In Photos: America Reacts to the Derek Chauvin Verdict

Scenes from around the country after Mr. Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd.

#chauvin-derek-1976, #floyd-george-d-2020, #george-floyd-protests-2020, #minneapolis-minn, #photography, #police-brutality-misconduct-and-shootings

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Vanessa Bryant Uses Her Platform to Battle the Powerful

Through social media and a lawsuit, she is trying to hold law enforcement to account in ways that are uncommon for women, and especially for women of color.

#aviation-accidents-safety-and-disasters, #basketball, #bryant-kobe, #bryant-gianna-2006-20, #bryant-vanessa-1982, #james-lebron, #los-angeles-county-sheriffs-department, #los-angeles-lakers, #newsom-gavin, #photography, #suits-and-litigation-civil

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Hiker Rescued After Man Uses Photo to Pinpoint His Location

Rene Compean, who had been missing in the mountains of Southern California, was found on Tuesday after a stranger deduced his location from a photo posted by the authorities.

#angeles-national-forest-calif, #forests-and-forestry, #hikes-and-hiking, #los-angeles-county-sheriffs-department, #missing-persons, #photography, #rescues, #social-media

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How a New Friendship Has Gotten Nan Goldin Through the Pandemic

An artist and a writer who, despite being at different stages of their lives, have forged a deep bond.

#backgammon, #friendship, #goldin-nan, #photography

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In Iraq, Drought and Abundance in the Mesopotamian Marshes

Once vengefully drained by Saddam Hussein, the wetlands in southeastern Iraq have since been partially restored. Now the region and its isolated settlements face a new set of challenges.

#deserts, #drought, #euphrates-river, #iraq, #iraq-war-2003-11, #photography, #tigris-river, #water, #wetlands

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Scenes From the First Rounds of the Masters

Our staff photographer Doug Mills brings us an inside look at Augusta National.

#augusta-national-golf-club, #georgia, #golf, #masters-golf-tournament, #photography

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Seeing Hate, 28 Asian and Asian-American Photographers Focus on Love

In a special project by the Culture desk, artists respond to a climate of fear and racism with images and reflections from the heart.

#asian-americans, #atlanta-spa-shootings-2021, #families-and-family-life, #love-emotion, #photography

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For 10 Years, Photographer Follows Up on Destroyed Village

After an earthquake and a tsunami hit Japan in 2011, Hiroko Masuike, a Times photographer, spent a decade documenting the attempts by 15 people to rebuild their community.

#japan, #japan-earthquake-and-tsunami-2011, #kesen-japan, #masuike-hiroko, #new-york-times, #news-and-news-media, #photography

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A Theater Photographer Senses a Broadway Bloom

For Sara Krulwich, who has shot productions for The New York Times for more than two decades, a series of recent assignments hinted at an industry revival.

#actors-and-actresses, #awards-decorations-and-honors, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-reopenings, #krulwich-sara, #new-york-times, #news-and-news-media, #newspapers, #photography, #theater, #tony-awards-theater-awards

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Brighton-based MPB snaps up $69M to build out its used camera equipment marketplace

Used-goods marketplaces, an online staple since the beginning of the internet as we know it, have really come into their own during the Covid-19 pandemic: they’ve been a place for people clearing out their domestic spaces to list items that they have that are still in good shape, making some money in the process; and for buyers, they are a resource for finding items at a time when shopping in person and spending money in uncertain economic times have both fallen out of favor. Today, MPB — a popular marketplace that specializes in used cameras and photographic equipment — is announcing significant funding to double down on the opportunity after seeing its platform “recirculate” some 300,000 items of kit globally each year.

The Brighton, England-based startup has snapped up £49.8 million (about $69 million at current exchange rates). It plans to use the money both to expand into more markets — it currently has offices in Brooklyn and Berlin — and into more product areas, specifically, extending the marketplace concept to serve content creators.

The Series D is being led by Vitruvian Partners, with significant participation from Acton Capital, and Mobeus Equity Partners, Beringea and FJ Labs also participating. Vitruvian is a new backer for MPB; the rest were already invested in the startup, which has raised around $91 million since 2011.

MPB did not disclose its valuation in a statement on the fundraise; we have contacted the company to ask and will update if / when we learn more.

For some context, this is the biggest-ever round raised by a startup out of the university-fueled town of Brighton, which has had some tech world focus — Brandwatch made a splash in February when it was acquired by Cision for $450 million; and it is well known for gaming companies and talent — but has largely been off the fundraising radar, perhaps in part because it is so close to London and its own gravitational pull for entrepreneurs and VCs. PitchBook put MPB’s valuation at $50.86 million in 2019; it’s likely to be significantly higher than this now.

“This funding round is a major milestone for MPB, culminating a decade of strong performance and a vision to make great kit accessible and affordable,” said Matt Barker, MPB’s founder and CEO, in a statement. “With the backing of Vitruvian Partners and those reinvesting in our business, we can accelerate our US and European growth strategy at scale, profitably. Photography and videography are intrinsic to societies and cultures all over the world, and at MPB we have created a circular model that offers everyone the chance to be visual storytellers and content creators in a way that’s good for the planet.”

Indeed, what’s interesting about MPB is how it touches on and addresses a number of themes that have been playing out across the world of e-commerce and wider digital society, and what’s probably made it successful has been its appeal to people on one or more of those fronts at the same time.

First, there is the platform it gives to people to sell and buy used camera equipment. The sale of used items gives owners an opportunity to make money off items they no longer need, and buyers a way to procure items at lower costs. And it has an obvious environmental angle to it, since circular economy operators encourage people to get more life out of electronics that might otherwise simply become part of landfill (or encourage more manufacturing of new goods in their place).

But on a more practical level, used-good sales also have often put people off in part because they are deprived of some of the guarantees that you would normally get on goods when buying from more established retailers.

MPB provides buying and seller security in its own way: by employing a team of people to vet and prepare items for sale, and providing a six-month guarantee on items sold over its platform.

(And more generally, used goods marketplaces are seeing some big attention from VCs at the moment in Europe: in February, Wallapop in Spain raised $191 million for its more generalised used-goods marketplace.)

Second, it touches on the bigger trend we’ve seen around the growth of communities focused on specific rather than general interests. It’s a clear way of conferring more authenticity, focus and signal in an otherwise very noisy world online, and in a specialized area like the sale of photography equipment, this can be especially critical and a unique selling point over more generic sales platforms like eBay: it means more attention paid by the platform to stock, as well as a more focused community of buyers and sellers.

Third, there is the focus of MPB in particular. We have most definitely seen the birth of a “creator economy” online, where people are making livings out of their own brands (ugh), or from their specific creative output, bypassing some of the more traditional middle-men in favor of newer ones (eg, network broadcasters no longer the sole gatekeepers for serialized video content and all of the work that goes into making it; YouTube conversely now makes a killing off it, and if Substack, Patreon and others like it play their cards right, they will soon, in their own areas of interest, too.)

What this might mean for companies like MPB is a surge of interest and attention on equipment for capturing those images, although it will be interesting to see how and if that can be leveraged on a wider scale, given how so much of that creation today is happening on smartphones, which themselves continue to get more sophisticated and eat into not just casual photographers’ buying patterns, but more serious ones, too.

In the question of scaling, MPB will have an interesting partner in the form of Vitruvian Partners, which backs second-hand clothes marketplace Vestiaire Collective — which raised $216 million last month, another sign of the times and how they have boosted the opportunities for used-good sales — alongside other marketplaces like Carwow, Just Eat, Farfetch, Skyscanner and Trustpilot.

“MPB has developed a unique tech-enabled platform to meet a market need, transforming access to photography kit to become a global leader in its field, whilst building a product that genuinely has a positive impact on the world,” said Tom Studd, partner at Vitruvian Partners, said in a statement. “Matt and the team have achieved strong and profitable growth through recent launches in the US and Germany, and we’re delighted to partner with them for the next step of the journey. Vitruvian looks to back exceptional teams with unique products in large markets, and we believe Matt and the team fit those criteria perfectly.”

Sebastian Wossagk, managing partner at Acton Capital, added: “It’s always a privilege to watch companies like MPB grow and excel in their field. Matt and his team have already taken the first steps into internationalisation by opening locations in Brooklyn and Berlin, and we’re excited to support them as they pursue further expansion in both the US and Europe.”

Something notable about MPB is that Barker once said that he founded it in part because he didn’t feel that the requirements of people in the photography community were being addressed well enough by more general sites like eBay or Gumtree. That may still be the case for those two sites (and countless other generic sales platforms), but it doesn’t mean that there are not a number of other players addressing the used-photography equipment market. They include the likes of Worldwide Camera Exchange, Park Cameras, Camera World, and many others with equally SEO-friendly names. That represents opportunities for consolidation, competitive threat, and hopefully innovation for better services, but also a sign that there is more to this market than might meet the eye.

#brighton, #cameras, #circular-economy, #ecommerce, #europe, #funding, #marketplaces, #mpb, #photography, #photography-equipment, #second-hand, #used-goods

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Let Us Now Praise Tiny Ants

Even in the densest human habitations, there are orders of magnitude more ants than there are of us, doing the hard work of making our crumbs disappear.

#books-and-literature, #insects, #new-york-city, #photography, #wilson-edward-o, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

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A Cyclist on the English Landscape

Grounded by the pandemic, a travel photographer spent the year pedaling the roads around his home, resulting in a series of poetic self-portraits.

#bicycles-and-bicycling, #photography, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #sussex-england, #travel-and-vacations

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On the Scene: Week 1 of the Trial of Derek Chauvin

Times photographers captured the events across Minneapolis as the trial over the death of George Floyd began.

#black-lives-matter-movement, #chauvin-derek-1976, #cup-foods-minneapolis-minn-retailer, #floyd-george-d-2020, #george-floyd-protests-2020, #minneapolis-minn, #photography, #police-brutality-misconduct-and-shootings

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The Ocean’s Youngest Monsters Are Ready for Glamour Shots

Divers practicing blackwater photography are helping marine scientists gain new insights into fish larvae.

#animal-migration, #diving-and-divers, #fish-and-other-marine-life, #ichthyologyherpetology-journal, #marine-biology, #oceans-and-seas, #photography, #research, #smithsonian-national-museum-of-natural-history, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

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Jack Bradley, Louis Armstrong Photographer and Devotee, Dies at 87

His trove of pictures formed the foundation of a vast personal collection that is now part of the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens.

#armstrong-louis, #armstrong-louis-house-museum, #bradley-jack-1934, #deaths-obituaries, #jazz, #museums, #photography, #queens-college-city-university-of-new-york

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A Biologist, an Outlandish Stork and the Army of Women Trying to Save It

In the Indian state of Assam, a group of women known as the Hargila Army is spearheading a conservation effort to rescue the endangered greater adjutant stork.

#animals, #birds, #conservation-of-resources, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #photography, #storks-birds, #travel-and-vacations, #waste-materials-and-disposal, #women-and-girls

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Daniel Wolf, 65, Dies; Helped Create a Market for Art Photography

In 1984, he quietly amassed 25,000 photos for the J. Paul Getty Museum, jump-starting collectors’ interest in the medium.

#collectors-and-collections, #colorado, #deaths-obituaries, #getty-j-paul-museum, #lin-maya, #photography, #wolf-daniel-1955-2021

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The Most Intimate Portrait Yet of a Black Hole

Two years of analyzing the polarized light from a galaxy’s giant black hole has given scientists a glimpse at how quasars might arise.

#astrophysical-journal-letters, #black-holes-space, #event-horizon-telescope, #gravitation-and-gravity, #laser-interferometer-gravitational-wave-observatory-ligo, #messier-87-galaxy, #photography, #space-and-astronomy, #stars-and-galaxies, #telescopes-and-observatories, #your-feed-science

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The Art of the Vladimir Putin Photo Shoot

The Russian president has posed for some new publicity stills amid the snowy Siberian landscape.

#fashion-and-apparel, #photography, #propaganda, #putin-vladimir-v, #siberia, #your-feed-fashion

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David McCabe, Who Photographed Warhol Becoming Warhol, Dies at 80

In 1964, he began following the artist around New York and chronicling his exploits. His photographs finally saw the light of day four decades later.

#art, #culture-arts, #deaths-obituaries, #mccabe-david-1940-2021, #new-york-city, #photography, #warhol-andy

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Famous Robert Capa Photo Brings New Life to a Tenement and Its Residents

The bomb-scarred building in a picture of children during the Spanish Civil War will be turned into a cultural center.

#capa-robert, #historic-buildings-and-sites, #madrid-spain, #photography, #real-estate-and-housing-residential, #spanish-civil-war-1936-39

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An Elusive Artist’s Trove of Never-Before-Seen Images

In the years leading up to his death, Ray Johnson took up photography. Now, this body of work is shedding light on his final days.

#art, #black-mountain-college, #glen-cove-ny, #johnson-ray-1927-95, #photography

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Anne Geddes Wants Your Baby Pictures

Her photography books of little ones in pea pods and flower beds sold millions. Then came Instagram.

#content-type-personal-profile, #photography, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #social-media

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What Does the Dylan Farrow Home Video Reveal?

The shocking centerpiece to the new HBO documentary “Allen v. Farrow” shows how mothers struggle to be believed.

#allen-woody, #child-abuse-and-neglect, #documentary-films-and-programs, #farrow-mia, #parenting, #photography

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Too Much on the Bottom and Not Enough in the Middle: Nanaimo Bar Outrage

An online post of a Nanaimo bar photo swiftly prompted criticism in Canada and discussion about the treat’s ideal proportions.

#british-columbia-canada, #canada, #cooking-and-cookbooks, #instagram-inc, #northwest-territories-canada, #photography, #social-media

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Aaron Rose, Photographer Whose Work Long Went Unseen, Dies at 84

Spurning commercialism, he made thousands of one-of-a-kind prints that for decades he largely kept to himself. Then came a show at the Whitney.

#cameras, #deaths-obituaries, #museum-of-the-city-of-new-york, #pennsylvania-station-manhattan-ny, #photography, #rose-aaron

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Photos of Snowflakes Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before

Whether made with setups using sapphire and carbon fiber or an old mitten and a standard camera, these photographic approaches allow close-ups of the tiny masterpieces formed when snow falls.

#cameras, #komarechka-don, #libbrecht-kenneth-g, #microscopes, #myhrvold-nathan, #photography, #physics, #snow-and-snowstorms, #your-feed-science

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The Uncertain Recovery of Manhattan’s Chinatown

Jing Fong’s banquet hall was geographically and symbolically at the heart of neighborhood, and its closing was a major loss.

#chinatown-manhattan-ny, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #jing-fong-manhattan-ny-restaurant, #new-york-city, #photography, #restaurants, #shutdowns-institutional

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Twitter is testing better image previews and fewer cropped photos

Twitter says it’s running a test with a small subset of iOS and Android users to “give people an accurate preview” of what an image will look like without the trial and error that process involves now. As it stands now, the platform automatically crops images to make them display in a more condensed way in the timeline, where users often scroll through without clicking on an image preview. But that approach has created some problems.

The biggest one, historically, is that Twitter’s algorithm that decides which part of an image gets the focus was demonstrated to have baked-in racial bias. The algorithm prioritized white faces over Black ones in its image preview, even cropping out the former president of the United States in one person’s tests.

Twitter’s automatic image handling is also hassle for photographers and artists, who generally prefer to have total control over how an image is presented. If the crop is off, that small misfire can be the difference between a photo attracting a ton of attention or getting ignored outright. It also ruins narrative tweets, as Twitter notes in its example of the tweet about a dog who is conspicuously absent from one of its crops.

It sounds like Twitter is also trying out showing more full images in the timeline. In tweets, Twitter’s Chief Design Officer Dantley Davis said that anyone testing the new image cropping system will find that most single image tweets in normal aspect ratios won’t get a crop at all, though super wide or super tall images will get a crop weighted around the center.

For photographers (present company included) tired of toggling between Instagram’s preference for portrait-oriented images and Twitter’s insistence on landscape crops, that’s good news too. As you can see in the sample image, the change could actually make Twitter a richer visual platform. That would likely mean more scrolling past images that take up multiple tweets worth of vertical space, but we’d be happy to trade the time spent clicking through images for a prettier Twitter timeline.

#ai, #photography, #social, #tc, #twitter

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Fukushima Photos: 10 Years Later

Ten years after a devastating earthquake and tsunami led to a nuclear meltdown in northern Japan, residents are readjusting to places that feel familiar and hostile at once.

#disasters-and-emergencies, #fukushima-japan, #fukushima-daiichi-nuclear-power-plant-japan, #japan, #japan-earthquake-and-tsunami-2011, #nuclear-energy, #photography

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Tasmanian Tigers Are Extinct. Why Do People Keep Seeing Them?

Quirks of the human mind and how we process information might explain the uncanny appearances of thylacines.

#australia, #endangered-and-extinct-species, #photography, #psychology-and-psychologists, #research, #rumors-and-misinformation, #tasmania-australia, #your-feed-science

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In the Junior Iditarod, Teens and Dogs Race Through Alaska

The Junior Iditarod, the longest race in Alaska for competitors under 18, is a chance for young mushers to prove their skills.

#alaska, #iditarod-trail-sled-dog-race-alaska, #photography, #teenagers-and-adolescence

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Metro Pictures, Champion of the Pictures Generation, Is Closing

The gallery, which represented artists like Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo, cited “the anticipated arrival of a very different art world.”

#art, #longo-robert, #metro-pictures, #metropolitan-museum-of-art, #paglen-trevor, #photography, #sherman-cindy

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After 80 Years, Still Smiling on the Job

The Fred Marcus Studio, a family business in New York, has taken thousands and thousands of photos of brides, grooms and their celebrations.

#photography, #weddings-and-engagements

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Did Black Lives Matter Change the Fashion Industry Yet?

Tracking an industry where Black representation has been rare.

#advertising-and-marketing, #black-history-continued-2021, #black-lives-matter-movement, #black-people, #discrimination, #fashion-and-apparel, #magazines, #minorities, #models-professional, #photography, #race-and-ethnicity, #shopping-and-retail, #your-feed-fashion

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LaToya Ruby Frazier, American Witness

A marriage of art and activism, the artist’s searing photographs reveal the human toll of economic injustice.

#black-people, #braddock-pa, #content-type-personal-profile, #families-and-family-life, #frazier-latoya-ruby, #labor-and-jobs, #photography, #race-and-ethnicity

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Images of Slaves Are Property of Harvard, Not a Descendant, Judge Rules

The woman who says the enslaved people are her ancestors plans to appeal the decision “about the patriarch of a family, a subject of bedtime stories.”

#decisions-and-verdicts, #harvard-university, #lanier-tamara, #massachusetts, #photography, #slavery-historical, #suits-and-litigation-civil

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Dispo, David Dobrik’s Photo-Sharing App, Is Taking Off

Some are calling David Dobrik’s new photo app, Dispo, the next Instagram.

#photography, #social-media

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On Horseback Among the Eagle Hunters and Herders of the Mongolian Altai

Deep in the Altai Mountains, where Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia meet, Kazakh people have for centuries developed and nurtured a special bond with golden eagles.

#children-and-childhood, #eagles-birds, #horses, #hunting-and-trapping, #kazakhs-ethnic-group, #mongolia, #photography, #rural-areas, #travel-and-vacations

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When Genocide Is Caught on Film

“The Ravine,” by Wendy Lower, investigates a rare photograph documenting the murder of Jews in Ukraine during the Holocaust, unearthing a history of perpetrators and victims.

#books-and-literature, #germany, #holocaust-and-the-nazi-era, #jews-and-judaism, #lower-wendy, #photography, #the-ravine-a-family-a-photograph-a-holocaust-massacre-revealed-book, #ukraine, #war-crimes-genocide-and-crimes-against-humanity, #world-war-ii-1939-45

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Scenes From a Record-Setting Winter Storm

The coast-to-coast storm brought heavy snow and frigid temperatures as well as prompted rolling blackouts.

#dallas-tex, #mississippi, #ohio, #oklahoma, #photography, #power-failures-and-blackouts, #snow-and-snowstorms, #texas, #washington-state, #winter-season

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The Work Diary of the Unofficial Talent Scout of New York City

Nicolas Heller captures New Yorkers’ favorite places and characters on his Instagram, @newyorknico.

#art, #content-type-personal-profile, #heller-nicolas, #new-york-city, #photography, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #social-media

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‘Hidden Away’ for a Century, a Photographer’s Studio Is Found

Last year, David Whitcomb bought a building for $100,000 in Geneva, N.Y. He discovered a trove of photographs, including one of Susan B. Anthony, tucked away in the attic.

#anthony-susan-b, #content-type-personal-profile, #david-whitcomb, #finger-lakes-region-ny, #historic-buildings-and-sites, #james-ellery-hale, #new-york-state, #photography, #seneca-falls-ny, #treasure-troves, #womens-rights

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A Glimpse of a Bygone Life on Scottish Islands, Plucked From the Trash

Hundreds of pictures taken decades ago in the Shetland Islands, off northern Scotland, were saved from being thrown away. Now, they are finding new life online.

#photography, #scotland, #shetland-islands-scotland

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Beauty, Serenity, Stillness: An Ode to the Final Miles of the Mississippi River

Stark and minimalist in their beauty, the landscapes and communities in Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish exist in a state of constant change.

#floods, #gulf-of-mexico, #gulf-of-mexico-oil-spill-2010, #hurricane-katrina-2005, #louisiana, #mississippi-river, #oil-petroleum-and-gasoline, #photography, #plaquemines-parish-la, #rivers, #ships-and-shipping, #travel-and-vacations

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Photographing Life as It’s Seen, Not Staged

Documentary photography, which fell out of favor with the rise of manipulated images, is making a comeback, on view at the International Center of Photography. Here are some names to watch.

#brutti-emanuele, #but-still-it-turns-exhibit, #casotti-piergiorgio, #choi-richard-1982, #graham-paul-1956, #halpern-gregory-1977, #hatleberg-curran, #international-center-of-photography, #manhattan-nyc, #photography, #potter-kristine-1977, #ross-ramell-1982, #winship-vanessa, #wolukau-wanambwa-stanley

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Gordon Parks Was the Godfather of Cool

His gifts propelled him to a pioneering career as a photographer and filmmaker. His taste made him an enduring avatar of style.

#black-people, #content-type-personal-profile, #fashion-and-apparel, #parks-gordon, #photography

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Its Borders Shut, New Zealand Prods Local Tourists to ‘Do Something New’

A viral ad campaign urges New Zealanders to find new ways to look at their own backyard — and to stop posting hot-tub vacation photos.

#advertising-and-marketing, #ardern-jacinda, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #new-zealand, #photography, #shutdowns-institutional, #social-media, #travel-and-vacations

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Photography in the Raw

The humbling exhibition “Photo Brut” brings together generations of self-taught artists who appropriate photographs or create their own.

#american-folk-art-museum, #art, #decharme-bruno, #manhattan-nyc, #photo-brut-collection-bruno-decharmecompagnie-exhibit, #photography

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Metalenz reimagines the camera in 2D and raises $10M to ship it

As impressive as the cameras in our smartphones are, they’re fundamentally limited by the physical necessities of lenses and sensors. Metalenz skips over that part with a camera made of a single “metasurface” that could save precious space and battery life in phones and other devices… and they’re about to ship it.

The concept is similar to, but not descended from, the “metamaterials” that gave rise to flat beam-forming radar and lidar of Lumotive and Echodyne. The idea is to take a complex 3D structure and accomplish what it does using a precisely engineered “2D” surface — not actually two-dimensional, of course, but usually a plane with features measured in microns.

In the case of a camera, the main components are of course a lens (these days it’s usually several stacked), which corrals the light, and an image sensor, which senses and measures that light. The problem faced by cameras now, particularly in smartphones, is that the lenses can’t be made much smaller without seriously affecting the clarity of the image. Likewise sensors are nearly at the limit of how much light they can work with. Consequently most of the photography advancements of the last few years have been done on the computational side.

Using an engineered surface that does away with the need for complex optics and other camera systems has been a goal for years. Back in 2016 I wrote about a NASA project that took inspiration from moth eyes to create a 2D camera of sorts. It’s harder than it sounds, though — usable imagery has been generated in labs, but it’s not the kind of thing that you take to Apple or Samsung.

Metalenz aims to change that. The company’s tech is built on the work of Harvard’s Frederico Capasso, who has been publishing on the science behind metasurfaces for years. He and Rob Devlin, who did his doctorate work in Capasso’s lab, co-founded the company to commercialize their efforts.

“Early demos were extremely inefficient,” said Devlin of the field’s first entrants. “You had light scattering all over the place, the materials and processes were non-standard, the designs weren’t able to handle the demands that a real world throws at you. Making one that works and publishing a paper on it is one thing, making 10 million and making sure they all do the same thing is another.”

Their breakthrough — if years of hard work and research can be called that — is the ability not just to make a metasurface camera that produces decent images, but to do it without exotic components or manufacturing processes.

“We’re really using all standard semiconductor processes and materials here, the exact same equipment — but with lenses instead of electronics,” said Devlin. “We can already make a million lenses a day with our foundry partners.”

Diagram comparing the multi-lens barrel of a conventional phone camera, and their simpler "meta-optic"

The thing at the bottom is the chip where the image processor and logic would be, but the meta-optic could also integrate with that. the top is a pinhole.

The first challenge is more or less contained in the fact that incoming light, without lenses to bend and direct it, hits the metasurface in a much more chaotic way. Devlin’s own PhD work was concerned with taming this chaos.

“Light on a macro [i.e. conventional scale, not close-focusing] lens is controlled on the macro scale, you’re relying on the curvature to bend the light. There’s only so much you can do with it,” he explained. “But here you have features a thousand times smaller than a human hair, which gives us very fine control over the light that hits the lens.”

Those features, as you can see in this extreme close-up of the metasurface, are precisely tuned cylinders, “almost like little nano-scale Coke cans,” Devlin suggested. Like other metamaterials, these structures, far smaller than a visible or near-infrared light ray’s wavelength, manipulate the radiation by means that take a few years of study to understand.

Diagram showing chips being manufactured, then an extreme close up showing nano-scale features.The result is a camera with extremely small proportions and vastly less complexity than the compact camera stacks found in consumer and industrial devices. To be clear, Metalenz isn’t looking to replace the main camera on your iPhone — for conventional photography purposes the conventional lens and sensor are still the way to go. But there are other applications that play to the chip-style lens’s strengths.

Something like the FaceID assembly, for instance, presents an opportunity. “That module is a very complex one for the cell phone world — it’s almost like a Rube Goldberg machine,” said Devlin. Likewise the miniature lidar sensor.

At this scale, the priorities are different, and by subtracting the lens from the equation the amount of light that reaches the sensor is significantly increased. That means it can potentially be smaller in every dimension while performing better and drawing less power.

Image (of a very small test board) from a traditional camera, left, and metasurface camera, right. Beyond the vignetting it’s not really easy to tell what’s different, which is kind of the point.

Lest you think this is still a lab-bound “wouldn’t it be nice if” type device, Metalenz is well on its way to commercial availability. The $10M round A they just raised was led by 3M Ventures, Applied Ventures LLC, Intel Capital, M Ventures and TDK Ventures, along with Tsingyuan Ventures and Braemar Energy Ventures — a lot of suppliers in there.

Unlike many other hardware startups, Metalenz isn’t starting with a short run of boutique demo devices but going big out of the gate.

“Because we’re using traditional fabrication techniques, it allows us to scale really quickly. We’re not building factories or foundries, we don’t have to raise hundreds of mils; we can use whats already there,” said Devlin. “But it means we have to look at applications that are high volume. We need the units to be in that tens of millions range for our foundry partners to see it making sense.”

Although Devlin declined to get specific, he did say that their first partner is “active in 3D sensing” and that a consumer device, though not a phone, would be shipping with Metalenz cameras in early 2022 — and later in 2022 will see a phone-based solution shipping as well.

In other words, while Metalenz is indeed a startup just coming out of stealth and raising its A round… it already has shipments planned on the order of tens of millions. The $10M isn’t a bridge to commercial viability but short term cash to hire and cover up-front costs associated with such a serious endeavor. It’s doubtful anyone on that list of investors harbors any serious doubts on ROI.

The 3D sensing thing is Metalenz’s first major application, but the company is already working on others. The potential to reduce complex lab equipment to handheld electronics that can be fielded easily is one, and improving the benchtop versions of tools with more light-gathering ability or quicker operation is another.

Though a device you use may in a few years have a Metalenz component in it, it’s likely you won’t know — the phone manufacturer will probably take all the credit for the improved performance or slimmer form factor. Nevertheless, it may show up in teardowns and bills of material, at which point you’ll know this particular university spin-out has made it to the big leagues.

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