Everything looks more cinematic with letterboxing

Having switched to the Galaxy S4 which shoots images and video in 16:9 (widescreen format), I recently realised that when I shoot videos on it, the icons for those video files now look like this on my desktop:

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Have my video icons always looked like this? The automatic letterboxing in the icon of the video file itself? Perhaps I hadn’t noticed it before until now when I have to look at the files in Finder (result of having to set up an IFTTT for my files to go straight from camera to dropbox to flickr, thus bypassing iPhoto). What I do find is that the application of letterboxing to stills of my images actually works very well to suggest to the user that it must be a moving image. Which came first? How strange that something as arbitrary as letterboxing and changing the aspect ratio should completely affect the icon/symbol of a file, lending to our expectation that the image within should have some sort of “cinematic quality”.

Case in point, here are some examples:

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A regular day walking down the street

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A normal day in Hastings with some weird cultish german youths dancing in the distance

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A regular day in Central London

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So, does it work for you? I think its a bit funny that letterboxing was probably created because filmmakers in the past would rather retain the original composition of their films when they were to be shown on different screens (such as from film to video, from the cinema screen to television). And now the reverse can now be said of how we digitally put letterboxing back onto images or films which require no such interventions and could be shown without the letterbox. I guess it is a design decision to put the letterboxing onto films or still images because that suggests some association with cinema and the tradition of cinema (thus in part, legitimising the image or making it seem more important). I wonder, is there also something about how the image also appears perfectly primed to be part of a bigger narrative once we see that letterboxing?

The Mystery Dog of Kensal Town


A few weeks ago, I went down to londonprintstudio to leave with them a copy of my book Dream Syntax, which is being shown at Unfold: an exhibition of artist books. We decided to take a long walk through the west side of town which I myself have rarely explored in the past. Whilst walking through Kensal Town, we walked past an interesting corner plot which appeared to have been… intervened with…


Evidence #1


Evidence #2

This feels like one of the few times where one encounters the scene of an incident and it is actually looks like a scene out of a Beverly-Cleary-type children’s novel. Suffice to say this leaves little (and at the same time, a lot!) to the imagination.

The Lost White Rabbit of Stamford Hill


We found a rabbit on the road a few weeks ago. It was just walking up and down the road all day long and it was clear from its colourations that it was probably too pretty to be just any wild rabbit. No one expects to look out of the window and see a beautiful white bunny hiding under the car. We eventually took it in with a large printer box in the house, and it actually took about 7 adults to get the rabbit into the box because it was so skittish and nervous about coming out from under the cars on Stamford Hill. It was funny to see all the different neighbours and the jewish children and random passerbys coming out of their houses and working together to put the rabbit in the big box so we could take off from the roads. We were afraid it might get run over or eaten by one of the many foxes that prowl these streets at night. We cut holes in the box and fed it spinach, carrots and celery, because that was what we were going to eat too – its nice to imagine having a pet that will eat more or less the same thing as you (except the hay part of its diet). Apparently, rabbits also like to eat kale. Kale! My newest obsession ever since they fed us CRISPY KALE at the RCA canteen. But I can’t seem to get it anywhere except at the Whole Foods. And its more pricey than other things. We also had got apples because George was going to feed the rabbit with the apples, but then when I thought about it, I actually really wanted to eat those apples; it was a funny thing to feel like you’re competing with a rabbit for food.

Well, the rabbit has since gone to the RSPCA shelter before it is to be rehomed because no one responded to our “LOST YOUR RABBIT?” adverts; so I can only hope that now its safe and warm in a new home…

Which brings me to…




Ordinarily I should be posting my food explorations on my other food blog, but this obsessively-making-endless-arrays-of-blogs situation needs to end. So this is my note on making Crispy Curly Kale. First you obviously need to find some kale. After sampling the unbeatable taste of Crispy Kale I suddenly realise why people sometimes go crazy about Kale. It seems a bundle of Kale might cost about £1.99 at the Whole Foods (I went to the one at High Street Kensington) and that’ll make plenty.

Spray/toss with olive oil and a bit of salt or spice (coriander? paprika?) to taste. Bake in the oven at about 125-150 degrees for about 8-10 minutes depending on the vagaries or eccentricities of your particular oven – or just take it out when the edges start to almost get brown. Don’t let it get too brown and don’t over-salt it.


The Seeing and Not-Seeing Sign (Victoria & Albert Museum)


On my first trip to the V&A, I noticed this symbol on a few boards at the V&A but could not figure out what it meant on my own despite examining the room and all the information boards nearby. To me, the symbol itself looked like a “seeing and unseeing” sign. But seeing and not-seeing what? Colour? Light? Everything? Not seeing anything at all? A hidden thing to be seen inside the picture? It was a mystery. At first I thought it might be a warning that if one was colour-blind then the picture would not appear as it appears to people without colour-blindness. But then looking around at the few works that had the symbol, I felt that could not be the case as the works which bore the symbol seemed so varied in colour.

Eventually we asked a gallery manager what it meant. He told us that it meant that for that specific work, the V&A had produced a special information guide of some sorts for the visually impaired. Unfortunately, he could not find the one in the room for us though, he said it might have been damaged or taken away by some other visitors. He also could not recall what it was like, but on further prodding from us, eventually went to speculate that there might be a special “tactile board” with the painting in exaggerated relief – something which could be touched by visually impaired people that would give them a feeling of what this beautiful painting looked like.

I spent the rest of the trip to the V&A looking for this apocryphal seeing-replacement board. Unfortunately I did not find anything that was like that, only large print gallery guides, so I still don’t know if there truly exists such a “seeing aid” to help the visually impaired experience the works in the museum!

Craft and Material (Victoria & Albert Museum)

Recently I have been making visits to the Victoria & Albert Museum since its next to my school. One thing that actually kept me from going there in the past was my not knowing what was the origins of the museum; I needed to know what processes had conspired to bring all these collections together, and without that I found it hard to make sense of it (who was curating it? who owned all this? what was all this?). However it appears that RCA’s history is connected with the V&A so a lot of this was eventually answered for me in the various orientation talks we had – beginning with the Great Exhibition of 1851 (thus explaining why one of the streets nearby is also named Exhibition Road) where they held the first “world exposition” to show of the products of the day’s top industrial designers. The origins of the school also begins as a Government School of Design, and a significant number of objects in the V&A’s collection were also part of what students from this Government School of Design would copy as part of their studies. Reminds me of the amazing sculptures, frescos and other antiquities I saw at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, which I was told students would copy as part of their studies of classical art…


Some of these were used as references…

One section that really attracted me was the ceramics section. It was staggering. It was ridiculously huge. There was so much that I felt it was almost obscenely extravagant to hoard so much plateware. Seemingly endless corridors of glass and ceramics. Whole and perfect collections. A veritable pottery paradise! Isn’t the clay pot always used as that prime example of an object in a museum – when one thinks of the original intended utility of that pot in opposition to its newfound purpose as an artistic object, to be adored for its aesthetics only but never to be eaten or drunk from? Forever removed from its original purpose as a receptacle for food or water?






Ceramics of Britain



So many plates and gravy boats you gotta stack em…


Interesting blue and white from Iran


Another interesting thing I found out later was that some of this extravagant collection was in part due to slight changes in their collection policy – the V&A began by focusing only on what they deemed to be “elite productions”, but later, on recognising that their collections were a bit unbalanced due to their collection policy, they began shifting their focus and expanding their collection of more everyday objects, or everyday ceramics. Hence the acquisition of a huge range of ceramics including a lot of which we would recognise as very usable in other circumstances…

Personally speaking, I have always drawn a very clear line between “art” and “craft”. For me they exist in separate realms, with the crafts being seen as somewhat “lower” (no offense intended to those who view themselves as working in the crafts). The distinction between the two is that the arts are more about the content before form, and crafts are about the form before content. And since I have never worked with my hands to produce work (such as in that conventional sense that one might if one were doing woodwork or metalwork or printmaking), my main interest or role in producing work has always been about the content rather than the form or medium. Since in the end even the crafts require some degree of autonomous work to complement the material experience, I viewed that as a kind of dilution of intent. So it has been useful for me to read through parts of Glenn Adamson’s “Thinking Through Craft“, which also explores these ideas about the distinction between art and craft.

“Understandably, partisans of the crafts are unlikely to see craft’s second-class status within art theory as something to accept at face value, but this resistance has also led to a lack of serious thought about craft’s inferiority relative to art. While art is a matter of nomination within an infinite field — that is, art is anything that is called art — craft involves self-imposed limits.”


In another part of the museum, I found something else to convince me of the value of the craft object from a different perspective:

Craft objects stand for skill, quality and individuality. They may also, rightly or wrongly, be associated with job satisfaction and an idyllic lifestyle. Hand-making in small, non-industrial workshops allows the designer or maker to retain greater control over the production process.

Handmade objects often glory in their material and the signs of their makers’ touch. They celebrate rather than conceal the story of their manufacture. As a result, they command higher prices than industrially produced goods, even though they may sell to a very small market.


Makers of experimental craft objects have emphasized the inherent qualities and significance of their materials and techniques, sometimes at the expense of the traditional function of the object. For example, the vessels by ceramicists and wood turners shown here tend to celebrate their making more than their potential for use.

The artefact thus becomes a vehicle for the exploration of form and meaning, which was previously the preserve of the fine arts, and becomes less about function, the conventional concern of design. The resulting objects, produced as one-offs and in limited editions, are sold through similar networks as those used to sell fine art.

This is similar to what I do understand from the first chapter of Hertzian Tales – that it is also an exhortation for designers to approach materials more adventurously and creativity, such as in the way engineers approach it. However it is still strange how the worlds of art and craft both seem to run at the same time, parallel to each other, but without ever meeting. How different are these networks through which these highly prized elite crafts circulate – as opposed to the networks that fine art circulates within? And what if we have to discuss it in relation to how design is perceived? Isn’t this a really old debate to be having? Or am I just a stick in the mud about these concepts?

(But in any case I do see my next two years as time and space to explore new materials… actual real world materials!)