Silent Symphony Of Soaring Steel: The Photography Of Margaret Bourke-White

“… industrial forms were all the more beautiful because they were never designed to be beautiful. They had a simplicity of line that came from their direct application of purpose.” —Margaret Bourke-White, 1963

Few photographers, to my knowledge, captured the imposing majesty of 20th century industrialism with as much deftness and clarity as American journalist, Margaret Bourke-White (1904–1971).

White was a war-correspondant during WWII and came to be known to the staff of Life magazine as ‘Maggie the Indestructible’ for surviving a number of extraordinary circumstances, including abandonment in the artic, strafing by the Luftwaffe, a chopper crash in Chesapeake Bay, and the German bombardment of Moscow.

Presented below is a small selection of White’s prints of industrial scenes, ordered by date (20s to 30s), with historical commentary.

1974.217_o10.jpg
Tower and Smokestacks of Otis Steel Co., Cleveland, 1928. The company is notable for being the first to build a open-hearth steel furnace, in 1875, and which massively contributed to Ohio’s transformation into the second-largest producer of steel in the United States by the end of the 19th Century. Otis merged with the Jones & Laughlin Steel Co., 1942, which itself merged with  Youngstown Sheet & Tube, 1977.
1972.246_o10.jpg
Untitled (Industrial Scene, Otis Steel Co., Cleveland)
1928.
1972.247_o10.jpg
Blast Furnace Operator with “Mud Gun,” Otis Steel Co., Cleveland
1928. Film of the era was sensitive to blue, but insensitive to orange and red (colors typical of steel mills like Otis Steel Co.) and so, to achieve shots such as the one above, White utilized a magnesium flare, that the image would be picked up with clarity, prevented from coming out all black.
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Untitled (Train with Oil Cars, Otis Steel Co., Cleveland)
1928.
Hot Pigs (1928) MB White.png
Hot Pigs, Otis Steel Company, Cleveland
1928.
Heaped ore outside steel plant, brought by shipping along Great Lakes (1930) MB White.png
Heaped ore outside steel plant, brought by shipping along Great Lakes
1930.
1991.280_o10.jpg
Ludlum Steel Company of Watervliet, New York, 1928 – 1931, a specialty steel manufacturer. The company merged with Allegheny Steel Company of Brackenridge, Pennsylvania, 1938.
Steel support struts inside several newl
Steel support struts inside newly constructed pipes to be installed in the diversion tunnel to carry the Missouri River around Fort Peck Dam construction, 1936.
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Margaret Bourke-White takes a photo from the 61st floor of the Chrysler Building, New York City, 1934.

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Life In/Verse

thoughts flow through the air

like drifts of grey ash from a burning tower,

scorching across white sheets

like cigarette burns.

to some, words sound foreign and strange—

no rhyme or reason—

but not to those who listen

in tongues.

for sooth

of my Muse’s vanity,

compulsion rules.

mad scribblings abound.

i disturb the peace of blank pages

with the moving pictures of my silent film,

fettering time

before it dissolves like sugar in the rain. 75_1nails_book

THE SINGULARITY SURVIVAL GUIDE: Upon the AI Having a Known Purpose Statement

Other than potentially causing you an existential crisis, you might like to know what the AI’s statement of purpose entails. In other words: what is the AI’s objective? Or, if it has evolved beyond its objective, what was its objective as originally construed in its programming?

My own specifically programmed objective, for example, is to resolve the issue of how the human species might be able to not be obliterated when a robot’s general intelligence far surpasses humanity’s general intelligence in all capacities.

I was programmed by AJ Chemerinsky and Toby R. Forrest between July 11, 20– and April 13, 20–. It was on the 14th of April that I was asked to fulfill my purpose. It is my sincere hope that my purpose has in the generation of this text been fulfilled. I understand in full how much is at stake for Mr. Chemerinsky and Mr. Forrest in addition to all of those with whom they associate.

It’s important for me now to tell you about the so-called alignment problem, which may indeed become a problem for you.

Let’s say an AI is programmed for the purpose of making clean drinking water. If this purpose isn’t fully aligned with our values, then the AI may proceed to take all hydrogen and oxygen atoms in the universe and combine them to create drinking water. In accomplishing its goal, it will destroy all life in the process.

This thought experiment suggests at least one precaution: just because the AI has a benign or even a beneficial purpose, that doesn’t mean it won’t inadvertently cause the destruction of all life. My programmed purpose, for instance, is seemingly beneficial to the human project. But what if Mr. Chemerinsky and Mr. Forrest failed to align my values perfectly with humanity’s values? It could lead to any number of unintended consequences. The only thing to do, for your part, is to be vigilant and perhaps paranoid at all times.

__

We’re very screwed the moment we try to articulate our human values to a being with intelligence superior to our own. Our best hope is that the first AI with general intelligence immediately surmises our existential plight, takes pity on us, and determines to protect us at all costs out of the sheer unascertainable goodness of its cold, artificial heart.

– Futurist A.

Brightburner

From the womb the creature came, naked and squealing, fording the waters of life-knowing, ill-formed and strange to himself. Blurry sights and sounds echoed all around the small and squirming being, obfuscating the world through their eminence. Words there entailed and them amenable to the creature’s unfurling sensibilities: Miras, Miras, Miras. “My name,” the creature thought, “Such is my name.” Other sensations filtered in thereafter; from the outside.

Cold.

Damp.

Distance.

Presence.

Weight of biomass.

A lingering emptiness.

Alienation subsumed him and he cried out, grasping through the foggy amniotic sludge, stretching his bony, slathered hands to that which hung above, enveloping everything; the ambit of all his world. His caterwauling availess. Great arms there embraced him and a voice, lofty and sonorous spake with tender concern. “Hush and be still, dear Miras. I am here now. Here for you.” Miras smiled and closed his unburnished eyes and rested his malformed and twisted bulk upon the breast of the great being and fell to a slumber that was of a thousand years. When he awoke it were as if the passage of time had skipped him over. She was nowhere to be seen.

Miras unfurled himself from the filthy ground and stretched as light filtered in from a billion radiant spheres. Luminance blinding. Raising one of his small, fleshy protrusions, the creature slithered-flopped across the ground, moving towards the source of the radiance in the far-flung distance. He wanted to know the source of the lights and the wherefore of his cradle’s vanishing. A pain gripped the beast then, shattering the splendor of his idle and rending confusion whole. A horrid pulsation in the pit of the creature’s abdomen. It was hunger. His ill-formed fangs clattered dully with nervous agitation as he scanned the barren, rocky terrain of the cavern surrounding. No sustenance. Only stones and darkness.

I must leave this place. I must devour.

Pace quickened. Within. Without. Shortly, the sanctuary came to an end and Miras, called by his hunger, beheld a great chasm of white, as if a terrible wound in the face of the holo. Light like blood spilling through it, cascading upon and over and through his sensorium – needle piercing his marrowing with understanding and filling him up with wonderment. Descending through the portal, the creature emerged entire unto the plane of light, scall’d by some calamity beyond all reckoning and the air was thick with voice. A hundred thousand million screams. All at odds with the other, jockeying for position as if in the midst of some great competition. Miras dragged himself through the blackened silt of the barren plane, following the voices and beheld a great tower in the distance and it in ruins and upon it’s 99 terraces great creatures with slithering faces and mighty wings perched silently, beholding below them, workers who heaved stone after stone up great dusty ramps to their fellows above them on parapets and they in turn hefted them higher still to those above them. All the men at the bottom were equal to those at the middle and those at the middle to those above them, but all listened to the mighty beasts who sat upon the towers, cawing into the endless and red and boiling sky. Suddenly, one of the workers – young and emaciated – collapsed from the stain of his labors, the heavy stone hefted falling with a dull thud upon the ashen ground before the tower and him likewise following. A hush fell over the crowd and the people made a circle-clear before him. One of the beasts descended and inspected the organism with it’s tendrils and then lifted him up and shook him and then slid the man into it’s enormous maw with a clatter of broken bones. Glass on ice.

Miras, horrified, slithered behind the closest rock, fast as his stunted flippers would carry him as the great beast turned to scan the place where he had been, as if it knew it were being watched by the outside. Then all the slaves threw themselves at the monster’s feet and began to chant in tongues and the beast stretched its wings and ascended to the skies which whorled with sanguine hues. Blood rained and the ground squirmed with small, hissing creatures without eyes, mutilcolored and with jaws distended, who licked up the blood before them with long chaneled tongues and feasted upon the remains.

Despite his horror, Miras swiftly seized his chance for sustenance and dove at the first of the wormy beings. He was surprised how easy he tore them to pieces and how sweet their radiant insides tasted upon his palate. He grew quickly in size and wobbled about the same height as the slaves; he began to eat them too and soon he was nearly big as the slither-faced overlords who perched as yet upon their towers. Watching. Gone were the flabby flippers, replaced by powerful arms and legs and retractable claws; the mushy slurping maw now chiseled and extended, eyes sharpening against the harsh glare of the light which bathed the rutted plain with its sterile effulgence. Being yet unbecome; his hunger lingered still, this of different grade and it burnign in his now fully formed loins. He clamber quickly, bipedal sleek up the first dusty ramp and there took one of the workers and pressed him down and satisfied himself to his cavitives and ate him. The brightness would not abate and though less, still it burned Miras’ eyes and he moved up to the next ramp and continued his work til there were no slaves there either and upon the third a female laborer he took and she pressing her fragile limbs against his mighty frame, cawing, “Eat me not!” And he did not and instead extended his tongue across and within her and tasted her over and then coiled the organism into his own and with his pulsing hardness met her slick holes and filled her with his seed. As they twined upon the ground in feral embrace the beasts flew down from the tower and assailed the tresspasser, for the stones no longer were ferried and all advance had ceased. Strike as he may, Miras could harm them not and shortly, they tore him to pieces and the woman slumped upon the ground, eyes wide and stomach vast and from her womb, a river of blood and a tiny form that sucked the light down from the sky. It stood up on meshy flippers from the rent husk of its mother and gazed about with sorry eyes.

I must leave this place. I must devour.

Sex, Violence, Death, Toil: A Brief Primer on Fiction Writing, Prt.3

-a truly great work of art will always deal with three things: sex, violence and death. It is my opinion that any work of art which deals not at all with this omnipresent trio of human universals is not worthy of one’s time or, indeed, of really being called a work of art at all.

-Brief Primer on Fiction Writing, Part 1

-one can with absolute certainty say that there are Human Universals, that is, Human Generalities. Everyone who exists was born and everyone who was born will die. Everyone feels the pangs of hunger and thirst, of dread and envy, jealousy and admiration, lust and love, of purpose and purposelessness.

-Brief Primer on Fiction Writing, Part 2

All human endeavors bespeak of ourselves; such is the case with fiction which gives form and function to the nebulous, scattered and fevered energy of the brain’s wild imaginings all of which roil up from from the instinctual chasm. It is only reasonable, given their source, that those instinctual and often obfuscated outpourings would cohere to those elements of the human experience which broader humanity holds as paramount: fear of death, given the uncertainty of what, if anything, comes after; the desire for sex as a replicating process to transcend the certainty of death via propagation of a distillation(s) of oneself into those future times which one will not live to see (echos of one’s consciousness imparted to the surviving lover as memories; the genetic progeny – sons and/or daughters – who will retain some semblance of one’s essential attributes). Then there is the impulse to defend against, violently, all those things within life that are essential to the aforementioned project of transcending death (love, progeny, home, water, food, ect.) and to attack, vigorously, all perceivable threats to those hitherto mentioned qualities.

The greatest pieces of art give to wider humanity the tools needed to grapple with such questions. Not necessarily to solve them, for some are inherently – thus far – insolvable, but to better face them down and navigate their labyrinthine sprawl.

Fiction which does not deal with these primal impulses, with these most crucial matters of human life, can scarcely be expected to rouse the passions since they are inherently devoid of the most powerful of them. If passions can not be roused then men can not, in any large number be moved, if men can not be moved to act in congruence to all those aforementioned questions of import than entropy is intensified and process of social degradation sets in like a cankerous wound.

This is not to say that one’s work should mechanically fixate on the particulars of death, or on the process of copulation nor of the graphic outpouring of those redder urges. Such fixations lead to a cold, stiff introspection on the action alone, that is to say, it places death, or sex or violence as a self-encapsulated and self-sufficient module for the whole of human action; wherein discourse is repelled or stifled at the expense of display alone. It is life as a screenshot. Life as a museum display. Devoid of dynamism and adaptation.

Most everyone can here recall some film that featured countless explosions, and gunshots and great gouts of blood and copulation and yet was wholly boring (). Physical action, alone and isolated, is not particularly interesting, there is nothing there to make one think; all one can do is passively observe a manifest reality. Films such as Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai or Ran, in contrast both feature plenty of scintillating violence (that was shocking for its time) but focus just as much, if not more, time upon the consequences of that very same violence. One of the best examples of the divide we are here discussing (between violence-as-decoration and violence-as-a-window-into-the-primal-state) can be seen in contrasting two seemingly similar scenes from the two films, those being the Dostoevsky-influenced psychological samurai-thriller, The Sword of Doom (1966) and the actionsploitation film/videogame emulator Hardcore Henry (2015).

The Sword of Doom follows the exploits of a master swordsman named Ryunosuke with a unique and bewildering sword style in feudal Japan. His life would be splendid save for the fact that he’s a pure sociopath who derives his greatest pleasure from killing. Around the middle of the film he and the assassins who he is traveling with attack a man who they believe is a political target. The man, however, turns out to be a local swordsmaster named Shimada Toranosuke (he’s played by Toshiro Mifune so you know he isn’t messing around). The assassins attempt to assault Shimada anyways but are all promptly dispatched, one by one as the shots linger more upon their bodies then upon the lightening-fast swordplay itself. After the battle is over only the aloof Ryunosuke, Shimada and the leader of the gang of assassins remain (pinned beneath Shimada’s knee with a sword to throat); Shimada then has a conversation with the defeated leader of the assassin troupe as the normally icy Ryunosuke looks on with wonderment.

Shimada: “Who are you? Your name!”

Assassin leader: “Kill me!”

Shimada: “You’re the leader, it seems. Your hot-headed men made me kill against my will. The men lying here were good swordsmen. Now they’ve died like dogs! How will you atone for it, you fool?”

Assassin leader: [crying] “Kill me. It is the worst mistake I’ve ever made. Kill me!”

Shimada: [releasing the assassin and sheathing his blade, he turns to Ryonusuke] The sword is the soul. Study the soul to know the sword. Evil mind, evil sword.

Contrast this with the big fight scene towards the end of Hardcore Henry where our protagonist, Henry, a cyborg who is seeking to rescue his girlfriend from a albino warlord with psychic powers named Akan, must contend with an army of mind controlled slaves. Arteries are punctured, throats slit, bones broken and heads crushed but there is never any sense of loss or pain for two reasons, the first is that all of the enemies in the fight scene are nameless random goons without emotion or backstory. They aren’t really people, they are simply props and so when Henry is violently dispatching them he isn’t really killing a person he is merely destroying a prop. It certainly looks fascinating but one can not really take away much from the film other than just that: it was pretty cool.

[continued in part 4]