Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids, by writer, illustrator, and skeptic Daniel Loxton and paleontologist, geologist, and author Donald R. Prothero; Foreword by science writer and historian of science Michael Shermer.
Publisher Columbia University Press writes: Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero have written an entertaining, educational, and definitive text on cryptids, presenting the arguments both for and against their existence and systematically challenging the pseudoscience that perpetuates their myths. After examining the nature of science and pseudoscience and their relation to cryptozoology, Loxton and Prothero take on Bigfoot; the Yeti, or Abominable Snowman, and its cross-cultural incarnations; the Loch Ness monster and its highly publicized sightings; the evolution of the Great Sea Serpent; and Mokele Mbembe, or the Congo dinosaur. They conclude with an analysis of the psychology behind the persistent belief in paranormal phenomena, identifying the major players in cryptozoology, discussing the character of its subculture, and considering the challenge it poses to clear and critical thinking in our increasingly complex world.
Abominable Science! was supposed to be a harmless, laid-back and jolly lecture. I knew nothing of the Great Sea Serpent, the Mokele Mbembe, i had barely heard of Bigfoot and the Yeti but i'm quite the fan of Nessie. So surely, this book should have been an inoffensive ride. No one believe in those monsters, right?
Wrong! Daniel Loxton reveals that when asked "Do you think Bigfoot (also known as Sasquatch) is real?" in a 2012 poll, 7 percent of American respondents answered that Bigfoot "Definitely is real," and 22% said Bigfoot "Probably is real." Don't snort! i just found out that 24% readers of The Guardian (at least the ones who bothered to participate to the poll) believe in the existence of the creature.
I grew even more uncomfortable when i read in the book that Young Earth creationists are actively looking for surviving dinosaurs in the hope that the discovery of an Apatosaurous-like animal in Congo will bring the definite proof that the theory of evolution is a big fantasy.
Abominable Science! is as much about absurd creatures as it is about pseudoscientists making radical claims about the world, writing off evidence-based research and undermining the teaching of science in the process.
In an interview about the book, Donald R. Prothero said: "To me, the sad aspect of cryptozoology is that they practice "sham science": they adopt the trappings of science (fancy cameras and sound recording equipment, night-vision goggles, camera traps, sonar, other devices) without following the methods of science, especially the idea of testing and shooting down hypotheses that have failed, and getting rid of ideas when they have been decisively debunked. This indeed reflects badly on the scientific literacy of Americans, since they don't understand that science is not about white lab coats and bubbling beakers. It is about the methods you use to investigate claims, and the willingness to admit you're wrong and throw out bad ideas when they fail."
The press isn't doing a great job for the advance of science and human progress either when they cover stories such as the one that made the headlines a few years ago when a policeman and a former corrections officer claimed that they had discovered the body of Bigfoot. Media outlets, from CNN to BBC, reported the news which, unsurprisingly, was a hoax.
Prothero wrote some of the chapters in the books. Loxton wrote the rest. The scientist is inflexible in his belief that giving too much credit to the existence of those monsters does more harm than good. Loxton, however, is more tolerant. He has learnt that these fantastical creatures do not exist but he is still much seduced by the stories that surround them.
And indeed the book contains plenty of interesting stories:
This famous photograph of the monster of the Loch Ness was taken by Colonel Robert Wilson in April, 1934. He later admitted that he had built a small model monster around a toy submarine.
There have been plenty of Nessie "sightings: throughout history. One of my favourite is the one that 'shows' Nessie on Google Earth. But the more sophisticated the technology, the less evidence was found of the existence of those monsters. In 1987, for example, Operation Deepscan took place. Twenty-four boats equipped with echosounder equipment were deployed across the whole width of the loch and they simultaneously sent out acoustic waves.
Amusingly, some theories propose that the monster is actually a camel able to stay for long periods of time in and under water.
Other believe that Nessie is a survivant variant of the Plesiosaurus. Just like the Zuiyo-maru creature, a carcass caught by the Japanese fishing trawler Zuiyō Maru off the coast of New Zealand in 1977. Analysis later indicated it was most likely the decomposed carcass of a basking shark.
I also liked to follow the hunt for the Mokele-mbembe which Americans and Europeans have been searching for in Congo, often to the dismay of local populations. The creature is believed to be a surviving brontosaurus.
Interview with the authors.
Last Launch. Discovery, Endeavour, Atlantis, by photographer Dan Winters.
Publisher University of Texas Press writes: Americans have been driven to explore beyond the horizon ever since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. In the twentieth century, that drive took us to the moon and inspired dreams of setting foot on other planets and voyaging among the stars. The vehicle we built to launch those far journeys was the space shuttle--Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. This fleet of reusable spacecraft was designed to be our taxi to earth orbit, where we would board spaceships heading for strange new worlds. While the shuttle program never accomplished that goal, its 135 missions sent more than 350 people on a courageous journey into the unknown.
Last Launch is a stunning photographic tribute to America's space shuttle program. Dan Winters was one of only a handful of photographers to whom NASA gave close-range access to photograph the last launches of Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. Positioning automatically controlled cameras at strategic points around the launch pad--some as close as seven hundred feet--he recorded images of take-offs that capture the incredible power and transcendent beauty of the blast that sends the shuttle hurtling into space. Winters also takes us on a visual tour of the shuttle as a marvel of technology--from the crew spaces with their complex instrumentation, to the massive engines that propelled the shuttle, to the enormous vehicle assembly building where the shuttles were prepared for flight.
Dan Winters has a passion that's completely alien to me: he is fascinated by the NASA space program. U.S. space exploration never made me dream nor even bat an eyelid. Yet, when i read a 3 line-long review of his book in a free men's magazine in London, i knew i needed to get a review copy. Because i might not be into astronauts and giant leaps for mankind but photography is something i respond to. And Last Launch is all about that: jaw dropping images of engineering marvels and explosive lift off. Even the black and sepia archive photos (not by Winters) that illustrate the introduction texts are magnificent.
Speaking of introduction! The photo book starts with a series of essays. One by the photographer who tells of a long love for space adventures that started as a kid watching the Apollo 11 launch broacast live on the family's new tv set on July 16, 1969. The second essay was written by Al Reinert, director and producer of For All Mankind, a 1989 Award-winning documentary about NASA's Apollo program. The film maker charts the successful and unsuccessful episodes that make the history of the transport system that propels Earth-bound humans into low orbit. Some of the anecdotes he shares are dramatic, others are slightly laughable such as the Coke-Pepsi taste test that took place on board of the Challenger in 1985 to determine which beverage taste more like itself in zero gravity. Coke won, Reinert explains, because they manufactured a zero-gravity soda can. Pepsi didn't bother.
A third text is the rather short and moving account by former astronaut Mark Kelly of the few moments before the take off of STS-134 (one of the very last missions of NASA's Space Shuttle program) on May 16, 2011.
A final text at the back of the book brings an answer to the question i've been asking myself while flipping through the pages. How does he make it? How can he get so close to the spectacular liftoffs?
Dan Winters was one of only a handful of photographers to whom NASA gave close-range access to photograph the last launches of Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. "Close-range" shouldn't be taken too literally though. When they launch, space shuttles are surrounded by an evacuation zone that stretched up to three miles (almost 5 km) in all directions.
The cameras had to be remotely activated. The day before lift-off, Winters places them, up to 9 at a time, around the launchpad, the closest located 700 feet (213 m) from the shuttle itself. Winters calculates the type of photo to shoot according to shuttle's path, he sets the frame, checks the focus point, attaches to the cameras custom-made electronic triggers that are sensitive to sound and fire at five frames per second in response to the rockets igniting. He also has to use sandbags to minimize camera shake, and cover the equipment with plastic to protect it from the rain.
If there's one person who might finally get me interested in the NASA adventures, it's Dan Winters. Pity the Space Shuttle was retired from service two years ago.
Publisher Gestalten writes: Fully Booked: Ink on Paper is a showcase of innovative books and other print products at the vanguard of a new era for printed publications--one that is likely to be the most exciting in their entire history.
This book is structured into five chapters that each represent a key role that print plays today: The Storyteller, The Showmaster, The Teacher, The Businessman, and The Collector. From personal projects with the smallest print runs to premium artist books or brand publications, the selection of work presented here celebrates the tactile experience. Featuring innovative printing and binding techniques as well as radical editorial and design concepts, this work explores the distinctiveness of design, materials, workmanship, and production methods--and pushes their limits.
The text on the cover of Ink on Paper is actually the beginning of the introductory essay. It looks at the old paper vs pixel debate through a rather unexpected scenario: what would our life be if the internet had come before print? The arrival of print would be applauded because its materiality suddenly gives information greater value and because it provides readers with a sense of privacy, an ownership of the book or magazine or poster we've just bought, a chance to focus on a text without being distracted by hyperlinks, etc.
The text is witty and ironic. The authors having no intention to pick a side or declare that one way to rely information and communicate ideas is better than its antecedent. Or its successor.
Instead, the authors celebrate the creativity of the designers and artists who enjoy experimenting with the materiality of book.
Ink on Paper is chaptered according to the 'personalities' of books: The Storyteller looks at fiction books. The Showmaster present the efforts of artists and designers who attempt to reinvent the printed book. The Teacher is all about guide books and other 'instructive' publications. The Businessman demonstrates that annual reports and corporate catalogues do not have to be soporific. Finally, The Collector explores publications from the art world (that one was a bit of a disappointment.)
Ink on Paper is my favourite Gestalten publication so far. Probably because i wasn't expecting to have that much fun with a book about books.
P.W.Y.W (Pay What You Want) book is a instructional manual for money exchanges. Peel off a barcode and attach it to goods to adjust prices at will.
Christoph Hänsli painted 166 slices of a whole cut Mortadella. Front and back. The 332 paintings are reproduced in the book.
TGIF turned Amnesty International Hong Kong Annual Report into a file folder. Different cases and activities were grouped and sent to donators.
Made out of 100% fresh pasta, the book can be read, filled with ingredients, cooked and eaten.
As part of China's 2012, year of the Dragon celebrations, Toko created a 4,716 page book that charts the story of the Chinese Dragon and celebrates every Dragon year since it's supposed origins in 2697 BCE. 'Long' as in the Chinese word for Dragon (Long story / Dragon story).
Death's Messengers / Die Boten des Todes is a new interpretation and presentation of one of the Brothers Grimm's fairytales.
The book is split into an English and a German version. The front and back covers are rubber stamps, which can be used to stamp the title. Inside the book, the designers worked with rubber stamps and printing systems. Each of the 5,236 characters was typeset by hand.
Based on the novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Kovacovsky and Hügli created a book that offers additional multimedia content when combined with a screen. Rather than merely placing 3D models on top of the book pages, they tried to find unusual ways to combine the analog and the digital content. Jekyll and Hyde is a collection of applications developed through a series of experiments and design studies.
A compilation of paintings and sketches found online, in amateur art forums.
Views inside the book:
Anti-Media. Ephemera on Speculative Arts, by researcher and theorist Florian Cramer.
Publisher NAI Booksellers writes: Literature written in the style of computer code, electro-acoustic compositions with newly created sounds, but also subcultures with clearly identifiable manifestations, from Internet porn to neo-Nazis and anti-copyright activists: high-, low- and subculture have long been impossible to distinguish, including in the degree of their self-reference. Art and media criticism focuses mainly on the concepts, not on the objects themselves. In Anti-Media Florian Cramer shows, through a close reading of cultural expressions and analysis of media and art criticism, how these constantly refer to their tradition, language and medium while trying to subvert them.
I've never reviewed nor even read anything that looked remotely like this book before. It is bold, thought-provoking, and extremely fast-paced.
Cramer makes fearless statements about interactivity, pop music, social hacking (that one was a fun chapter), 'openness' and many concepts and ideas that we brandish without much thoughts as if they were magical formulas. While reading his book, however, i realized once again that our writings, works and discussions rely on cultural terms which precise meaning, extent, impacts, and limits we often take for granted.
Nothing and no one (not even Rocco Siffredi) is safe from Cramer's sharp questioning and ruminating. You will either embrace his reflections or disagree with them entirely, but a heated debate with this kind of book would, i think, constitute a valuable exercise for the critical minds.
Image on the homepage: 01.org (Eva and Franco Mattes), Nikeground, one of the work discussed in the book.
Publisher MIT Press write: Political acts are encoded in medial forms--feet marching on a street, punch holes on a card, images on live stream, tweets--that have force, shaping people as subjects and constituting the contours of what is sensible, legible, visible. Thus, these events define the terms of political possibility and create terrain for political actions.
Sensible Politics: The Visual Culture of Nongovernmental Activism considers the constitutive role played by aesthetic and performative techniques in the staging of claims by nongovernmental activists. Attending to political aesthetics means focusing not on a disembodied image that travels under the concept of art or visual culture, nor on a preformed domain of the political that seeks subsequent expression in media form. Instead, it requires bringing the two realms together into the same analytic frame. Drawing on the work of a diverse group of contributors, from art historians, anthropologists, and political theorists to artists, filmmakers, and architects, Sensible Politics situates aesthetic forms within broader activist contexts and networks of circulation and in so doing offers critical insight into the practices of mediation whereby the political becomes manifest.
I left this book untouched for months when i saw that it counted over 650 pages. That wasn't the smartest thing i've done this year. Once i finally opened it, i realized that Sensible Politics was a brilliant series of short essays written by smart people about some of the artists, thinkers and works i admire the most. Think Trevor Paglen, Eyal Weizman, Michael Rakowitz, Allan Sekula, Rebecca Gomperts, etc. There's also Jean-Luc Godard, i'm only mentioning him we're all supposed to worship his work.
Surprisingly, there's no lame duck in these essays. I was expecting to skip through a couple of stodgy or irrelevant texts but all i've read so far is a series of very informative and well-articulated essays.
Here are just a few examples of the scope and pertinence of the essays: Ariella Azoulay discusses how images taken as casual souvenir can quickly become evidence that document a crime (think of the torture of the prisoners held at Abu Ghraib) or conversely, turn an abuse into an act of kindness, Meg Mclagan explains how successful documentaries such as An Inconvenient Truth or Supersize Me have paved the way for socially-engaged documentaries that double as commodities with box office appeal, Carrie Lambert-Beatty analyzes how labeling Women on Waves as an art project enabled the activists to bypass legal hurdles, film maker Kirsten Johnson shares her experience of being an embedded journalist in Guantanamo Bay and talks about the military's restrictions surrounding the prison and the trial of Salim Hamdan, Sam Gregory, Program Director at the human right organization WITNESS talks about the fate of grassroot human right footage in the youtube age, the two editors of the book interview Eyal Weizman about forensic architecture, Fayne Ginsburg raises the story of the virtual appropriation on Second Life of Uluru, a major Arborigenal sacred site where non-Aborigenals are not allowed to take photos or to film.
Sensible Politics. The Visual Culture of Nongovernmental Activism decodes and dissects the multiple interconnections between visual culture and the domain of the political. And it does it in a series of texts that are far-reaching, bold and never predictable. I'll recommend this book for anyone interested in activism, politics, social science, culture or/and visual art.
Image on the homepage: © Oliver Weiken, Germany, Shortlist, Current Affairs, Professional Competition, 2013 Sony World Photography Awards. Image Description: Palestinian morticians prepare the body of a man who died during an Israeli airstrike for his funeral in a morgue in a hospital in the Jabalya refugee camp, north of Gaza City, 21 November 2012.
Publisher Gestalten writes: Introducing: Culture Identities features outstanding poster campaigns, publications, and cross-platform corporate design for international cultural institutions by both young designers, who are striving to prove themselves creatively, and established studios, who are experimenting with new forms of visual expression. In the book, readers not only hear from designers who are especially active in the cultural field, such as Bureau Mirko Borsche, the New York-based studio 2x4, James Goggin, and Johannes Erler, but also from notables on the client side including MoMA, the Barbican, Van Abbemuseum, and documenta.
With its selection of striking collaborations between innovative designers and visionary cultural institutions, Introducing: Culture Identities presents the field of visual identities for cultural clients as a continuous dialogue that pushes the limit of what is possible creatively.
I like a book that influences the way i look at the city i walk through every day. Since reading Introducing: Culture Identities, Design for Museums, Theaters and Cultural Institutions, i've started paying more attention to the design of posters and leaflets advertising the programme of cultural institutions. And even if being more attentive to promotional material isn't exactly my life greatest ambition, there's some great graphic design and typography out there that deserves to be granted more than a distracted glance.
The book features tree main sections. The first one looks at graphic design from the point of view of the cultural institutions. The chapter reveals how some museums or art events select a design studio, integrate them as collaborators and how the internal team welcomes (or not) the proposals of the designers. Only 7 institutions are featured but their relationship with typography and graphic design is analyzed with a depth i wasn't expecting. That first chapter sometimes gave me the feeling that i was taking a peek behind the curtains of institutions such as the Barbican Art Center or Documenta.
The next chapter brings the perspective of the design studios, looking at the relationship they establish with the institutions and how they subtly tweak or break with the identity that cultural institutions have developed over the years. For some designers, a theater or a dance festival is a client like any other. For others, it's a particularly stimulating interlocutor who is receptive to experiments and has developed a similar understanding of creativity.
The last chapter is pure Gestalten: a fast and vast selection of success stories with plenty of images and über efficient descriptions.
Introducing: Culture Identities, Design for Museums, Theaters and Cultural Institutions is a book that should inspire and inform anyone interested in graphic design and typography. It should also entertain anyone interested in uncovering yet another layer of their urban environment and in discovering some of the strategies that culture is using to sell itself to the public.
The only negative comment is a geographical one. Apart from a couple of exceptions, most of the design studios and institutions are based in either Europe or the US. I wouldn't have minded seeing some works from countries such as China, New Zealand, Mexico or South Africa.
And now for the views inside the book: