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Hindsight Needs Corrective Lenses

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You can’t read records that don’t exist, just as you can’t listen to music that was never recorded. Learn about the world’s earliest record-keeping, usually credited to the Sumerians or the Egyptians. Compare their early forms of writing—cuneiform and hieroglyphics—then discuss: would there be advantages to living in a world where no one keeps written track of anything? Be sure to investigate the following strategies that early civilizations used to record their histories. What were their limitations, and can we learn from any of them today?

Before there was writing, ancient people kept records through other means, including myths, songs, rhymes, and art. People's oral communications would be strong, and many technologies would be purely voice activated and audio-based. To perpetuate, human beings will find ways to pass down knowledge, more or less efficiently, but definitely differently.  As each person's voice is different, one possibility is that personal narratives will play a bigger role as individualism will have a higher value in society. 

Writing was first developed around 3200 BC in Mesopotamia by Sumerians for the sake of record-keeping. Writing began a long long time prior to this; they drew pictographs that represented syllables or full words clay tablets, such as different tokens for different goods and crops. Cuneiform means "wedge-shaped" and they used reeds as their stylus. 


These clay tokens were used as receipts after bartering and trading transactions. The development of cuneiform has been divided into three phases. 

1) clay tokens: numerical values for accounting and receipts.

2) two dimensional pictographs: symbols on flat surfaces

3) symbols to represent sounds: symbols matching spoken language

Egypt's hieroglyphic system formed independently, and in Abydos Egypt in 3400 BC, there was already a fully formed system. Cuneiform originated in Sumer, spread and were adopted by Akkadians via war and conquest. Different Mesopotamian countries had different languages, and cuneiform morphed to fit the phonetics. "For example, cuneiform in Sumer and Babylon were based on syllables and full object association. While cuneiform in Ugarit and Ebla were semi-alphabetized and based on consonants, similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs." Only priests, scribes and some women studied in templates and knew how to write cuneiform. Famous examples include the Code of Hammurabi (an eye for an eye) in the Akkadian-cuneiform and "The Epic of Gilgamesh" and "Descent of Inanna" in 

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Babylonian cuneiform. Astronomical cuneiform also recorded astronomy/myths of the people then, including earth's rotation - MULAPIN means "the plough".

Later cuneiform, as language evolved and cuneiform became too complicated, it was replaced by the Phoenician alphabet, the predecessor of our current English alphabet with 22 letters. Cuneiform used Mesopotamian pictographs represent entire words without vowels and this is called abjad. Hebrew and Arabic still use the abjad alphabet.  

The study and deciphering of cuneiform started mainly in the 1700s, but the breakthrough was Henry Rawlingson visiting the Behistun Inscription (Western Iran), cuneiform text on the side of a cliff about Darius the Great of Persia. It included three languages of the same text: Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian (giant Rosetta stone) that helped historians translate and unlock the mysteries of cuneiform.

A petroglyph is an image created by removing part of a rock surface by incising, picking, carving, or abrading, as a form of rock art. Petroglyphs are mainly made by the Pueblo people of North America. Outside North America, scholars often use terms such as "carving", "engraving", or other descriptions of the technique to refer to such images. Petroglyphs, estimated to be 20,000 years old are classified as protected monuments and have been added to the tentative list of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.


Nsibidi is a system of symbols or proto-writing developed by the Ekpe secret society that traversed the southeastern part of Nigeria. They are classified as  pictograms, though there have been suggestions that some are logograms or syllabograms. There are several hundred nsibidi symbols. They were once taught in a school to children. Many of the signs deal with love affairs; those that deal with warfare and the sacred are kept secret. Nsibidi is used on wall designs, calabashes, metals (such as bronze), leaves, swords, and tattoos. It is primarily used by the Ekpe leopard society.  


Before the colonial era of Nigerian history, nsibidi was divided into a sacred version and a public, more decorative version which could be used by women. Aspects of colonial rule such as Western education and Christian doctrine drastically reduced the number of nsibidi-literate people, leaving the secret society members as some of the last literate in the symbols.


Quipu (also spelled khipu) are recording devices fashioned from strings historically used by a number of cultures in the region of Andean South America. They are used for census records, calendrical information, and for military organization. The cords stored numeric and other values encoded as knots, often in a base ten positional system. A quipu could have only a few or thousands of cords. The configuration of the quipus has been "compared to string mops." Archaeological evidence has also shown the use of finely carved wood as a supplemental, and perhaps sturdier, base to which the color-cords would be attached. A relatively small number have survived. They subsequently played a key part in the administration of the Kingdom of Cusco and later the Inca Empire, flourishing across the Andes from 1100 to 1532 AD.

The Dispilio tablet is a wooden tablet bearing inscribed markings, unearthed during George Hourmouziadis's excavations of Dispilio in Greece, and carbon 14-dated to 5202 BC. It might be the oldest artifact or evidence for writing.  It was discovered in 1993 in a Neolithic lakeshore settlement that occupied an artificial island near the modern village of Dispilio on Lake Kastoria in KastoriaWestern MacedoniaGreece.


Oracle Bones (Dragons Bones) are bones, usually shoulder blades of oxen or underside of turtle shell, with Chinese symbols that later became the words today. The Bones are dated to the Shang Dynasty of China (1600–1046 BC) but are also dated back to the Zhou Dynasty (1046–226 B.C). These Bones are used by Oracles to tell the future. Diviners would submit questions to deities regarding weather, crop planting, the fortunes of members of the royal family, military endeavors, and similar topics. These questions were carved onto the bone or shell in oracle bone script using a sharp tool. Intense heat was then applied with a metal rod until the bone or shell cracked due to thermal expansion. The diviner would then interpret the pattern of cracks and write the prognostication upon the piece as well. The oracle bones bear the earliest known significant corpus of ancient Chinese writing, using an early form of Chinese characters. The inscriptions contain around 5,000 different characters, though the total is uncertain because some may be different versions of the same character.

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Cylcons are among the earliest artefacts of the Aboriginal Australians. A cylcon is a cylindrical stone tapering at one end and marked with incisions. The name is a shortening of the descriptive term "cylindro-conical stone". Matthew Flinders saw two cylcons in 1802 and wrote up a description. Archaeologists have sometimes assigned cylcons an original ritual, magical, or religious function that over time was displaced by a more utilitarian one, that of a pestle for use in food production.

It is impossible to date most cylcons, but the very heavy weathering of most attests to their great age. The earliest yet found in a dateable archaeological context is about 20,000 years old. They belong, with the earliest Aboriginal rock art, to the Early Stone Age.

A geoglyph is a large design or motif (more than 4 metres) produced on the ground by durable elements of the landscape, such as stones, stone fragments, gravel, or earth. Usually by Native Americans for instance Peruvians. A positive geoglyph is formed by the arrangement and alignment of materials on the ground in a manner akin to petroforms (rocks forming a human made shapes). Geoglyphs are generally a type of land art, and sometimes rock art. A hill figure is created on a slope, so that it can be seen from a distance. Perhaps the most famous geoglyphs are the Nazca lines in Peru. The cultural significance of these geoglyphs for their creators remains unclear, despite many hypotheses.


The Nazca Lines in Peru shows a depiction of a hummingbird. Since the 1970s, numerous geoglyphs have been discovered on deforested land in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil, leading to claims about Pre-Columbian civilizations.

Runestones are boulders or rock in general with runic inscriptions. Most of these rune stones are created during 4th century to the 12th century but are mostly found in the Late Viking age. They are usually located in Scandinavia, but also found in areas where there were many Norsemen in the Viking Age.  These early runestones were usually placed next to graves. Runestones are usually very colorful when created, but no longer visible as time went on. There are about 3,000 runestones among the about 6,000 runic inscriptions in Scandinavia.


The invention of the camera in the 1800s changed how we've pictured history since; now we know what things looked like. Where we once had myth, now we have newspaper clippings. All these images present a challenge for those producing stories set in photographed times: to build realistic sets and to cast actors who look enough like their historical counterparts. Consider the actors who have played individuals such as Princess DianaHo Chi Minh, and Abraham Lincoln, then discuss with your team: how important is it that those who play historical figures resemble them physically? Would it have been all right for a short man to play Lincoln in a movie, as long he grew a beard and wore a hat? What if it were in a play instead, or a musical? And, once technology permits, will it be better to reconstruct historical figures with CGI than to try to find human lookalikes?

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Despite being a member of the House of Windsor for only 15 years, the Princess of Wales’ also known as Diana Spencer, her life story remains fascinating. She began to make headlines during her courtship with Prince Charles and continued to captivate the world when she divorced Charles and decided to leave the House of Windsor. Diana, who died in a tragic car accident in 1997 due to a car chase by  paparazzi, was recognized globally for her charity work, style and

beauty. Her life has been featured in many movies about British royalty. Many Hollywood actresses have cut their hair short, dyed it blond and learned a British accent to play this iconic character. 

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Jeanna de Waal

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Lesley Harcourt

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Emma Corrin

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Julie Cox

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Elizabeth Debicki 

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Nicola Formby

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Bonnie Soper

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Serena Scott Thomas

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Naomi Watts

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Catherine Oxenberg

Among Vietnamese stage and movie actors, Tien Hoi is famous for successfully playing the role of President Ho Chi Minh (known to Vietnamese people as Uncle Ho). Because of his physical resemblance, with the help of makeup artists, Tien Hoi was able to capture the look of the famed leader. The actor took the role of the country’s leader in many plays and movies, including “A Sleepless Night”, “See You Again, Saigon” and “Hanoi in the Autumn of 1946”.  In addition to practicing his lines and watching documentaries, in 

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his free time, the actor visited the president’s stilt house located in President Ho Chi Minh Relic Site and talked with the leader’s secretary, Vu Ky, to hear about the president’s daily routine of working, eating and meeting people.

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Many actors over the last 100 years have taken the stage or the silver screen to play the 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln.  Many note the challenge of portraying such as great man full of dignity, resolve and at times conflict. Born a farmer boy from Illinois, then young senator, his greatest moment is likely the Gettysburg Address during the Civil War. He died tragically right after the Civil War one night as he watched a play with his wife and was shot through the head. His death is also the theme of some of these historic movies. 

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Joseph Henabery

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Walter Huston

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Frank McGlynn Sr.

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Henry Fonda

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Raymond Massey

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Hal Holbrook

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Gregory Peck

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Robert V Barron

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​Jason Robards

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Kris Kristofferson

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Benjamin Walker

Daniel Day-Lewis

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Billy Campbell

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Michael Krebs

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Hamilton has been one of the most influential musicals out in recent years and frankly all of our team loves it! It has a great cast, great music, interesting storyline and Lin-Manuel Miranda aka the mastermind is just brilliant! The following articles examine how Hamilton defies traditional casting for better or for worse.  According to the Crimson, Harvard's independent student newspaper, Hamilton casting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) actors in traditional White roles as America's founding fathers.  The editor notes how critics have applauded Hamilton's choices and welcomes other cases such as Black actress Jodie Turner-Smith would portray Anne Boleyn, Queen of England. Nevertheless, it warns that there is a significant difference between color-blind casting and color-conscious casting. To get this straight: color-blind casting is when the actors are judged on skill alone that skin-color is not evaluated at all. Color-conscious is when casting is based on present day social standards. In Hamilton's case, "in essence, they otherwise barred the actors from the cast to make room for artists of color." Actors 

 were chosen specifically because they were non-white. In this case, "Although the ‘woke’ composer and lyricist prioritizes diversifying his production, he blindly asks BIPOC performers to act in a piece detailing historical events benefiting their oppressors." In other words, it uses Black actors to glorify former slave owners and makes these men out to be heroes. 

While the editor criticizes color conscious casting of Hamilton, it also deems color-blind casting too idealistic or a future society 

where race has no relevance. With the recent wins of Michelle Yeoh at the Oscars for Everything Everywhere All at Once, we see that minorities are taking front stage. (Check out James Hong's speech at the SAG award)  Instead of having Asian actors replace well-deserving white actors, it calls for diversification of stories.  What instead is needed is more narratives based on minorities instead of having minorities act white roles or vice versa. "For far too long, white narratives have crowded the pages of screenplays and scripts, leaving little room for the development of stories amplifying the voices of racial minorities.“ 

Others worry that the musical distorts American history into a simple tale of heroes and villains; put another way, we shouldn't hate so much on Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, and maybe we're overthinking what happened in the room.  Does the simple fact of making historical events into entertainment shows distorts history and creates heroes and villains out of complex, multi-layered people. I believe so, but so does history books, poems, sagas, and every other kind of representation. They are presented through a simpler perspective! 

This is a 42-page essay about Hamilton, so if you love the musical and like history, give it a shot! "It examines the expanding status of popular fictional portrayals of historical events in the context of steadily declining interest in academic history."

If you are outta time, then read the conclusion - "The boundary between historical truth and historical fiction is blurry and complicated. Historical fiction like Miranda’s Hamilton speaks truth on a number of levels; that is, it celebrates specific value-laden truths rooted in current preoccupations with identity and belonging. But it also expands upon universal human truths about freedom, equality and the transformative power of ideas and human action in history. This is the central reason for its massive popularity across the political spectrum. In its willingness to speak about both the heroism and the limitations of the nation’s founders, Hamilton demonstrates a respect for its audience and their ability to accept the contradictions of blighted heroes and imperfect unions. The question that the founders confronted still troubles American democracy: how to reconcile minorities’ claims to justice with the demands and interests of a democratic majority. However good it is, a musical about Alexander Hamilton will not solve that continuing problem. But it may signal a cultural opening, a creative imagining of a better future and, possibly, that the end of the end of history glimmers on the horizon. Historians might learn from all this that their audience does not constantly need reminding of the inescapable tragedies of the past and the unavoidable terrors of the future. Who better to resist Hartog’s presentism than historians, who have an investment and a responsibility to keep history – if not the mythical past – alive. A form of mass entertainment must engage the emotions and identities of its audience; historians can and should, indeed must, offer something different to and better than this constant mesmerising present. Who tells your story, it turns out, does matter."

Hamilton's live recording doesn't only show off the original cast, it also shows how color-conscious casting allows for new stories to be told. This intentional casting helps to offset the reduced opportunities actors of color normally face on Broadway. The decision to make a musical carried by a cast of actors of color lies at the core of the show's sound and message. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show's writer and the actor said he was inspired to write Hamilton after seeing the parallels between history and modern culture. 


Hamilton's choice to employ color-conscious casting serves as a model for not only Broadway but Hollywood as well. Up until now, Hollywood has succeeded in some areas by employing "color-blind" casting, where traditionally white roles are played by actors of color, but unlike Hamilton, this choice can often seem coincidental or arbitrary. Color-conscious casting often seems to be more prevalent on Broadway and on other stages throughout the world. Theatre audiences are more willing to suspend their disbelief at factors like "historical accuracy," and casts vary from production to production.

Below are some examples of color-conscious casting or color-blind.

1) Aquaman, played by Jason Momoa, a mixed-race actor of Hawaiian descent, unexpected since superheroes are mainly white

2) Domovoi Butler in Artemis Fowl, played by Nonso Anozie, a British-Nigerian actor, reinforcing the "black servant" trope.

3) Meyer Wolfsheim in 2013's The Great Gatsby, Jewish character is played by Amitabh Bachchan, a famous Bollywood actor


You can't just look the part; you should sound it, too. No one knows for sure whether Abraham Lincoln could have had a post-presidential podcasting career—accounts suggest his voice was shrill, plus he spent his entire post-presidency dead—but the invention of audio recording soon after his death means that nearly every historical figure alive since can still speak to us from across time and space. Now, an actress playing Margaret Thatcher is expected to study her voice diligently, to match not just her pitch but her every pause. Research the steps that actors undertake to mimic voices, then discuss with your team: should people playing historical figures try to sound like they did, or does doing so risk caricaturing them?

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Margaret Thatcher, the famous female British Prime Minister, is portrayed by legendary actress Meryl Streep in the movie "The Iron Lady".  Meryl Streep is known for her diversity of characters and voices, and she practiced until she could perfect Margaret Thatcher’s distinctive British accent. Meryl Streep is an amazing actress with 21 Oscar nominations, 3 wins and 32 Golden Globe nominations, 8 wins. Additionally, Meryl Streep also acted in the movie Julia Child as American lady who learned French culinary arts in France and became a famous food author and TV host. You might know her best from playing Miranda in "The Devil Wears Prada". Acting these drastically different characters demonstrates the observation, skill, and effort it takes to bring a historical role to life. We believe actors should take steps to voice train for an historical character to preserve the authenticity of the role. If done wrong, it could really ruin the entire performance.

After a recent election in Pakistan, Imran Khan—the leader of the party that won the most seats—delivered a victory speech to his followers. But the speech was generated by an AI simulating his voice; the real Imran Khan was in prison. Discuss with your team: should politicians be allowed to use AI-generated voices in this way—and, if so, under what circumstances? What if a candidate has laryngitis? Would it make a difference if the candidate wrote the words himself—or, since speechwriters often write for politicians, if the candidate’s usual speechwriter wrote them? (Put another way, if politicians are reading out loud speeches written by other people, does it make a difference if the real candidate or an AI does the reading out loud?)

In February 2024, in Pakistan, the party of Imran Khan delivered a victory speech using AI generated voice because the former prime minister was imprisoned. "I congratulate you all for your election 2024 victory. I had full confidence that you would all come out to vote … and your massive turnout has stunned everybody," Khan's AI-generated voice said.


His speech was broadcast through his party's (PTI) social media platforms because mainstream media is banned from airing his name or 


One of the most famous actors to play Gandhi, Ben Kingsley, earned widespread acclaim for his performance, but some have criticized the choice to cast someone of only partial Indian descent—and British, no less—as such an iconic Indian hero in the fight against Britain. Discuss with your team: was it more acceptable for this kind of casting to take place in the 1980s than it would be today? Should the actor's use of darkening makeup for the role make us uncomfortable—and, if so, would it be better if AI were used to restore his actual skin color in future airings of the movie?

images. The credibility of the election is highly controversial as the country faced mobile phone and internet service suspension and violence. Khan's opponent made a victory speech hours before Khan even though he was 30 seats behind in the election.


The unofficial tallies and the official tallies just don't add up, blaming the tally on "internet issues". News reports all over the world were blocked because of the internet suspension. Overall, the ballot's integrity has been trampled. With rallies and protest fueling and leaving death and injury, the EU and USA have made statements condemning the violence and freedom of election. In the end, both Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) won seats. Pakistan's future is still uncertain 

In the acclaimed movie Gandhi (1982), Ghandhi was played by British-Indian actor Ben Kingsley. The movie won numerous Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director. (If you have time and want to learn about Indian Independence from British Imperialism, this is a must-see!)  However, there are critics that disapprove, since Kingsley was only partially Indian, and in the movie, he wore darker makeup (oh no, brown face!!). The director for this prominent movie is Richard Attenborough and given that it won so many awards and depicts the history accurately with many local Indian actors, I believe the darkening make-up was acceptable for the purpose of historical accuracy.  Although it may seem controversial, we should always judge each case individually based on context, as long as it is not satire aimed at making fun of historical figures. And about changing the actor's performance with CGI to re-color the actor, that is just ridiculous and mocks the artwork of Attenborough and Kingsley. 


American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was almost never photographed in a wheelchair, despite being paralyzed from the waist down by polio. Journalists honored his wishes, as did the original designers of the FDR Memorial. Only in 2001 did they add a statue of him in a wheelchair. Discuss with your team: should portrayals of FDR continue to honor his preferences and hide his disability? And should only actors who are experiencing a similar kind of paralysis play him in historical films?

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  • President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is renowned as the leader who steered America through the Great Depression and World War II. 

  • During his time in office, he was unable to walk unaided and was reliant on a wheelchair in private.

  • The White House sought to suppress photographs of the president in a wheelchair out of the public eye, and the Secret Service destroyed pictures taken by journalists defying the request. 

  • Roosevelt even hit the campaign trail while maintaining the pretense that he could walk, using a variety of devices to maintain the illusion.

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was the 32nd American president and the longest serving president, 4 terms spanning 13 years. Born into the wealthy political Roosevelt family (Teddy Roosevelt as distant relative), he was a physically active man serving in the Navy with an aspiring political career. At age 39, he suffered from polio, which paralyzed him from the waist down. His wife Eleanor became his support and aids helped conceal his physical disability to the world.


Surprisingly, the journalists of that time respected his wishes. There are only 4 existing pictures of him in his wheelchair, as the Secret Service banned the photographing of him in his wheelchair. He hid his illness from the world because America was in state of war, and it made him look weak and vulnerable for foreign powers.


As America's only handicapped president, FDR's memorial, designed by architect Lawrence Halprin in 1974, features disability adjustment, such as ramps and braille. It also includes a statue of him in his wheelchair in the Prologue Room. A quote from Eleanor Roosevelt is inscribed at the base of the statue, by artist Robert Graham, ​describing how FDR's disease taught him to remain strong. Is it wrong to depict FDR this way? Is the statue against his wishes? FDR's grandchildren approve of the statue as a sign of strength, not shame, for physical disability awareness. 

Even the so-called Dark Ages had color—no one speaks of Robin Hood and the Monochrome Men, or of the Unsaturated Mosque in Istanbul—but most of us remember the Great Depression as a Gray Depression. Because early cameras took only black-and-white photos, it is easy to think of the late 19th and early 20th centuries as bleak and colorless. Those recreating scenes from this period must contend with audience expectations of a black-and-white world. Discuss with your team: should movies and TV shows set in this period be filmed in black-and-white to feel more authentic?

According to the independent photographer, photos are like alternatives to hope and despair. But where did the first photos come from? And what were they like? Well, the first photo ever was taken way back in 1826 by Joseph Nicephore, titled “View from the Window at Le Gras” (right) using the early cameras known as “camera obscura”. 


A dozen years later, another Frenchman, Louis Daguerre, made another epic invention when he conceived the ‘Daguerreotype’ (right), using of polished silver-plated copper which was treated to make its surface light-sensitive and then exposed in a camera for as long as necessary. The plate would subsequently undergo mercury fuming and chemical treatment before being rinsed, dried, and then sealed behind protective glass.  (very technical) 

Soon after, because of Daguerreotype’s shorter exposure time, the first people were caught on camera in 1839, depicting a person getting his shoe-shined and a shoe shiner.  Soon after, Richard Madox and George Eastman made the next big step in photography. Richard Madox made dry plating.  George Eastman made an even bigger step by inventing the Kodak camera, which made it easier to produce photos, with 100-exposure roll.  Photographer transformed from professionals to include amateurs. Oh, and for future reference, George Eastman was a bank clerk from New York and did photography as a hobby.

In 1916 Ansel Adams, American teenager, received a Kodak camera to take photos at Yosemite. These pictures became some of the most important landscape photos in the 20th century.  (see below)  In 1925, Oskar Barnack developed the now-iconic Leica (right). It was the first camera to use 35mm film (which had been invented by Thomas Edison some thirty years earlier) and was significantly more lightweight compact than the box cameras that dominated the market at the time. Thus, it opened up a world of photographic possibilities.
In the mid-1930s, Kodak debuted the now legendary Kodachrome. A color-reversal film, it allowed for the capture of highly detailed imagery in full, expressive chromaticity. Though it would achieve significant popularity among commercial photographers, and some amateurs, during the latter part of the twentieth century, for those working in what were considered more ‘serious’ styles (with a few notable exceptions) black and white remained their palette of choice. Black and white photos dominated until nearly the 1980s. So, to view history, is it more authentic to view it in black and white, or in color? Which is truer?

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When the director Steven Spielberg chose this approach for his 1993 magnum opus Schindler’s List, the studio pushed back, fearing audiences would lose interest; do you think their fears were justified? Study the techniques used to make flashbacks look like flashbacks, then discuss with your team: when should the past be allowed to look like the present?

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Academy Award Best Picture, Best Art Direction, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Best Writing - The Schindler's List is one of the most iconic movies about the harrowing experiences of the Holocaust in WWII. Incredibly, director Steven Spielberg presented it all in black and white, painting a tale of despair, hope, and the indomitable spirit of humanity. The black-and-white or monochromatic choice is more than a stylistic backdrop, it helps to tell the story in an authentic, tragic, and emotional way. The black and white images better showcase pure human emotions, which can be distracted by too many colors. 

What's so masterful about Spielberg is how he adds the scene with the little girl donning a red coat. Her image intensifies the personal tragedies buried within the vast sea of suffering. It highlights the enormity of the Holocaust and becomes a symbol of loss. Together with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, the shades of black and white capture intricate plays of light and shadow, hope and despair. 

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  • Even after color photos became possible—first with potato dye, later with longer-lasting pigments—newspapers avoided using them until they could be reprinted cheaply enough. Reputable photojournalists kept taking black-and-white photos. But artists can now use AI to transform those photos into color ones. Consider the work of digital artists such as Stuart Humphryes; their results may not be perfect, but they could help people see the past as people saw it then. Discuss with your team: is there value in sharing colorized historical photos with students, or would doing so present something reimagined as something real?

For his latest project, digital artist and photo restorer Stuart Humphryes employed the latest color technology to restore images taken in the early 20th century. The Colors of Life was created by Humphryes to connect his audience with the past. In his incredible colorization work, he wants the viewer to develop an intimacy and deeper emotional resonance with the people in these photographs.

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Each image takes an average of several hours to clean up scratches and dust, repair damages, and fix light levels. Humphryes is also using the very last artificial intelligence (AI) technology to enhance and sharpen the details.

For historians, recoloring an old photograph is meticulous, time-consuming work that computer programs can’t match. Coloring historical black and white photos can be very tricky and Jordan Lloyd is an expert. He spends hours researching, scouring through google maps, calling experts and analyzing photos to get the right colors. As a result, his quality is superior to AI technology that colors photos in the matter of seconds.  Leading computer programs include DeOldify, DeepAi, and Algorithmia. 

In the photo below, left 1/3 is black and white, middle 1/3 is colors by DeOldify and right is the true color. You can see that there is still a clear difference in the quality of AI.  There are many aspects that impact the color including hue, saturation and lighting, and that's when it gets tricky for AI, which views all the same tones as the same color. (See photo on the right) For example, I assumed that Lucy from I Love Lucy is blond when she is actually a red head.

Software advancements created by analyzing more than one million photographs and then identifying some key visual elements (sky is blue, vegetation is green, and mountains are brown), but even then, mistakes can happen, such as a brown waterfall or white Gold Gate Bridge. Humans take many more hours but can get to the precious story behind the images by doing painstaking research to understand historical context.   

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The newest phones, including the Google Pixel 8, can use AI to enhance photos in remarkable ways. Discuss with your team: should the images produced through such techniques be called something other than “photographs”? Does merging several smiling faces with their eyes wide open into the same selfie make it too fake to share on Instagram? Is there a difference between smoothing someone’s face with AI versus with makeup and concealer? How about between a person getting a chin implant and having their jawline sharpened by Samsung’s new photo enhancer?

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Commentary: The Pixel 8's new AI-powered photo tools make image editing easy, but also raise ethical and social concerns about the credibility of digital images. The tech giant has launched an AI-based tool known as the Magic Editor that is now available in Google Photos on the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro.  The Magic Editor uses generative AI along with AI processing techniques to help people make complex photo edits easily without the need of professional skills. Let us check out how powerful this is and how does it compare with other similar photo-editing beautifying apps already on the market?


Spot the differences from the far left photo and the far right photo. Filled in the left side of the photo including the balloons, and recolored the sky. 

According to Google CEO Pichai, every month,1.7 billion images are edited on Google Photos. The Magic Editor doesn't just stop with photos, it also edits unwanted sounds in videos and swamp faces in photos so everyone is looking at the camera.  

While these AI apps offers new ways for people to express themselves creatively and conveniently, but it also glamorizes digital content and cause distrust.  Some worry that too much editing will cause misinformation (for example Covid and elections) but Google tech says photos will have metadata that shows it has been edited.  So, do we want a perfectly looking world or an authentic one? 

Galaxy Enhance-X launched May 2023 also provides a host of cool AI features to optimize the image quality of photos automatically. These are the top five features that make Enhance-X unique.

1) Magic - single touch to detect errors such as noise, blur, loss of details and apply enhancements. (image of woman on the right) 

2) HDR - With one click, High Dynamic Range enhances the highlights, shadows and overall brightness.  (image of the aurora below)

3) Upscale - images shared on social media are usually compressed. Enhance X can increase the resolution by up to 4x for sharper images. 


4) Moire removal - this lets you take away the wavy high-frequency lines that's on your image when you take a picture of your laptop, TV or monitor. (see right)

5) Shadow removal - Enhance-X uses an AI engine to identify shadows and removes them. (see below plate of desserts) 


Removing blemishes, adding color, changing the background, and even improve the original quality of the image - Have you ever wondered how AI works to make you photos look flawless and stunning?  First off, it is faster and more accurate, and most importantly, AI image enhancers have the ability to learn and improve over time, as they process more and more images. How it works is that AI image enhancements use machine learning algorithms to improve the image making it more realistic and accurate than editing by hand.  

There are two main types of AI image enhancements: super-resolution and denoising. Super-resolution is the process of increasing the resolution of an image, while denoising is the process of removing noise from an image. Both super-resolution and denoising are achieved through convolutional neural networks (CNNs). CNNs are a type of artificial neural network that is particularly well suited for image processing tasks. 

The first step in training a CNN for either super-resolution or denoising is to create a dataset of images. This dataset must contain a variety of different images so that the CNN can learn to generalize and not just memorize specific examples. Once the dataset is created, the CNN is trained on it using a technique called backpropagation. Backpropagation involves adjusting the weights of the connections between neurons in order to minimize error. After the CNN has been trained, it can then be used to enhance images. For super-resolution involves upsampling an image using the learned convolutional filters. For denoising involves passing an image through the trained CNN in order to remove noise.

The benefits of AI image enhancement

  • First, AI can analyze an image more objectively without the inherent biases humans bring to the table.

  • Second, AI can process images much faster than a human can, meaning that large numbers of images can be enhanced in a shorter timeframe.

  • AI is able to apply enhancements much more accurately than a human can. This results in fewer errors and a better overall result.

  • The science aspect of machine learning in photo correction gives machines the ability to recognize patterns, color saturation levels, light balance, and other elements to create perfect images in no time.

  • Finally, AI-based image enhancers can learn and improve over time, becoming more accurate and efficient with each new image process. is a cutting-edge artificial intelligence photo enhancer that can automatically improve your photos' quality automatically.

This is generally done using a machine learning algorithm called Super Resolution, which, putting it in simple terms, functions by the AI analyzing the pixels in an image and adding new ones based on the original image in a way that keeps the image sharp regardless of how much the resolution has been increased. It does so using an interpolation algorithm. This infers new data by extracting from known elements; it tells "blank" pixels what to do based on what those surrounding it display, and then duplicating that content.

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Removing noise from imagery is known as denoising. Image denoising uses advanced algorithms to remove noise from graphics and renders, making a huge difference to the quality of images.

  • Diffuse — scattered lighting reflected in all directions;

  • Specular or reflections — lighting reflected in a particular direction; and

  • Infinite light-source shadows — sunlight, shadows and any other visible light source.

Check out a video sample by Nvidia.


Fractal compression is a lossy compression method for digital images, based on fractals. The method is best suited for textures and natural images, relying on the fact that parts of an image often resemble other parts of the same image. Fractal algorithms convert these parts into mathematical data called "fractal codes" which are used to recreate the encoded image.

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This is quite abstract and hard to explain with words. Therefore, the easiest way to understand is to watch a few educational videos. This one by crash course is great to tell you what is neural network in terms of AI deep learning. Then this video by Futurology will share with you what a convolutional neural network looks like and how it impacts AI and technology.  


Datasets serve as the lifeblood of AI development. They are the vast collections of images, carefully curated and labeled, that AI algorithms use to learn and improve their abilities. In the case of Photo Resolution Enhancement AI, the choice of dataset is pivotal.

Critical points include: 

1) High-Resolution Image

2) Low-Resolution Correspondence

3) Diversity in Content

4) Data Size and Quantity

5) Realistic Challenge

Backpropagation is a process involved in training a neural network. It takes the error rate of a forward propagation and feeds this loss backward through the neural network layers to fine-tune the weights. Without backpropagation, deep neural networks wouldn’t be able to carry out tasks like recognizing images and interpreting natural language.

If you are interested, watch this video "BACKPROPAGATION algorithm. How does a neural network learn ? A step by step demonstration."

Image classification is the process of categorizing entire images into different groups (classes) based on their content. It involves machine learning algorithms — specifically deep learning models like Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) — that can identify patterns within images and assign them to their most applicable category. 

Many brands, from social networks to dating apps to online communities, use image classification to auto-flag content that violates their rules. 

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Types of image classification methods:

1) supervised classification: providing the AI with samples 

2) unsupervised classification: software analysis without prior examples

3) Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) - analyzing images minimal preprocessing, ideal for complex images

4) K-Nearest Neighbors (KNN) and Support Vector Machines (SVM): Think of KNN as asking your nearest neighbors for advice, whereas SVM is like drawing clear lines in the sand to separate different categories.

5) Random Forests and Deep Belief Networks (DBNs): Random Forests combine the wisdom of multiple decision trees to make a decision, and DBNs go deep, using unsupervised learning to pre-train layers for a more profound understanding.

Object detection is a technique that uses neural networks to localize and classify objects in images. This computer vision task has a wide range of applications, from medical imaging to self-driving cars. As such, it is an instance of artificial intelligence that consists of training computers to see as humans do, specifically by recognizing and classifying objects according to semantic categories. The two common types of CNN used for object detection are: R-CNN and YOLO, which can also train classification and segmentation models.

Past developments in object detection have largely focused on 2D images. More recently, researchers have turned to object detection applications for 3D images and video. Motion blur and shifting camera focus cause problems in identifying objects across video frames. 

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Semantic segmentation is a computer vision task that assigns a class label to pixels using a deep learning (DL) algorithm. It is one of three sub-categories in the overall process of image segmentation that helps computers understand visual information.  Semantic segmentation identifies collections of pixels and classifies them according to various characteristics. The other two sub-categories of image segmentation are instance segmentation and panoptic segmentation. While the task of image classification helps the machine understand what information is contained in an image, semantic segmentation lets the machine identify the precise locations of different kinds of visual information, as well as where each begins and ends.  

Some of the more popular open source datasets used in image and semantic segmentation:

Pascal Visual Object Classes (Pascal VOC): The Pascal VOC dataset consists of many different object classes, bounding boxes and robust segmentation maps.

MS COCO: MS COCO contains around 330,000 images and annotations for many tasks including detection, segmentation and image captioning.

Cityscapes: The popular cityscapes dataset interprets data from urban environments and is made up of 5,000 images with 20,000 annotations and 30 class labels.

In China, AI is being used to renew old opera footage—upscaling, cleaning, and enhancing it. Should all old films and TV shows be run through similar processes to make them more appealing to modern audiences? Should AI be used to enhance today’s new productions as well?

Updating older classics to re-appeal to a modern audience is nothing new. Many classic Hollywood movies have been recolored and re-sounded, such as Gone with the Wind, Sound of Music and many more. Using AI to renew these classics is a time-saving and cost-effective method that is less labor intensive and gives these classics a new breath of life. 

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  • Tencent is working with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to use digital technology to renew traditional Chinese opera

  • Tencent also plans to establish a digital library for creators and enthusiasts to find and share restored opera content

Western and Chinese audiences are familiar with the classic legend of Mulan, made even more popular because of Disney's animated film and live action movie in 2020.  

A revamp of famous performer Chang Xiangyu’s 1956 show by Chinese video gaming and social media giant Tencent Holdings was recently live-streamed, attracting more than 7 million views. It used artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the quality of the video, by fixing scratches, noise and image discolouration in the early recordings.

“If old opera art wants to catch up with the modern era and have a new audience, it must make use of new media and technology”, said Wang Kui, head of the traditional opera research institute of the Chinese National Academy of Arts. He said that the revamp would not only help promote the art of opera, but also train young performers. Leading Chinese companies have taken steps to preserve or revive heritage, including Alibaba with fungible tokens. These featured two wall paintings from the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang city, northwestern Gansu Province, which has a complex of grottos adorned with Buddhist statues and frescoes. ByteDance’s Douyin, the Chinese sister app of TikTok also live streams traditional Chinese operas.

In 2023, Boris Eldagsen’s photo The Electrician won a major world photography competition—after which he confessed it was AI-generated. Discuss with your team: should an AI-generated photo have been eligible? Should AIs judge AI image competitions while humans judge human photo competitions? Would it be all right if the photo were simply adjusted in small ways through AI, rather than made from scratch?


Eldagsen started out as an art enthusiast and photographer and later became hooked on AI generators. His artwork was inspired by his own interest in old family photos from the 1940s. He professes that being older and wiser, he is able to create better prompts that generate more sophisticated works than his teenage self. His work is considered a work of "promptography".  

Eldagsen explained that definitely someone can tell that it was generated by AI, with clues in many details.  There are even contests in magazines for "Is it generated or authentic?" However, he also declares that The Electrician is an older image from last September, by end of 2023, he wouldn't be able to tell the difference. As an artist he loves it, as a citizen he is deeply concerned. While most artistic photography is augmented, photojournalism is not. He urges the press to come up with a system to make it clear what is authentic, manipulated or generated or democracy will be manipulated and misnformed by anyone who can write five words, especially when fact checking will be expensive and time consuming. 

Now, AI is allowing artists like Bas Uterwijk to update sculptures and other portraits that predate photography with photorealistic results. Even individuals from a time predating art itself, like the Iceman Otzi, can now look us in the eye. Discuss with your team: is it helpful to see the faces of people from so long ago, or is it wrong to reconstruct their likenesses without their permission?

  • Bas Uterwijk, from Amsterdam, creates realistic portraits using technology

  • The artist uses 'deep-learning' AI to create realistic photos of famous figures

  • Bas made near perfect photos of Lady Liberty and Napoleon Bonaparte 

Bas Uterwijk, artist from Denmark, creates living photos of historical figures using AI. Some of the prominent characters he has created include Van Gogh, Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Statue of Liberty. The software he uses is Artbreeder, a deep-learning software that can generate human faces based on many reference and personal touches from the artist. We believe this is a cool way to learn history and gives us a unique perspective on historical figures, but not entirely authentic, as it is based on a secondary source such as photo, painting, or sculpture. 

Otzi the Iceman is an incredibly well-preserved glacier mummy from the Copper Age, discovered accidentally by hikers in 1991 in Schnalstal/Val Senales Valley (Italy). He lived more than 5,300 years ago identified by his copper axe. Currently, he has been exhibited in the Museum of Archeology in Bolzano since 1998. This to us is an accurate depiction of history, or a glimpse of the past.

In your own lifetime, you might have noticed the streets you walk (or drive) down every day changing. New 7-11s pop up; old homes turn into McMansions; beloved restaurants fade away. Those looking to reconstruct a cityscape from decades or even centuries ago need as much data as possible about what it looked like at the time. Consider the following records, then discuss: would they suffice to reconstruct the world as it once existed? What advice would you give to someone trying to photograph our world today for future reconstruction?

McMansion is a slang term that describes a large, often-opulent or ostentatious, mass-produced house. The name carries a rather critical connotation because McMansions lack architectural uniqueness, class, or style.  "McMansion" is a play on McDonald's fast-food restaurants but is also associated with a generic, cookie-cutter, suburban aesthetic for home design.

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  • McMansion is a disparaging term for overly large and opulent mass-produced homes that lack architectural authenticity or class.

  • McMansions are considered generic and a cliched reflection of new wealth and superficial lifestyle.

  • The appearance of McMansions began in the 1980s and continued through the 2000s up until the financial crisis.

  • McMansions initially were built as statement pieces rather than practical places to live. They so were built with cheap materials or poor construction to check off must-have items like a pool or bonus room.


The slang term connects the McMansion style to upper-middle-class homeowners. Built to provide a luxurious housing experience that was previously only available to high-net-worth individuals, a McMansion is often considered a status symbol. Notorious for their size and suburban locales, the cost of maintaining such a home is significant. Buyers often face high utility bills, expensive landscape care, and costly maintenance fees. Another added expense is the  commute from the remote, suburban location of the McMansion to a city center. They feature multiple garages nearly as big as the homes (earning these dwellings the nickname "Garage Mahals". 

McMansions were most popular from the 1980s through the early 2000s, before the crash of the housing market in 2008. Because of the 2007 housing crisis, the McMansion lifestyle equated to living beyond one’s means. Many homebuyers took out mortgages to buy these McMansions, but they were subprime mortgages, which were seen as an underlying cause of the 2008 recession. Despite the critics and the rising cost of energy, the big house trend remains popular in the U.S. Some buyers are moving toward smaller homes or tiny homes, but they are in the minority. 

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Explore postwar urban redevelopment using Ed Ruscha's Los Angeles photography. Between 1965 and 2007, artist Ed Ruscha photographed Los Angeles's Sunset Boulevard twelve times. Working with a team of collaborators, Ruscha devised a method—mounting a motorized 35mm camera atop a pickup truck and loading it with black and white (and later color) motion picture film—that captured continuous panoramas of one  of LA's most famous streets. Largely unknown and unpublished outside of Ruscha's iconic 1966 book, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, these street-view photographs have become visible and available through the digitization efforts of the Getty Research Institute. While

these images taken from a moving vehicle record the curious and innovative eye of a major American artist of the late 20th century, they also provide an unmatched record of small-scale urban change on one of the iconic streets in the United States. On Sunset Boulevard, changing natural and built environments trace local, national, and global histories of migration, economic transformation, architectural innovation, and cultural change. In Ruscha's photographs lies a powerful tool for urban history, and Sunset Over Sunset seeks to reveal that history.

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Spanning roughly one hundred years, the Pierre de Gigord Collection of Photographs, with over 6,000 photographic images, forms a visual record of the late years of the Ottoman Empire and the formation and early years of the Republic of Turkey. The collection focuses on cultural and urban images, mainly of Constantinople (Istanbul), the capital of the Ottoman Empire, but other geographic areas, such as the Balkans, and other cities and towns within the empire such as Bursa and Smyrna (Izmir) are included, as are a few images from sites in Greece, Egypt, Jerusalem, India and China. The work of over 165 photographers is represented in the collection. The collection is supported by a small group of pamphlets and offprints regarding photography in the Ottoman Empire and by a small assemblage of photographic ephemera.

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In 1996 the California State Archives added thousands of images from the collection of San Francisco photographers Grave and William M McCarthy. Until recently the public rarely had the opportunity to see any of the tableaus of 20th century life in Northern California captured by the McCarthys’ cameras. Rare photos by McCarthy show San Francisco days before 1906 earthquake. Photographer’s collection gives a glimpse of city streets just prior to infamous disaster.  The archive contains a particularly rare treat for San Franciscans: Photos taken mere days—and in at least one case just 24 hours—before the 1906 earthquake. Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced the state had uploaded digital copies of some 3,000 McCarthy photos to its online database, giving Californians access to volumes of firsthand testimony about state history.

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The exhibition, Masterpieces of Early Chinese Photography, presented by the 19th Century Rare Book and Photograph Shop, showcases photographs from the Stephan Loewentheil Historical Photography of China Collection, which the shop says is the largest private collection of historical photos of China.

Travelers from the West brought the technology to Asia in the 1840s, according to the Getty Research Institute’s in-depth study of the history of photography in China, and it quickly became popular. At that time, China was ruled by the Qing (or Manchu) Dynasty, the imperial dynasty that had governed the vast nation since the 17th century. Photography’s arrival in China in the 19th century occurred just at the right moment to capture a way of life that would largely disappear when the Qing Dynasty fell from power in the early 20th century. Even before the coming of revolution around the end of 1911 and the subsequent abdication of the emperor, China was — like the rest of the world in the century of industrialization, but in its own special way — beginning to modernize and shed its old ways of life.


The history of photography in Japan begins during the Edo period. Introduced through the Dutch merchants that inhabited Dejima Island in Nagasaki Bay, the medium attracted an initially small, but intrigued audience. Many early Japanese photographers traveled to Nagasaki to study the photographic process. In 1854, Kawamoto Komin published Ensei-Kikijutsu, the first Japanese-language book on photographic techniques. 3 years later, two Japanese photographers took the first successful photograph in Japan, a portrait of a Satsuma clan lord Shimazu Nariakira, using early daguerreotype processing.

As the largest market for these souvenir photographs grew in Yokohama, Japanese tourist photography came to be known as Yokohama shashin, or Yokohama-style photography. These images were hand-colored, decorative, and often staged. Mounted in albums that contained anywhere from 25 to 100 prints, there were three subject/categories: customs and types; women; and famous places and views. Tourists also had the option to visit a studio and choose images that most closely matched their travel experience. In 1872, an album of fifty hand-colored photographs from Baron Raimund von Stillfried's studio cost about $48.

Explore the Japanese art of kintsugi—the repair of broken pottery using lacquers that leave visible the original fractures. Those who practice kintsugi see an object’s breakage and repair as important to its history. Discuss with your team: should this same principle be applied to other forms of reconstructing the past—such as repairing old ruins, or treating people who have suffered disfiguring injuries?


Kintsugi (金継ぎ, "golden joinery"), also known as kintsukuroi (金繕い, "golden repair"), is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with urushi lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered goldsilver, or platinum. The method is similar to the maki-e-technique (gold plating decoration). As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. Lacquerware is a longstanding tradition in Japan and, at some point, kintsugi may have been combined with maki-e as a replacement for other ceramic repair techniques. Mainly associated with Japanese craftsmen, the technique spans China, Vietnam, and Korea

If kintsugi is about putting the past back together without hiding its imperfections, yobitsugi is about accepting that you may not have enough of the original left to work with. All the monarch’s hoofed animals and all the monarch’s people couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again; it would be extra hard if some of Humpty Dumpty had been tossed out. Practitioners of yobigutsi would graft in pieces from other broken works to fill in the gaps. Discuss with your team: would it be better to hide that these works have been combined or to present them as a single unified piece? Should the same approach be taken in other fields—such as music, literature, and medicine?


Yobitsugi is a technique for repairing broken vessels using pieces from different vessels. If a vessel is broken into pieces, it is easy to guess which pieces should be joined together, isn’t it? But it is very difficult to join different vessels together. Since no two vessels have exactly the same pieces, the joints are made by repeatedly making slight modifications as the pieces are cut. The materials used for joining vessels are different, and although it is a highly difficult restoration technique, it may be the only way to enjoy the pleasure of creating a unique and original work of art. Some tea masters not only spliced broken vessels but also intentionally broke vessels and reconnected them.  In the Mino region of Japan, yobitsugi have become indispensable as a good-luck talisman for brides-to-be, because “once attached, they cannot be separated. Some people even enjoy making a single piece of work over time by buying pieces at antique fairs or at shops that deal in old things.

Some art requires not replication but reconstruction every time people want to exhibit it. The Japanese Mono-Ha art movement was inspired by the collision of the natural and the mechanical worlds; many of its works were designed to deteriorate over time. Consider Phase - Mother Earth 1, by Nobuo Sekine, along with this recent recreation, then discuss: why would artists create works that aren’t meant to last as long as possible? If new technology allows us to make permanent versions of them, should we?

The Japanese Mono-Ha art movement or “School of Things” movement, scrutinizes relationships between natural materials and industrial objects—references the larger discourse of cultural renewal. The objects on view were made between the late 1960s and early ’70s, and range from large-scale outdoor sculptures to works on paper, from photographs to video.  In Koshimizu’s Paper (on the right)  (formerly Paper 2), 1969/2012, the hempen material implies physical fragility; yet it envelops a sizable granite boulder. Here, it is up to the viewer to decide whether the paper actually beats the rock.


Sekine Nobuo submitted Phase—Mother Earth to the Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition at the Suma Detached Palace Garden, Kobe in 1968, and it is now a highly acclaimed representative example of postwar Japanese art. For Mother Earth, a cylindrical hole was dug in the ground and the soil dug up was heaped in the same shape. It was completed on a scale of 2.7 meters in height and 2.2 meters in diameter. ‘Mono-ha’ refers to a group of artists who were active from the late sixties to early seventies, using both natural and man-made materials in their work. Their aim was simply to bring ‘things’ together, as far as possible in an unaltered state, allowing the juxtaposed materials to speak for themselves.

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To mark its 40th anniversary, the Mono-ha artist's seminal artwork is recreated in Tamagawa's Den-en Chofu Seseragi Park. In 1968, Sekine and some of the other Mono-ha artists — then in their twenties — dug the work up the earth themselves, but today the work is being handled by construction workers with a digger.

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