Here are some photographs I managed to click at Blog Camp Pune 2 when I could disengage myself from the talks. Snaps are hosted on Flickr, please click to get higher resolutions. My thanks to all the ‘un’-organizers of the event for making this such a flawlessly smooth event!
A few weeks back, when I realized that the world’s largest automaker was heading towards bankruptcy, I did a nostalgic photo-post of General Motors World Headquarters at the Renaissance Center and Detroit. This week, Six Flags, one of the world’s largest amusement park company in the world announced that it is filing for bankruptcy. It seems that in this economic downturn, people don’t want to spend their hard-earned money to get amused. So here is another nostalgic photo-post of a day at an amusement park that was loosely affiliated with Six Flags.
Cedar Point at Sandusky, Ohio currently holds the world record for the maximum number of roller coasters, one of which is the world’s second tallest and second fastest roller coaster. It has been voted The Best Amusement Park In The World for 11 consecutive years (yes, over Disneyworld in Florida). This is how the park looks from the air (not my photo):
It was a cloudy, rainy day that we went to Cedar Point. We were anxious, but the rides were fortunately open and running. Click on any of the pictures to get the higher resolution.
The cable car runs through the entire length of the park, since walking around the whole day can become quite tiring!
It was a bit difficult to get good outdoor photographs because the light was poor in rainy conditions.
The Top Thrill Dragster has been the most thrilling experience of my life. Paragliding at the foot of the Himalayas didn’t come anywhere close. 0 to 120 mph (193 kmph) in 4 seconds. A 90 degree climb up to 420 feet (~ 50 stories) and a 90 degree straight fall while spiraling 270 degrees. All over in just 17 seconds. I managed to capture a train climbing, at the top, and descending:
Yesterday’s news about GM cutting 21,000 more jobs and killing the Pontiac brand evoked nostalgia and some mixed feelings. So this is a photo-sequel to my almost two year old post about life in Detroit.
For two years, I lived, worked, breathed, ate, and slept in the shadow of this landmark. General Motors World Headquarters, the Renaissance Center, affectionately known as ‘RenCen’. RenCen is one of the world’s largest office complexes, totaling 5,500,000 square feet. It is so confusing inside for newcomers, that I had made a PowerPoint presentation for guiding our new team members.
The red monorail is the ‘People Mover’ – a public transport system in downtown ‘World Auto Capital’ Detroit.
These are views from my apartment window.
A few snaps of Detroit downtown at night. Just like the darkness of the night, and unlike the men of the Renaissance Era who brought the light of reason in our lives, GM’s Rencen is headed back to the Dark Ages.
“Bachelors & Foreigners As Tenants Not Allowed”
Many blogger friends have tagged me for various memes while I was in hiatus. I will endeavor to take up those tags faithfully. One issue is that everyone I know in the blogosphere has already been tagged leaving me with no other option than to revert to a “Comment and Self-Tag” policy. Finding untagged bloggers will further delay my taking up the tag! So feel free to leave a comment and take up the tag if you wish.
Rolling has tagged me for the photo tag: post the sixth picture from the sixth folder in my pictures folder, and write about the history behind the photo. My sixth folder is my Personal folder, and here’s the sixth picture:
This is my mother. This photograph was taken around 1960 – almost half a century back.
Such artistic portrait photography was quite rare in that era in India, especially among the middle income population. A relative on my father’s side called Mr. Tambe was from the upper strata, and had his own private studio. He invited my mother for a few sessions immediately after my parents were married. The result: a set of beautiful monochrome photographs of my mother – several with large prints. Here’s another:
Incidentally, I was recently reminded of these photographs when looking at Priyank’s photo of his mom. There is one print which I have sketched in pencil and featured on my blog before if you’d like to take a look.
Thanks for the tag, Rolling!
I have never posted an email forward before, but this one was simply too much for me to just let it pass by. I couldn’t resist from sharing these with you, my readers! (Please see updated credits at the end of the post).
It is photographs like these, and Priyank’s, that deter me from a naive ambition of photography. (Priyank’s main Photo Gallery link seems to point to his blog at the moment, but if you browse around his site, you’ll find astonishing photographs. This is apart from his amazing musical skills!) I simply give it up knowing that I can never be good enough!
Photo Credits: All images except the city panorama: Steve McCurry. You can find these and many more astonishing photographs on his own site. I am grateful to Shefaly for conscientiously pursuing the quest and helping me to locate the source. I hope this post constitutes fair use of this copyrighted work, as these are low-resolution photos, used for non-commercial purpose, with attribution.
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The Kentucky Herald Leader reported an unusual story. An emotionally upset woman called up, and said that she had found the scalp of a dead friend’s remains, in the woods where he had accidentally died. His body had already been taken to the coroner’s office couple of days ago. She stored the 8×4 inch piece in a trash bag in her freezer, but didn’t summon the courage to tell the authorities or anyone. Finally, she called the Herald Leader. After some urging by the reporter, the remains were finally delivered to the coroner and the story ends.
Objectivity vs. Transparency
The real story that intrigues me begins here, in the Editor’s Behind The Headlines blog, since the reporter who actually took the remains from the woman and delivered them to the coroner, was the same one who wrote the news report. No one else was involved. The news article simply referred to himself as ‘the reporter’ anonymously, thus wrongly pretending the story to be objective. The Editor writes:
And thus a new chapter was added to the lore of the Herald-Leader newsroom — and a rather interesting ethical discussion was borne. The ethical conundrum was two-fold: Should a reporter accept proffered body parts? And, if a reporter does accept said body parts, has he become so tied up in the story that he can no longer objectively write it? Opinions in the newsroom differed on these points, as is often the case in journalism.
The question of whether the reporter should have helped the woman is a non-question for me. A reporter is first a human being, and then a reporter. About the second, I agree with Josh from CNET, who opines that objectivity becomes impossible in certain situations, the only sensible approach is transparency and full-disclosure. Patrick, from the Jakarta Post has a strong, well-argued opinion that the traditional ideal of objectivity is not only pretentious, it is false. He says:
The truth is that objectivity is not only an impossible ideal to aspire to; it might not even really be worth the effort. What would make far more sense would be for the press to aspire to accuracy, to fairness, to even-handedness, and to transparency. These at least, are attainable aspirations.
Anguish vs. Numbness
This further led me to think about journalists from their perspective – I mean really putting on journalistic shoes and cap. We bloggers are used to bashing the media. How many times have we deplored the way they scavenge the relatives of the dead or missing like vultures intent on squeezing every bloody drop of emotion to keep the audience glued? A British reporter covering the Congo Crisis once walked into a crowd of Belgian evacuees and shouted, “Anyone here been raped and speaks English?”.
Now, step outside your frame of reference for a moment, and read this article by war correspondent Jack Shafer on Slate, “In Praise of Insensitive Reporters“: There may be no tougher assignment in journalism than knocking on the door of a mother who has lost her young daughter to a killer and asking, “How do you feel?”. He argues that if the US media had stopped covering the Virginia Tech massacre after the real news was over, the public would have rioted. Read about Karina Bland, who covered a 4-month investigation into into young children burned, beaten, and sexually defiled, and became an exception in the industry when she took recourse in crisis counseling.
Soldiers, police, fire-fighters, and emergency medical personnel – all receive special training for dealing with traumatic events. Journalists, who are routinely involved in the same situations, receive none. Further, their industry shuns any signs of weakness, so reporters are used to bottling up their stress. They refuse to accept their grief, their horror, even to themselves.
The climax of the poisonous mix of harsh criticism and adulatory praise that journalists can encounter, came a few months after the publication of this photograph in the NYT:
This photograph showing a starving Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture won Kevin Carter the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. Along with the award, he also received criticism worldwide, aptly stated by St. Petersburg Florida Times: “The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering, might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene.”
His photograph made the world weep, but another tragedy was to follow. Two months after receiving the Pulitzer, Carter committed suicide. Superficial observers relate his suicide either to an inability to handle fame, or guilt for not intervening and helping the child in this photo. The truth was much more complex as revealed by a Time magazine special feature.
Susan Moeller tells Carter’s story in Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death: He had gone into the bush seeking relief from the terrible starvation and suffering he was documenting, when he encountered the emaciated girl. When he saw the vulture land, Carter waited quietly, hoping the bird would spread its wings and give him an even more dramatic image. It didn’t, and he eventually chased the bird away. The girl gathered her strength and resumed her journey toward a feeding center. Afterward, writes Moeller, Carter “sat by a tree, talked to God, cried, and thought about his own daughter, Megan.”
Charles Freund puts the picture in perspective, in his article in Reason Magazine: Western newspaper readers saw a little girl. Carter, in the Sudanese village where he landed, was watching 20 people starve to death each hour. Perhaps he might have laid aside his camera to give the victims what succor he could (and thus never have encountered the girl in the bush); perhaps his photographs could have led to greater help than he could personally give. Should he have carried one girl to safety? Carter was surrounded by hundreds of starving children. When he sat by the tree and wept, it was beneath a burden of futility. But his was not a photo of futility, nor of mass starvation, nor of religious factionalism, nor of civil war. Readers saw a little girl. In part, at least, Carter died for that.
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This image was taken, at Sagan’s suggestion, by Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990. As the spacecraft left our planetary neighborhood to the edges of our solar system, engineers turned it around for one last look at its home planet. Voyager 1 was about 6.4 billion kilometers (4 billion miles) away, when it captured this portrait of our world.
“We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you know, everyone you love, everyone you’ve ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines. Every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds…
Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish this pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
- Carl Sagan, commencement address delivered May 11, 1996.
This tribute is to hope and pray on behalf of the 2996 people who were killed on that fateful day. Many more have been killed before and after, all over this pale blue dot. Just like Voyager, we also need to turn and look back at man’s history on this fragile planet. Will we learn to cherish what we’ve got, or wipe ourselves out of existence?
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The research paper, as well as a downloadable video, by Dr. Ariel Shamir and Dr. Shai Avidan is available here.
Note the differences between the earlier algorithm and this one. The earlier one used a large database of images to add or replace image sections. This one doesn’t work with any external images, and is purely an algorithmic advance towards higher content awareness of the existing image itself. Now you can easily use photos from your Ibiza vacation to print family-friendly photo albums!
It is fascinating to see how we’re making advances in algorithms even today – why wasn’t this invented all these years that Photoshop has been around? (Simple answer: because no human mind had conceived and invented such an algorithm before).
I do wish the inventors get richly rewarded for this magnificent piece of work!
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Photo editing will never be the same again.
In what has been described as a Google approach to understanding digital photos, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have come up with a radically innovative idea to add or remove content from digital photos. The idea is that if you have enough information at your hands, you can act smart without knowing what you’re up to. Sounds familiar? Yes, anyone who has used Google knows that it doesn’t really know the ‘meaning’ of your search query, yet appears to give you ‘meaningful’ search results.
“Whether adding people or objects to a photo, or filling holes in an edited photo, the systems automatically find images that match the context of the original photo so they blend realistically. Unlike traditional photo editing, these results can be achieved rapidly by users with minimal skills.”
Adding Content – Photo Clip Art
This system “uses thousands of labeled images from a Web site called LabelMe as clip art that can be added to photos. A photo showing a vacant street, for instance, might be populated with images of people, vehicles and even parking meters.”
“Instead of trying to manipulate the object to change its orientation, color distribution, etc. to fit the new image, we simply retrieve an object of a specified class that has all the required properties (camera pose, lighting, resolution, etc) from our large object library. We present new automatic algorithms for improving object segmentation and blending, estimating true 3D object size and orientation, and estimating scene lighting conditions. We also present an intuitive user interface that makes object insertion fast and simple even for the artistically challenged.”
Editing Content – Scene Completion
This system “draws upon millions of photos from the Flickr web site to fill in holes in photos. The system looks for image segments that match the colors and textures that surround the hole on the original photo. It also looks for image segments that make sense contextually ? in other words, it wouldn’t put an elephant in a suburban backyard or a boat in a desert.”
“The algorithm patches up holes in images by finding similar image regions in the database that are not only seamless but also semantically valid. For many image completion tasks the system is able to find similar scenes which contain image fragments that will convincingly complete the image. The algorithm is entirely data-driven, requiring no annotations or labeling by the user. Unlike existing image completion methods, the algorithm generates a diverse set of image completions and allows users to select among them.”
The bizarre simplicity of using these systems momentarily shook me. Are there any security or other ramifications? Will they make Photo ID fraud simpler? Will they make it easier to create obscene photos of celebrities or private persons you know? Will they evolve into film editing tools? Only time will tell.
Photo Credits: CMU