Flight of the Bumblebee

Modern psychology champions the idea that a person’s childhood is the single most important contributing factor to who they will be as an adult. I like to disagree simply because I hate the idea of condemning fatherless daughters to bad relationships with men or abused sons to violence and alcoholism. But I do see some truth to the idea. Children are impressionable, malleable even, and the memories and experiences they acquire stick with them as they grow older. The dreams you had and the loves you developed as a child serve as a reminder of the person you once were before you gave up that “wide-eyed wonder” to become a grown-up.

One of my secret childhood dreams was to become a photographer for National Geographic. My parents got me my first subscription to National Geographic when I was in the 3rd grade and I immediately fell in love. The glossy pages. The gorgeous scenery. The monthly magazine served as a magic carpet that threw me into the mosques of Ankara, swept me through the Himalayas, and landed me in the stars of some faraway galaxy. My enthusiasm for history, travel, nature, and wildlife was greatly spawned from these early encounters.

Over the years, this early love gave way to other interests and endeavors; instead of finding peace in the vast landscapes of the world, I became introspective and increasingly focused on the details of humanity itself.  Last year, however, I was given my first camera as a going-to-college present, and suddenly my old ambitions reawakened in me. Who needs National Geographic anyways? I’ll just take lots of pretty pictures and post them on Facebook (like every other narcissistic teenager).

Unfortunately, photography appears to be harder than I thought. (Silly Sophia, naivete is for kids.)

Witness Attempt #1 to photograph a bumblebee:

Attempt #2:

Attempt #3:

Oh, the blur! Perhaps I shall do a series of photos called The World in the Eyes of the Far-Sighted. Or simply learn to use my macro function better.

Ah, there you are, mon petit bumblebee! Too bad he has his back towards the camera. Grr.. I must take a perfect picture of a bumblebee! I suppose I shall have to stalk more bees at UCLA and report back. Wish me luck! 🙂

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An Iconography of Contagion

flyfeetdiseasenlm“Public health took a visual turn about 100 years ago. In an era of devastating epidemic and endemic infectious disease, health professionals began to organize coordinated campaigns that sought to mobilize public and government action through eye-catching posters, pamphlets, and motion pictures. Impressed by the images of mass media that increasingly saturated the world around them, health campaigners were inspired to present new figures of contagion, and recycle old ones.”

The National Academy of Sciences has a new exhibition that shows the evolving cultural representation of infectious disease in the US. A lot of these posters are part of the WPA (Works Progress Administration of the Depression-era) Poster Collection at the Library of Congress (view Newsweek gallery here – I think the “Beware the Cancer Quack” one is just hilarious).

“Pneumonia strikes like a man eating shark… led by its pilot fish the Common Cold!”

The fact that these images seem funny today is a testament to how public health awareness has really spread. I love looking at historical artifacts because it reminds me of how oftentimes change is the only thing that is constant. In my opinion, anyone with a strong grasp of history develops a skepticism towards current religious doctrine (particularly Catholicism since its institutional voice and interpretation of the Bible has changed so much through the centuries). At the same time, they also develop a skepticism towards science, which I find extremely positive. Sometimes I think people have such a faith in the power of science that they forget just how wrong or biased scientists have been in the past (refer to A Short History of Nearly Everything) and how a blind and absolute belief in anyone is dangerous. History provides perspective on our own views and the factors that went into creating them.

Historical government posters often seem to scream propaganda (“Uncle Sam wants YOU!”). For better or worse, this kind of art is always an exercise in psychological manipulation.There’s this WPA malaria poster (sorry couldn’t find image online) created during World War II that depicts a mosquito with a Japanese face, in an attempt to mobilize civilians against two common enemies. Yet the poster also seems to label an entire race as disease-ridden pests.

In the midst of other health warnings, I also found this poster troubling in its treatment of women. If you look through the WPA Poster Collection, several posters emerge that seem to accuse loose women and prostitutes of being spreaders of venereal disease while portraying the innocent soldier as the victim, the implication being that a certain gender is responsible and worthy of condemnation.

And yet, even my indignation over such racism and misogyny can be perhaps set aside given the context of history. I disagree with those who often condemn Dickens for anti-Semeticism or the Greeks for misogyny. They are creatures of their own times and it doesn’t make sense to impose our modern standards upon them.

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Last but not least, here’s some non-public health WPA posters that I thought were too funny not to share. Clearly, “Loose lips sink ships.”

On a random note: it’s a little disheartening to see that I’ve had 300+ hits but only had a few comments. It hurts my poor self-esteem terribly much. So.. please comment, dear reader. 🙂

Que Gordo!

Whenever I see Fernando Botero’s work, it just cracks me up so much. The man basically makes a living out of painting (and sculpting) fat people. If you want to get analytical, perhaps you could say that the corpulence of his subjects symbolizes the excesses of luxury and bourgeois living. Or you might say Botero intends to mock the classical conventions of art by using art icons, such as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and fattening them up. But today, I shall not pontificate. I simply wanted to share with you the very odd painter whose art greeted me when I randomly decided to open my Pasajes – Literatura for the first time this summer.