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10 Moleskine Journals From Some Of The Most Interesting Creatives Alive

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Despite the ever-encroaching digital world, the popularity of Moleskine, those utterly dignified black notebooks that can be carried in your pocket, seems to only have increased. The many 20th-century cultural heroes who carried Moleskines, from Oscar Wilde to Pablo Picasso, have lent the brand an aura of creative genius.

But this winter, Moleskine is bolstering its 21st-century cred with the publication of The Detour Book, a collection of the creative journals of present-day artists, designers, and writers. Noted by Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova last week, The Detour Book sounds like one of those tomes that deserves to be poured over:

Scattered across the pages of The Detour Book are the images of over 250 notebooks decorated, hacked, and filled with intimate sketches and drawings by some of the world’s most celebrated creative professionals; among them architects, designers, film directors and musicians including Spike Jonze, Sigur Ros, Mary Ellen Mark and Karim Rashid, to name a few.

There are funny little cartoons from Dave Eggers and brilliant sketches from Toyo Ito, which show the Mikimoto building taking over Ginza. Each book is its own unique archive, preserving the struggle to bring a spark of an idea to fruition.

What’s interesting about the collection is that most people don’t use Moleskines as traditional sketchbooks at all. Instead, designers like Tord Boontje have used them as 3-D objects, slicing through their eggshell pages and hacking them into study models. ATELYE 70, the Turkish architecture studio, turned the fold-out pages of a Moleskine Pocket Accordion into an actual architectural model, inserting plexiglass staircases and scale models between the folds.


The Detour Book is one of those rare pieces of marketing that rewards a company and the consumer equally. It’s marvelously fun reading. And who can blame Moleskine for being proud?  Buy your copy here

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Infra « Images from the Congo by Richard Mosse

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“They say that Napoleon was colourblind & blood for him as green as grass.”

– from Unrecounted by WG Sebald

For centuries, the Congo has compelled and defied the Western imagination. Richard Mosse brings to this subject the use of a discontinued military surveillance technology, a type of color infrared film called Kodak Aerochrome. Originally developed for camouflage detection, this aerial reconnaissance film registers an invisible spectrum of infrared light, rendering the green landscape in vivid hues of lavender, crimson, and hot pink.

Infrared film also found civilian uses among cartographers, agronomists, hydrologists, and archaeologists, to reveal subtle changes in the landscape. In the late 1960s, the medium was appropriated in the cover art of albums by rock musicians like Jimi Hendrix or the Grateful Dead, trickling into the popular imagination as the palette of psychedelic (from the Greek for “soul-manifesting”) experience, eventually accumulating a kitsch aesthetic.
On his journeys in eastern Congo, Mosse photographed rebel groups of constantly switching allegiances, fighting nomadically in a jungle war zone plagued by frequent ambushes, massacres, and systematic sexual violence. These tragic narratives urgently need telling but cannot be easily described. Like Joseph Conrad a century before him, Mosse discovered a disorienting and ineffable conflict situation, so trenchantly real that it verges on the abstract, at the limits of description.
In his extraordinary series of essays on Africa, The Shadow of the Sun, Ryszard Kapuściński reminds us that “The richness of every European language is a richness in ability to describe its own culture, represent its own world. When it ventures to do the same for another culture, however, it betrays its limitations, underdevelopment, semantic weakness.”
Infra offers a radical rethinking of how to depict a conflict as complex and intractable as that of the ongoing war in the Congo. The results offer a fevered inflation of the traditional reportage document, underlining the tension between art, fiction, and photojournalism. Infra initiates a dialogue with photography that begins as an intoxicating meditation on a broken documentary genre, but ends as a haunting elegy for a vividly beautiful land touched by unspeakable tragedy.
Richard Mosse (born 1980, Ireland) is a recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship 2011, with a generous supplemental stipend from the Leon Levy Foundation. Mosse, currently based in New York, earned an MFA in Photography from Yale School of Art in 2008 and a Postgraduate Diploma in Fine Art from Goldsmiths, London, in 2005. He will have solo exhibitions at the Weatherspoon Art Museum, North Carolina, and the Savannah College of Art and Design, Hong Kong, in January, 2012. Infra was included in Dublin Contemporary 2011 and will be shown in solo exhibitions at Open Eye, Liverpool and Belfast Exposed in 2012. Mosse has exhibited work at Tate Modern, London, the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Kunsthalle Munich, among others. Mosse’s public collections include the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, the Martin Z. Margulies Collection, Miami, the Musée de l’Élysée, Lausanne, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and the Nelson Atkins Museum, Kansas City. In 2012, Mosse will begin a residency at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin.  -text via Jack Shainman Gallery

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Data Visualization: It’s Pretty, but Is It Useful?

Pie charts from Statistical Breviary by William Playfair, published in 1801.

My automatic reaction to the words “data visualization” tends to be an eye roll. Infographics and data maps—now the darlings of designers and journalists alike—have enjoyed a surge in popularity over the past several years, that, in my opinion, has been hugely disproportionate to the function they have served.

Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy and drool over the aesthetic and intellectual experience of a stunningly produced infographic as much as any other geek. But I have seen very few examples of data visualization that give any evidence of its power to change the world, at least any more than any other type of visual or textual narrative communication or journalism. My thinking has been that, if functionality is to be measured by actual usefulness to produce tangible change or discourse in society, data visualization leaves a lot to be desired.

However, a recent conversation with Dietmar Offenhuber, the MIT Sensible City Lab Ph.D. student who has been working with Lab Team member Carlo Ratti on his programs here at the Lab, convinced me that, while I’m not wrong in being thoroughly unimpressed by the current, trendy uses of data visualization, it may, indeed, hold the potential to be a more useful tool than I have so far believed.

First, a little background: data visualization itself is nothing new. I highly encourage any designer who thinks they’re doing something cutting-edge with graphic representation to take a look at William Playfair’s Statistical Breviary— the first known pie chart, created in 1801 (above)—or John Snow’s famous 1854 map connecting London’s pattern of cholera outbreak to proximity to public water pumps (below). Though their hand-rendered, analog aesthetics may be less sexy than what we see from today’s infographic fetishists, functionally they serve more or less the same purpose: to communicate information and connections through visuals rather than numbers or words.

Cholera Map

Map of cholera cases in London, created by John Snow in 1854.

Of course, today this is unarguably much easier to achieve than it ever has been, and thus its persuasive power is admittedly more democratized. Not only do we have an unprecedented deluge of computer-crunchable data available to us as a result of the open data revolution currently underway, but we also have powerful and widely available visualization tools through which to run that data. Most computer-literate people today could plop data into a visualization program and spit out a relatively informative and aesthetically appealing infographic or data map.

The problem, however, is that most of it stops there. The visualization itself is the end goal. It illustrates a point, and that’s where its function ends. “When we talk about whether information visualization can really change things, I think there are two very different, important aspects of it,” explains Offenhuber. “On the one hand it is about communication—convincing people of things. The explosion of infographics happening right now is all about communication, to the point that it’s a little bit too much for my personal taste. It’s just a literal translation of a textual narrative. But, on the other hand, it is about using visualization for exploration and analyzing data. The possibility to explore the data is something very different.”

And in order to do that, there is one critical element that most visualizations are lacking: the actual data that went into producing them—or, as Offenhuber puts it, the separation of information and layout.

Consider, for example, the earlier days of the Internet, when any type of content on a web page was deeply embedded in its HTML code, and thus more or less inaccessible to the average person. Compare that to today, where one can simply copy and paste the embed code of, say, a YouTube video, and immediately and seamlessly shift that content to display it in a completely different context.

“The same quality is the most powerful aspect of data visualization and data journalism or whatever you want to call it,” Offenhuber says. “You have a toolbox of different representational methods, and you have data sets that can be processed with these tools.” In other words, the data set that produces a visualization is essentially the embed code of information analysis. It turns a visualization into an actionable tool.

Take Safecast, for instance, a project that started after the March, 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima reactor in Japan. Safecast collects and maps data on radiation levels, but also publishes that data openly for anyone to use.

If all Safecast did was produce a static map from the data they collected, it would still be extremely informative and useful. People could look at the map and determine where they should or should not live in the country, for instance.

But because the data is published along with the visualization of it, it allows anyone to take the information they garner from the map one step further. If someone sees the varying levels of radiation and wonders how they overlap with, say, cancer rates, that person can extract the data and overlay it with health statistics. Or, he or she could pull out the actual numbers to pressure the government into, say, concentrating cleanup or relief efforts more strongly in the areas with higher levels. Or that data could be used for any number of other purposes. The possibilities are as endless as our own curiosity and will to use them, but only if the data is there for us to explore that curiosity with.

This is one of the big differences between the infographics sections of, say, The New York Times, the Texas Tribune, or any number of other publications that have recently developed a focus on data visualization, and the Guardian’s Data Blog, for instance.

The Times may do a stunning and powerfulanalysis of New York’s shifting geographic distribution of ethnicities and prove the point that, say, black populations are getting pushed to the city outskirts and being replaced by whites. But if somebody wants to overlay that map with another type of data to explore a different aspect or consequence of that shift, or even perhaps dispute it by suggesting the mapmaker has ignored an essential outlier, they cannot do that, because the data is not provided along with the graphic. It is a one-way conversation.

On Data Blog, on the other hand, every graphic is accompanied by the downloadable data set that went into creating it, thus offering the opportunity for a more collective discussion. “Suddenly, it’s a completely different offer that you’re making to your readers, and I think that’s a consequential step,” Offenhuber says. “This means that the data visualization kind of becomes the medium for having this discourse. Suddenly, visualization becomes a facilitating element for talking about the data itself.”

If that is really the case and data visualization can really become a more pragmatic and convincing tool for solutions-oriented dialogue, well, that is a trend I could get behind. If infographics could effectively ask the question, “What’s next?” that, in my mind, would be a very worthy end product. Until then, though, I’m mostly stuck with “so what?”

-by Christine McLaren

Images: William Playfair’s piecharts and John Snow’s cholera map via Wikimedia Commons.