Archived entries for

Here Be Monsters

The word “monster” encloses a memory of monstrare, to show, as in “demonstrate,” and monsters were interpreted as revealing in many different ways: as in the Arabian Nights, the sea gave evidence of the plenitude and infinite variety of creation and the maps enriched understanding of the Book of Nature and its mirabilia. Artists working for the mapmakers portrayed elements of monstrosity with wonderful ingenuity, shuffling tusks, horns, fins, flippers, flukes, blowholes, tentacles, gills, scales, spikes, tails, and limbs to produce a catalog of jumbled creatures with eyes on their bodies and jaws on their tails and so forth. Many of these are “Poetical Animals,” as Thomas Browne called griffins, but others approximate whales and sharks, polyps and crabs, and in the view of these studies, the mappers were fumbling toward an empirical grasp, and trying to guide and protect navigators.An echo of monere, to warn, may also sound in the word “monster,” and while sea monsters may have embodied physical dangers, they were also frequently taken to be divine portents—Leviathans to punish the wicked or prophesy doom. Olaus Magnus was facing both ways, backward to medieval allegory, forward to empirical inquiry; but ancient fears still suffuse Melville’s vision of the white whale and Ahab’s pursuit, while recently, when two dead oarfish were discovered in California, one eighteen feet long, the other fourteen feet, they were immediately connected, rather shiveringly, with a local legend that such colossal snaky deepwater fish only surface when an earthquake is pending.

via Here Be Monsters by Marina Warner | The New York Review of Books.

this commanding image of technological utopia became a monument to the transcendant power of industrial production in the early modern age

Criss-Crossed Conveyors, River Rouge Plant, Ford Motor Company / Charles Sheeler (American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1883–1965 Dobbs Ferry, New York)

“In 1927, Charles Sheeler photographed the Ford Motor Company’s enormous River Rouge Plant. His most famous print depicts two starkly angular conveyor belts that transported coal into the power plant. In the background piercing the sky are eight tall, narrow smokestacks. Sheeler’s striking image revealed the might of Detroit’s industry, and did so by portraying only one small section of an industrial complex that consisted of nineteen separate buildings covering more than two square miles. The Rouge included a manmade harbor for Great Lakes coal and iron barges, the largest foundry in the world, and ninety-two miles of railroad track.”

Thomas J. Sugrue, The origins of urban crisis


“A realistic painter as well as a photographer, Sheeler rarely failed to uncover harmonious coherence in the forms of indigeneous American architecture. His series of photographs of the Ford plant near Detroit was commissioned by the automobile company through an advertising agency. Widely reproduced in Europe and America in the 1920s, this commanding image of technological utopia became a monument to the transcendant power of industrial production in the early modern age.” via Metropolitan Museum of Art / ”During the 1920s Sheeler found success and recognition as a commercial photographer. In 1927 he was hired by a prominent Philadelphia advertising firm, N. W. Ayer & Son, to shoot the Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge auto plant located outside of Detroit as part of a promotional campaign for the new Model A. The immense facility covered eleven hundred acres and was heralded as the largest industrial complex in the world. Sheeler photographed the factory for about six weeks, from late October until the end of November; the result was a series of thirty-two prints.” via National Gallery of Art

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