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Monday, November 12, 2007


Have we lost all sense of proportion? There is no shortage of visual inspiration out there online. Search flickr with a few favourite keywords or search an emerging site like ffffound and you're presented with a cascade of visuals, neatly sifted and sorted, refined electronically to one's own once-esoteric taste. But while these little 800x600 (max) parcels of pixels offer an accurate, if low resolution, portrayal of people, places and things, conventional media is engaging in a slow process of distortion.

Aspect ratios have been established for over a century, but the arrival of widescreen and digital TV has done away with the default application of standards. Television images are crushed and stretched, faces flattened, cars stretched, every object subjected to a level of catastrophic visual distortion in order to maximise the picture to the available screen size. For most people this is not immediately noticeable (although some find it annoying) and so it is accepted. Slowly but surely, we are losing our ability to discern between 'good' and 'bad' proportions.

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Strange Harvest on In the Night Garden: 'Just as Alison Smithson could see nascent Arts and Crafts and proto-Modernism in Mrs Tigglewinkle's house, or Paolozzi could see the collapse of armature in Mickey's hollow frame, perhaps In the Night Garden reveals nostalgia as the prime subject of contemporary culture.' Parse that. Actually, ITNG plays heavily on the concept of scale and place, just as the Teletubbies did, only now the computer animation is far more seamless. The use of vivid colours and differing scales mean you're never quite sure what is real and what is not, effectively transporting you into a similar state of confusion as your child ('... the last residue of the English Landscape tradition - Capability Brown made over by Shigeru Miyamoto').

Jacob notes the show's undeniably melancholic air, starting with the nearly tear inducing theme music, and through to its canny way of combining novelty with nostalgia, with a character-list that includes 'descendants of the entire gene pool of children's TV'. Ultimately, he posits, nostalgia could become our dominant state of mind, an addictive substitute for love that is fueled by new technology.

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Table of Malcontents, a Wired blog / the Trains of Turkey / Ruins in Japan (via) / Learning Space, the Open University's free online resource / design and illustration by Luke Knight / Morf, a magazine for design / the Steve Reich website / the highly stylised (and frequently nsfw) photography of Erwin Olaf / Tip of the Quill, a web journal by Geoffrey Long / panoramas by John Law.

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