, a tactile, tangible substance, is lost when a painting becomes, at heart, a piece of code, a set of invisible 1’s and 0’s,” he said.

Hockney, who created 78 of the almost 400 pieces in the de Young show this year, isn’t giving up painting, or drawing, or video, or tablets, any time soon. When asked where he sees the world of art going, he shrugged his broad shoulders and paused.

“I don’t know where it’s going, really, who does?” he said. “But art will be there.”

A Day With HIV in photographs

A month ago images of a life with HIV came into focus on a single day.

On Sept. 21, more than 170 people from around the world took a photograph that, taken together, tells the collective story of the trials and triumphs of living with HIV. A record of that day is now captured in an online photo essay, A Day with HIV, released on Oct. 24 and soon to be published in Positively Aware.

“A Day with HIV, Positively Aware’s anti-stigma photo campaign, tears down the walls of shame and silence that surround HIV by showing that, despite HIV, life goes on,” said Jeff Berry, editor of Positively Aware. “By coming together on that one day, we build a virtual community of support and help raise awareness about HIV, not only in our own communities, but everywhere.”

Some of the submitted photographs were from organizations such as the staff of the AIDS Project Los Angeles, the workers at the Walgreens on-site HIV-specialty pharmacy at Desert AIDS Project in Palms Springs, Calif., the MISTER team of NY, NY, or the researchers at the AIDS Clinical Trials Group in Boston, Mass., all of whom wanted to share the word about their work in supporting the HIV/AIDS community. 

This year’s campaign also included the help of three judges who evaluated photographs and selected four different covers for the Nov.-Dec. issue of Positively Aware. Chuck Panozzo, bass player for Styx, Broadway performer and AIDS activist Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Diego Sanchez, senior legislative advisor to U.S. Representative Barney Frank, all contributed their time and talents to choose the final photographs for this campaign. 

On the Web…

http://www.adaywithhiv.com/

Anne Hathaway’s sale of wedding photos to benefit marriage equality campaign

Actress Anne Hathaway plans to donate the proceeds from the sale of the photographs of her and Adam Shulman’s wedding to nonprofits fighting for marriage equality.

One such recipient will be the Freedom to Marry.

Freedom to Marry’s Adam Polaski told The Advocate, “Hathaway is doing her part to ensure that same-sex couples across the country can enjoy a fairytale wedding like hers; this week, she announced that she’ll be donating some of the sales from her wedding photographs to non-profits advocating for marriage for same-sex couples, including Freedom to Marry.”

Hathaway has a gay brother and she says she’s an advocate for LGBT equality. In 2008, she received the Ally Award from the Human Rights Campaign.

At that time, she said, “I don’t consider myself just an ally to the LGBT community, I consider myself your family. And so, I’m doing what we should all do with our families — I’m loving you, I support you, I completely accept you as you are, as I hope you do me, and if anyone ever tries to hurt you, I’m going to give them hell.”

Wisconsin voters cautioned against tweeting, FBooking ballots

Here’s a caution for Wisconsin voters: If you’re the type of person who likes posting photographs to Facebook or Twitter, do not post pictures of your completed ballot after you vote in next month’s recall election.

The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board points out that doing so constitutes election fraud under Wisconsin law. It would be a Class I felony, punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.

It’s illegal to show your marked ballot to anyone.

GAB spokesman Reid Magney says the law was intended to prevent people from selling their votes and then showing their ballots as proof they voted as requested.

Magney says he’s not aware that anyone was ever convicted under the law, but that the GAB wants people to know the rules.

As of May 25, clerks had issued at least 113,558 absentee ballots ahead of the recall contests.

Voters cast 230,744 absentee ballots in the November 2010 regular gubernatorial election.

People can request absentee ballots through May 31.

In-person absentee voting in clerks’ offices ends on June 1. City clerks’ offices in Madison and Milwaukee were open through the weekend are open today, Memorial Day, to accommodate in-person absentee voters.

Download a PDF of the current issue of Wisconsin Gazette and join our Facebook community.