Searching for Robert Johnson
By Frank DiGiacomo, Vanity Fair
In the seven decades since his mysterious death, bluesman Robert Johnson’s legend has grown—the tragically short life, the "crossroads" tale of supernatural talent, the genuine gift that inspired Dylan, Clapton, and other greats—but his image remains elusive: only two photos of Johnson have ever been seen by the public. In 2005, on eBay, guitar maven Zeke Schein thought he’d found a third. Schein's quest to authenticate the picture only led to more questions, both about Johnson himself and about who controls his valuable legacy....
READ ON at vanityfair.com
Tech Terms to Avoid
By David Pogue, The New York Times
In two weeks, I'll celebrate my eighth anniversary writing this column. And if I do any ruminating during my 15-second celebration, I'll recognize that one thing still hasn't changed: there's still no single technical level of writing that makes everybody happy.
I still get complaints from total newbies, who are bewildered by terms like "smartphone" and "plasma TV." And I still get bashed by the gearheads, who find the column not nearly technical enough....
READ ON at nytimes.com
The Politics of the Retouched Headshot
By Virginia Postrel, The Atlantic
Last week, Fox News set off a short-lived controversy when it attacked Newsweek for not retouching the magazine’s larger-than-life cover photo of Sarah Palin. Calling the headshot "ridiculously unfair to her," anchor Megyn Kelly declared that "any respectable magazine should be doing a little retouching."
Demanding that a news magazine manipulate photos in order to remain "respectable" may seem odd, all the more so since Governor Palin looks quite attractive in the photograph. But the criticism reveals more than ratings-plumping partisan grievance. In an image-savvy culture, we’re increasingly forced to consider just what constitutes a valid portrait. The way most of us instinctively answer the question demonstrates the difference between objectivity and truth.
Consider the apolitical act of selecting a personal headshot: a bridal photo, a website image, an author portrait. You don't just face the camera and accept the first photo that come [sic] out. That's for driver's licenses, mug shots, and security badges—the ID photos most people find not only embarrassing but somehow untrue. At the very least, you want to choose a shot where your eyes are open, your smile looks genuine, and your cowlick is under control....
READ ON at theatlantic.com
Mike (Thanks to Marshall Smith, Stephen Rosenblum, and Oren Grad)
Featured Comment by Greg Smith: "Thanks for the reading tips. Especially enjoyed the Robert Johnson piece which was as much about the music industry, indirectly, as the photograph of Robert Johnson."
Featured Comment by John Camp: "Good reading indeed.
"I disagree with a number of Pogue's comments, though; some of his tech terms have (sometimes subtly) different meanings than his plain-English interpretations.
"For example, 'price point' does not mean the same thing as 'price.' If you say, 'The new iPod has to hit the right price-point,' you're referring to fairly complex competitive considerations. 'Price' alone doesn't do that. 'Device' is a more general word than cellphone, so what word do you use for software that may be loaded onto different, uh, devices? What if you can't 'turn on' the GPS because it has not been enabled—after you get it enabled, then you can turn it on. (I've been dealing with that in a way that seriously pisses me off. I spent almost $4,000 for a top-of-the-line Mac, and found out—nobody told me—that it doesn't have built-in wireless, which even cheap $500 notebooks have. I was also told that I can't just plug in a card. I have to take apart the whole heavy system, and drag the tower back to an Apple store, so some guy there can put the card in, which means I'm going to lose the computer for a day or two. In other words, I have to get it enabled so I can turn it on....)
"Generally, I strongly agree with what Pogue's saying. However, I also like the Einsteinian sentiment: things should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."
Featured Comment by Geoff Wittig: "Interesting stuff for sure. Seeing as how photography has definitively replaced the painted portrait as the standard for visual representation of political leaders, a whole new range of concerns and conventions are applicable. Painted portraits of royalty have traditionally been analyzed in great depth, looking for all kinds of 'meta' references to the individual and his/her social or cultural 'meaning.' Now photography, having clearly supplanted the rôle of painting for official portraits, is appropriately coming under the same kind of scrutiny."
Mike adds: We need to keep some (photographic) perspective about the NEWSWEEK Palin cover. 1) The McCain campaign has severely limited access to Palin; 2) The disputed shot pretty clearly comes from the same shoot as the RNC cover a few weeks earlier... 3) ...Which was itself probably shot under considerable time/access constraints. The picture editor's task is therefore to pick a shot of Palin that camouflages as well as possible the fact that 1), 2), and 3) are true. To do this, he/she has to avoid, for example, batting the reader over the head with the fact that Palin is wearing the same clothes in both covers. Reading too much arcane symbology into such a shot—whatever one's motives—without taking the logistics of the shoot into account is probably misdirected: the "extreme close up" was probably more of a kludge based on exigent externalities than a) a plot or b) a deliberate artistic choice.