Eugene de Salignac (1861–1943) – the municipal photographer who captured the transformation of New York

Eugene de Salignac was employed as the single official photographer by the New York City Department of Bridges/ Plants & Structures* from 1906 to 1934. During that period using a large-format camera he captured the transformation of New York from a town to a city. Shooting mainly its changing architecture, growing infrastructure and those who built it, he left quite an impressive archive of 12,500 8″ x 10″ gelatin-silver and cyanotype prints and 20,000 8″ x 10″ glass plate and acetate negatives. Not only his prolific work but also his unique vision worth a few words about him. As Michael Lorenzini mentioned ‘A lot of other photographers who worked for the city were pretty talented but did not produce such a large body of work or a distinct body of work.’

Mr. Lorenzini, the senior photographer for the New York City Municipal Archives, is actually the man who rediscovered the talent of Eugene de Salignac in 1999. He explains that as he was spooling through microfilm of the city’s vast Department of Bridges photography collection, he realized that many of the images shared a common sophisticated aesthetic. Besides, he noticed that there were consecutive numbers scratched into the negatives. And then he realized that they had all been shot by a single unknown photographer. But who was he?

Trying to find the answer, Mr Lorenzini started a research. It took him many months and uncounted hours of trolling through archives storerooms, the Social Security index, Census reports and city records on births, deaths and employment, and finally discovered the photographer: Eugene de Salignac.

Though Michael Lorenzini unearthed primary sources to reconstruct de Salignac’s biography, still a lot about him remains unknown.

The basic facts of his life are that he was born in Boston in 1861 into an eccentric family of exiled French nobility. He got married, had two children and, after separating from his wife in 1903, at the age of 42 he started working for the City of New York. It was his brother-in-law who found him the job as an assistant to the photographer for the Department of Bridges, Joseph Palmer. After 3 years of apprenticeship, Palmer suddenly died, and in October 1906, de Salignac assumed his duties until 1934. Though he turned 70, he was still climbing bridges and actively working, but was forced to retire in 1934 despite a petition to Mayor La Guardia. Eugene de Salignac died in 1943, at 82.

De Salignac was not a typical municipal photograph. His job was to provide a record of the changing New York: the construction of bridges, municipal building, subway, tunnels, trolley lines, buses, ferries, street scenes, construction laborers, office workers, panoramas and etc. And he did it, but more as an artist than as an ordinary municipal worker. Some of his most compelling images reveal that he had an eye for composition, form and light. A real piece of art is his iconic photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge painters.

Obviously with such a huge amount, it is not possible that all of his photographs possess the high quality of an art work, but still they are great images from historical point of view. Moreover, it seems that de Salignac liked his job and these newly-built constructions became a continual source of his inspiration. He captured these symbols of the industrial progress in their unusual beauty.

Now since his name has emerged, he deserves all the merits for his work. In his lifetime de Salignac’s work was little seen outside of New York City government, and his name was forgotten after his death in 1943. Not however his images. They have been used in books and films but since their author was unknown, it was no possible to give them the correct credit.

Most of his collection now is held by the New York City Municipal Archives.

In 2007, they have published (publisher Aperture) the monograph ‘New York Rises: Photographs by Eugene de Salignac’ with authors Michael Lorenzini and Kevin Moore.

Among many of his photographic duties was also the task of taking portraits for licenses. He often shot two men at a time but it is not yet clear why.

*Bridges/Plant & Structures, 1901-1939. With consolidation of the Greater City of New York in 1898, all bridges over waterways were placed under jurisdiction of the newly-formed Department of Bridges. In 1916, Bridges merged with Public Works and became the Department of Plant & Structures with responsibility for streetcar lines, ferryboats, sewers, waste disposal facilities, homeless shelters, and bridges.

John Atkinson – ‘Wrong Hands’ cartoon series

I do not think there is something to say about the cartoons of the Canadian artist John Atkinson. The series ‘Wrong Hands’ speak for themselves – hilarious, humorous, original, clever, and very creative.

Where the title comes from? John explains that his drawings are done directly on a computer with a mouse using his right hand but this is weird because he is actually left-handed, and hence the name of the blog. The lettering is a typeface he created of his own handwriting.

So, enjoy and laugh!  And visit his site for a lot more of his works or follow the artist on facebook to continue laughing.

In case any is interested of buying them, they are available to purchase either as in high resolution jpeg or eps format (contact the artist for details at: wronghands1@gmail.com)  or as greeting cards at https://www.urbangraphic.co.uk/shop/range/wrong-hands/

Silke Leffler – the Frog Prince

Recently I bought the children’s  book ‘The Frog Prince’ by the Swedish highly acclaimed writer Ulf Stark with the gorgeous illustrations of the German talented artist Silke Leffler. And I am absolutely enchanted and highly recommend this gem.

The tale is that kind of story I like. Funny and humorous, but at the end it teaches the children valuable life lessons.

The illustrations however, were the magnet that captured my attention. The work of Silke Leffler is amazing. I have scanned only the odd pages, but there are a lot of other illustrations on the even ones.

The author and the illustrator have collaborated for one another book from the same series, called ‘The Prince and the Happiness’, and no doubt it will be soon in my collection too.

Vincent Mahé – Le Corbusier & 750 Years in Paris

 

Paris-based illustrator Vincent Mahé was tasked by the French weekly Télérama to create a short illustrated story of the life of the great architect Le Corbusier as a part of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of his death, and he has done a remarkable work. In four double pages spread, he has succeeded to capture the prolific career of one of the pioneers of the modern architecture spanning six decades (from his first professional start in 1904 until his death in 1965).

The artist obviously is fascinated by the architecture and it shows from his next work called ‘750 years in Paris’, which was just published in a book. As he describes this project, it is “a literary graphic novel unlike anything else on the racks, 750 Years tells the story of our time, focusing on one single building in France as it sees its way through the upheavals of history. Beginning in the 13th century and making its way towards today… Generations have lived here before us, they’ve walked on this very same pavement, they’ve been under that same sky… If you could stand still for 750 years, what could you learn about the world?” The book is currently available to purchase through Nobrow Press

View Vincent Mahé’s portfolio at https://www.behance.net/vincentmahe  and follow him on Facebook and Instagram

Happiness is … – a project by Last Lemon

What is Happiness?

We all have asked ourselves this question more than once and probably were searching for the answer in the ‘big’ things like home, job, money and so on.

However if you honestly ask yourself that very same moment what makes you happy, you will be surprised with the sudden answer. Because it will be something very ‘insignificant’, something so obvious that often we do not even bother to think about it as ‘real happiness’. And yet all those ‘small’ happy moments in our life paint the black and white reality with the rich colours of the rainbow. They assure that necessary balance to be able to continue going on through this journey called life and say at the end ‘it was amazing’.

This is not a philosophical article trying to inspire you to see the light into the darkness. This is the observation of an artwork which probably should be also taken into account by the relevant scientists (after all it is like a free research).

The artistic duo Last Lemon came with the idea to start illustrating the conception of the people around the world what is happiness. The project started in 2013 and currently they have illustrated 7.000 submissions collected in a few books and more are on the way.  So, you are welcome to join and send your list via Facebook or directly on their site.

Before to do that, take a look first at the thoughts somebody like you have already shared… Happiness is in the simple everyday things, isn’t it? An unexpected bouquet, watching the sea, fixing something, a good high five, seeing your mother smile, finding money in an old pair of jeans, a baby holding your finger with his whole hand, dancing like idiots, looking down on your hometown from a plane, being  the first one up… Of course, we all want to have the ‘big’ stuff, but will they make us really happy or they are just a goal to be reached and after we achieve it, start chasing for the next one?

Janet Echelman – aerial installations

You never know where exactly the creativity is hiding inside you.

The American artist Janet Echelman is just such an example. Nowadays she is famous with her beautiful, aerial, fluidly moving sculptures and installations that give new essence of urban spaces. But it took her about 10 years to find her artistic voice and everything started in 1997 with lost paints…

Born in 1965, after graduating college, she moved to Hong Kong in 1987 to study Chinese calligraphy and brush-painting. Followed a stay in Bali, then a return to the United States, and then again – back to Asia, embarking on a Fulbright lectureship in India. There was also an arrangement with Fulbright that she had to give exhibitions around the country, but not everything went according to the plan. When she shipped her paints to the fisher village Mahabalipuram, they never arrived. The deadline for the show approached, so she had to think up something quickly … And she found it – no painting but a sculpture. Though she has never studied sculpture, engineering or architecture, she decided to create a big, volumetric sculpture and yet gently floating in the air.

However what material to use for this purpose? Bronze casting was too heavy and expensive for making large forms. One day, walking on the beach, she saw fishermen bundling their nets into mounds on the sand and suddenly realized the potential of such a material. And that’s how her first sculpture was made. It’s a self-portrait titled “Wide Hips”, created with the help of the local fishermen. It was hoisted on poles and she was so mesmerized by the beauty and delicacy of the changing patterns that decided to give a try to another one.

Since then, 18 years later, from ‘simple’ sculptures, her works have grown to huge installations woven in big cities all over the world combining a high-end technology with art. Echelman collaborates with aeronautical, mechanical and software engineers, architects, lighting designers, landscape architects and fabricators. The fishnet, she used for her first work, merged to more complex materials like atomized water particles or Spectra fiber.

Her goal is not just to create an object to look at to but also to get lost in it and as she said in her TED talk ‘Taking Imagination Seriously’: “My artistic horizons continue to grow”.

Visit the official site to see all artist’s works with a detailed explanations about their construction, location on the map and video of the set up – http://www.echelman.com/

Hans Op de Beeck – Staging Silence (2)

Hans Op de Beeck - Staging Silence

Hans Op de Beeck is a multi-disciplinary artist from Belgium. His film ‘Staging Silence (2)’ is an amazing journey through many public places the artist has experienced. As he explains In his site  it is “based around abstract, archetypal settings that lingered in (his) memory  … memory images are disproportionate mixtures of concrete information and fantasies, and in this film they materialize before the spectator’s eyes through anonymous tinkering and improvising hands. Arms and hands appear and disappear at random, manipulating banal objects, scale representations and artificial lighting into alienating yet recognizable locations. These places are no more or less than animated decors for possible stories, evocative visual propositions to the spectator”.

The film is beautifully accompanied by a music composed especially for it by Scanner (UK), who was inspired by the images in its creation.

Yang Liu – Man Meets Woman

The theme might be a cliché but it will always be one of the most relevant since the existence of mankind.

Curious to explore universal subjects, the Chinese born, Berlin-based graphic designer Yang Liu after the success of her previous book East Meets West has now depicted in the same minimalist style her new project ‘Man meets Woman’. Again keeping to the minimum the visual impact so the essence of the context could stand out, she uses two vibrant colours for the background – green for men and magenta for women, and black or white silhouettes. That’s it; simple and straightforward approach for such a complex issue

Like it or not, but there are differences between sexes we can’t ignore. Some are so difficult to comprehend that have led to a lot of misunderstandings and confusions. You know like those “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. Two so close and yet totally diverse planets. These differences however are set by nature. We can’t go against them. We can only try having them in mind while getting nervous when the opposite sex reacts ‘strange’ or ‘unusual’. And Yang Liu presents them in quite a funny way – ‘best weapon’, ‘man/woman flu’, ‘he needs & buys/she needs & buys’, ‘single focus/multitasking’, ‘luggage’ …

She hasn’t omitted to illustrate also the other set of differences. Those that reveal the sad truth – the outdated traditional perceptions and prejudice about gender models that continue to influence many aspects of our modern life. We still live in an unequal world where our behavior is constrained by unofficial rules of the social and professional structures. Although funny at first sight, these problematic gender stereotypes show that there is still a long way to go to the mutual understanding and forbearance.

The book of Yang Liu is exactly how she imagined it – “I would like it to be the sort of book where you can laugh at yourself and be entertained, but also take it on board and exercise a little more tolerance when interacting with others”

See the artist’s presentation of the book in Berlin as a part of the project Creative Mornings

Bordalo II – ‘Abandoned’

Artur Bordalo aka Bordalo II is a young urban artist from Portugal who creates exceptional 3-D mural sculptures using cans, tires, plastics, car bumpers and whatever waste he finds in the cities. All this trash is his medium in spreading socially oriented messages to provoke  our modern cultures, ruled by the consumerism. Trash, as he describes it, “is the fruit of excessive consumerism”. The current slogan of the ‘advanced’ world – buy, buy, buy, then use it one time and throw it – leads to unnecessary quantities of garbage, which has a huge impact on the environment. However, the consumerism has also a hidden side effect upon our souls, transforming us into selfish, careless and irresponsible creatures.

Bordalo II - Trash Animals

Bordalo II – Trash Animals

 

Especially concerned about the animal welfare, Bordalo II has chosen them as main objects in most of his works to depict the thoughtless human behavior. His latest project called ‘Abandoned’ (Trash Animals) aims to raise awareness to problems with pet treatment and abandonment. The issue expands to incredible size particularly during the summer months. Not being able to take the pets with them due to different obstacles, their owners prefer to get rid of the animals at the expense of their vacation.  “I can´t understand how someone can go on holiday at peace with himself when he abandoned a son”, says the artist and hopes that his works will shake up the owners and they will reconsider their actions  before to leave and discard like a waste their yesterday’s beloved cats and dogs.