The World’s Most Powerful Images

1963 — Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc sets himself ablaze in protest against the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. (Malcolm W. Browne)

World Press Photo, a non-profit organization dedicated to generating “public interest in and appreciation for the work of photographers,” has held a contest every year since 1955 to highlight the best images created by photojournalists that year. Think of a single image capturing any of the biggest (mostly horrific) events of the last 55+ years, and chances are that image won the World Press Photo contest. Chances also are that you know about that photo (at least in part) because of that contest.

The fine folks at Buzzfeed have published on one page every winning photo from 1955 to 2011. (Yes, the same folks who gave rise to the new Beyoncé meme . . . I’ll wait while you go check that out . . . go on, you know you want to . . .OK, now where were we . . .)

Scrolling through all these images in one place is a bit overwhelming. I found it interesting how the passage of time makes it easier to discount the horrific act being photographed, as if the past has a monopoly on evil. Scrolling past images of more recent events was a powerful reminder of how life (and death) marches on, and how grateful I am that there are very brave people who have chosen to document these things for all the world to see. And thanks to World Press Photo for making these images visible well beyond the news cycle in which they originally appeared.

Go check out the images now. If it’s too much, there will always be the Beyoncé photos to brighten your day.

It’s shocking how little of this image is Photoshopped!

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Aspiring to Greatness

As I watched the closing ceremonies of the Olympics, I found myself considering the concept of greatness. There is much to be inspired by at the Olympics, with its multinational, multicultural, made-for-TV story lines — a brief moment (albeit purely symbolic) of international unity. And whether it is me simply succumbing to the schmaltzy, over-the-top production values or a genuine response to the power of the human spirit, I always exit the Olympics wondering “What if?”

What if I worked as hard as these athletes to accomplish a goal – any goal? What could I accomplish?

What if we could all put aside our differences and focus instead on our similarities (which are far greater in number)? What could we accomplish? As a country. As a people.

Yes, I am aware I am a bit intoxicated by the images of the youthful exuberance of the athletes prancing to a soundtrack of Lennon’s “Imagine” and Bob Costas’s precisely engineered narrative. But the Olympics are undeniably powerful to most of us.

I suspect their power is, at its core, the product of sense memory. As I watched my children reenact their favorite Olympic events over the course of the last two weeks, I remembered the feelings of excitement I experienced when watching the Olympics as a child. I suppose the feelings of melancholy I inevitably experience at this point of each Olympics stems from the knowledge both that I let those childhood dreams fade with each closing ceremony and that I am in the distinct majority in that lapse.

Most of us do little to carry that inspiration forward beyond the closing ceremonies, and as a parent I often wonder how I might fan those flames in my children. It matters not to me what type of greatness they hope to achieve or that they achieve it. It matters only that they possess within themselves sufficient hope to fuel a dream. And it is exceedingly difficult for me to reconcile that wish with the fact that most of us adults have set those dreams aside.

I think most of us at some point aspire to greatness, but those dreams get extinguished at a certain age. Maybe it is a function of the paralyzing practicality of adulthood (after all, dreams rarely come true) or the realities of age (many dreams do, of course have an expiration date — we can safely say that Usain Bolt need not fear my shadow in the 100 meter), but I fear that we have entered an era of limited aspirations — a sort of golden age of mediocrity.

There is no more embarrassing example of this race to average than the current presidential campaign playing out on a world stage between two men — who by virtually all accounts have been blessed with exceptional intelligence, who have experienced success at levels enjoyed by very few, and who have the potential to impact millions upon millions of lives — seemingly hell-bent on using as much of the basest and least productive political trickery they can imagine. They and their multitude of advisors know that trickery is easier and more effective than genuine debate when you have a populace that demands nothing more sophisticated.

We apply the same abysmal standards to our children, our schools, our celebrities (Snookie anyone?), and seemingly everything else. It is time to stop settling . . . to become inspired . . . to aspire to greatness. And this is why we watched the Olympics with our children. My children are just now beginning to consider their possibilities, and I refuse to allow them to become indoctrinated by the dogma of the unexceptional.

While I am unlikely to ever hoist a medal at the Olympics, watching them makes me want to be a better father. A better husband (can you hear my wife shout, “hallelujah!”). A better friend. And therein lies the power of the Olympic games. The power to inspire. The power to remind us of the potential within us all. If nothing else, it is a temporary distraction from the daily onslaught of mediocrity. Maybe the Olympic games aren’t your thing, but I hope that you will find inspiration wherever it exists for you and very deliberately nurture it.

I know I will.

A Lighter Shade of Green — Home Grown Art

I write to you today, after an embarrassingly extended absence (What can I say, I’ve been busy and creatively uninspired — by which I do not mean uninspired in a creative way, but just plain uninspired), to talk a bit about lawn care.  And art.  And artful lawn care.

I have a lawn that is varying shades of green, yellow and brown.  I would prefer that my lawn be one vivid shade of grassy green, but my inability to pay attention to any lawn care activity for more than five minutes renders me completely incapable of producing anything vaguely reminiscent of that.  I suspect this inability to focus and my profound respect for those who are less distracted by shiny objects has a lot to do with the art I’m attracted to. (Yes, I know that should say, “. . .the art to which I am attracted,” but can we agree that’s a bit too stuffy for a blog?)

Earlier I wrote about Cecilia Paredes and Alexa Meade, two artists whose lawns are probably the exactly perfect shade of green.  And today, I would like to introduce you to Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey, formally known as Ackroyd and Harvey (that name is a bit on the nose, wouldn’t you say).  In addition to making art that demonstrates an attention span outstripping my own by several lightyears (OK, I’m not sure what unit of measure is appropriate for attention spans, but I’m fairly certain lightyears isn’t it given that it’s a unit of length, but I’m being lazy here, so just go with it), Ackroyd and Harvey (seriously, it’s a horribly boring name for an art duo) have a certain knack for lawn care that I find enviable.

One Grassy Portrait

Admittedly, at first blush this image is unremarkable until you realize that it was created using photosynthesis.  Yes, the same photosynthesis you learned about in high school.  Or was it grade school?  (Sadly, the only thing that comes to mind when I think of photosynthesis is Adam Sandler bellowing, “Chlorophyll?  More like borophyll!” in Billy Madison.)  In the words of Ackroyd and Harvey, “We are exploring the capacity of grass to record complex photographic images through the production of chlorophyll. The equivalent of the tonal range in a black-and-white photograph is produced in the yellow and green shades of living grass. Although these organic “photographs” are exhibited in a fresh state for a short time, excessive light or lack of it eventually corrupts the visibility of the image.”

The artists created a technique that involves a custom negative, bright lights and specially engineered grass.  Evidently, the yellow does not come from the over-zealous use of fertilizer as it does with my lawn.  However, seeing what Ackroyd and Harvey have created leaves me with hope that my landscaping failures may somehow produce something worthwhile if not a nice, green lawn.

If any of you have seen any of Ackroyd and Harvey’s work in person, leave a comment.  Something tells me these images are much cooler in person.

The Power of Brett Keisel’s Beard

It should come as no surprise to anyone reading MuchAdo that very little planning or thought was given to MuchAdo before its launch. In fact, other than a reluctant guest blogging stint on my cousin’s site in 2002, I never thought about blogging at all. As a result, the MuchAdo adventure has come with a number of very pleasant surprises. For example, who know that the fine folks at WordPress provide their bloggers with a number of analytical tools. Now, were MuchAdo a site with advertising revenue, aspirations of advertising revenue, or anything resembling an organized attempt to do something more lofty than simply exist, those analytical tools would probably be pretty darned handy. In the case of MuchAdo, however, they are less a tool than a source of constant entertainment.

One of those tools shows the search terms people use to end up at MuchAdo. What have I learned from that tool? Well, for one, Brett Keisel’s beard should have its own agent. Keisel, as you may know from a previous post, is a defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers known for having a beard that looks, at times, as if the bewhiskered Keisel is carrying Troy Polamalu in a Baby Bjorn. What you may not have known is that there are a lot of people with what I can only assume is a very unusual interest in Brett Keisel’s beard. (Or possibly a small number of people with an extremely unhealthy interest in Mr. Keisel’s beard.) At least 59 clicks through to MuchAdo have been as a result of searches related to Mr. Keisel and his beard. FIFTY-NINE! And the number may be as high as 73. (Do I count “steelers beard” or my favorite, “older beard man”?) Now were this Google or The Drudge Report or Beards.org (yeah, that exists), that might not be significant. But given the relative anonymity of MuchAdo, 59 is a large number.

Behold, The Beard!!

Especially when you consider the work those 59 searchers had to do to get to MuchAdo. Let’s look at the most popular search term landing folks (or, again, one really weird dude in Oil City, PA) here: “brett keisel.” Any idea how many pages into that Google search you have to go before you find MuchAdo? Me neither. This is my site, and I’m not even interested enough to figure that out. I made it eight pages in before I was distracted by something more interesting (which is to say, just about everything). The results are decidedly more favorable on Bing, where MuchAdo shows up by Page 6. But here is my question to the readers of MuchAdo. “When was the last time you looked at six or more pages of search results?” I’m guessing your answer is a resounding, “Ummmm . . . never!” In fact, the most recent edition of The Big Book of Internet Statistics sites the following statistic:

The average internet searcher reviews no more than three pages of search terms. One notable exception occurred during the six day period between the introduction of The Internet and the day on which pornography became widely available for free. During that six day period thousands of technology savvy thirteen year old boys would routinely review dozens of pages of search terms. Since that period, it is virtually unheard of for anyone to review more than four pages of search terms.

I have no doubt you read that and think, “There was a six day period of the internet without free porn?” This is why the research staff at MuchAdo takes the time to consult exceptionally scholarly, very credible and highly fictional resources like The Big Book of Internet Statistics. But seriously, how is it possible that people (or that sketchy dude) landed here 38 different times whilst knee deep in a search for information about a hirsute defensive end?

I’m afraid this is where the research staff has come up a bit short. We are left only with a series of questions and very few answers. Questions like, “Why are people so interested in Brett Keisel’s beard?” “Why are we all using Google when Bing is so clearly superior?” And “Why, for the love of God, would a search for ‘older beard man’ land someone on MuchAdo?” And though we do not have the answer to any of these questions, I think we can all agree on one thing: that we will never, ever do a search for the term “older beard man.”

So, in the name of research, I ask that anyone who has landed here because they were searching for information about Brett Keisel, Brett Keisel’s beard or something having to do with older beard man, please do us all a favor and leave a comment with the following information:

  1. What search term you used to get here;
  2. Why you were searching that term;
  3. What search engine you used;
  4. What page of the search results you were on when the link to MuchAdo appeared;
  5. On a scale of 1 to 10, how disappointed you were to end up on MuchAdo, with 1 being “Man, this is the best Brett Keisel/beard site on the internet” and 10 being “Dude, where are all the naked pictures of Brett Keisel/dudes with beards!?!” and
  6. What is Oil City, PA like?

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Listen to This — Girl Talk, All Day

What do you think about as you lay awake at night? If you’re like me, the restless monologue goes something like this, “God, I love this bed. OK, time for some sleep . . . wait, did I set the alarm? Yeah, I set it in the kitchen . . . ooh, I forgot we bought ham. Is it too late to have some ham? I’m not going all the way downstairs for ham. I could wake HK up and ask her to get me some ham. We should totally get a ham refrigerator for the bedroom. But where would we put it? It would have to go on the floor, and the damned kids would constantly be stealing my ham. Dammit, kids, stop stealing my ham!”

OK, so I bet I know what you’re thinking. “Is there such a thing as a ham refrigerator?” I don’t know, but that’s something we should explore at a later date.

There are those of us whose bedtime thoughts trend toward the smoked meats and then there are people like Gregg Gillis. I would be willing to bet that Gillis, a musician who performs and records under the stage name Girl Talk, does not lay in bed at night wondering about ham refrigerators. And that is not because I Imagine Gillis being disinterested in ham, but rather because a man as creative as Gillis no doubt solved the midnight ham problem (a pretty good album name, if you ask me) long ago. And so, when Gillis finds himself wondering whether Radiohead and ODB (that’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard for those of you not in the know) are musically compatible, fortunately for us Gillis’s response is not, “Dammit, brain, get back to the ham!”

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Gillis translated this, and many, many other similarly ludicrous thoughts, into a mashup album entitled All Day. In the year-and-a-half since I first downloaded All Day, I have listened to it countless times, and it is only recently that I’ve been able to listen to the album without being distracted by the sheer brilliance (and, let’s be honest, absurdity) of Gillis’s creation. The album’s first track, “Oh No” begins by pairing Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” with “Move Bitch” by Ludacris. I’m not sure what more to say about that, except that the tracks, recorded 32 years apart, sound as if they were always meant to be together.

And that is the genius of Girl Talk — Gillis’s frightening ability to not only conceptualize these combinations, but also to execute on that vision. At times, Gillis layers his tracks with seven or more songs at a time, but he does it with such skill that it is only after dozens of listens that you are able to fully comprehend what it is he has assembled. By the time “Oh No” comes to a close (with a rousing combination of J-Kwon’s “Tipsy,” “Blitzkrieg Bop” by The Ramones, Aaliyah’s “Try Again” and “Waiting for the Sun” by The Doors) you are left wondering if the rest of the album could possibly be as good as the first track. It is.

Throughout the album, Gillis pairs Beck and Snoop Dogg, Fugazzi, Sir Mix-a-Lot and Rihanna, Peter Gabriel and Foxy Brown, Miley Cyrus, M.O.P. and Whodini, T’Pau (c’mon, you know you love you some “Heart & Soul”), Skee-Lo, Notorious B.I.G. and Talking Heads, and dozens of other radically disparate artists. The beauty of All Day is that the whole is dramatically greater than the sum of its parts. Tracks that you may despise on their own (can you say, “All The Single Ladies”) become decidedly better in Gillis’s world. And what a wonderful world it is.

Oh, and did I mention that All Day is free? So go download it now and listen to it. A lot. And then, once you’ve listened to it enough that your brain stops shouting, “What the . . . seriously?!?” go and listen to it again here. The fine folks at Mashup Breakdown created an audio player and map (of sorts) that displays which of the 372 tracks sampled on All Day are being played at any given time during a track. Once you’ve listened to the inspired duet between Radiohead and ODB found on “Jump On Stage” you’ll learn what Gillis likely knew all along — ODB and Radiohead were made for each other.

Alexa Meade: Paintographer?

Here’s another in the series tentatively entitled “Artists That Inspire” (or possibly “Artists That Paint People Then Photograph Them”). Alexa Meade is an artist working in Washington D.C. who is part painter, part photographer, part performance artist and completely awesome.  Her series of three dimensional paintings/photographs is super cool.  Given my recent post about Cecilia Paredes, clearly I am drawn to artists that mix genres (or maybe I just like people that paint their models, I’m not sure), but check out these videos, I think you’ll like them too.

Wanted: Inspiration

There comes a time in every hack blogger’s career (i.e., free time) when he must write the obligatory, “I Have Nothing to Write About” post.  This, my friends, is that post for the staff and writers of MuchAdo.  All of MuchAdo’s readers (by which I mean “Both of MuchAdo‘s readers”) have been so kind (which is to say, “have not openly criticized the blog”), that we simply cannot bear to write just any old thing* and risk any (either) of you losing faith in the quality (passable strings of mostly real words) you have come to expect from MuchAdo.  The writers at MuchAdo strive for excellence in every post they write, and we believe that one of them may achieve that goal some day.  Probably accidentally.   Certainly not soon.  But they’ll keep trying.

But Who’s To Blame?

In trying to determine why we’ve found ourselves in the midst of this creative famine (and, yes, I understand that we weren’t exactly awash in creative brilliance before this), it occurs to me that The World is truly to blame here.  First, The World has held no Superbowls for several weeks now.  Second, The World has not caused Joel Stein to send any additional e-mails (other than the one where he thanked me for plugging his book and called me a “condescending ass,” but I think we’ve pretty much ridden that train as far as it will go).  Finally, The World has caused people to pretty much behave at the grocery store.  In other words, what the heckfire is a guy supposed to write about?

Oh, sure, there is all that political stuff, but do we really want MuchAdo to be associated with those clowns?  Exactly.  Not until we get closer to the election and we can write something truly poignant (i.e., something that might get people to arrive here for some reason other than the hope of glimpsing Brett Keisel’s beard).

The Phrase That Pays (But Not Really)!

So, that leads me to the purposes of today’s post.  First, is there is anything you would like to see us writing about?  If so, leave a note in the comments section. (And remember to leave your name so we can thank you!)  Second, are you tired of “us” referring to “ourselves” as a staff of writers and researchers when “we” are, in fact, just a guy in his boxers sitting on the couch? If so, leave a note in the comments section to let us know. (And remember to leave your name and e-mail so “we” can send you a picture!)  Third, would you like to win a valuable prize**?  If so, click on every link in this post and be the first to leave a comment including the phrase “I read every post and each one was better than the last.  I laughed.  I cried.  It was better than cats (the animal, not the Broadway show — nothing is better than Cats).  MuchAdo is the greatest!” (And remember to leave your name and e-mail so we can send you your prize!***)

But What If Someone Beats Me To It?

The editorial staff (ha!) at MuchAdo will verify all entries to determine whether all links were actually clicked.  In the event that the first commenter claiming the grand prize*** failed to meet the requirements of the contest, the next commenter who meets the requirements will be our lucky winner.  That means you should keep trying to win, even if dozens (HA!) of others have already posted the winning phrase.

Good luck!!!

* Items written or posted on New Year’s Eve were not included in this analysis.

** There is no valuable prize.

*** First place is a free lifetime† subscription to MuchAdo!!

(Note: prize is only valid until MuchAdo becomes a subscription-based service, at which time prize winner will be required to pay like everyone else.)