How many of you have ever taken a selfie with friends and posted it on Instagram? Millions of people carry their cell phones with them all the time just in case they get a call or email. But we also use the camera on our iphones to record our day-to-day lives, sometimes exaggerating for affect.
Did you know that the first selfie was taken in 1839 by Robert Cornelius, an American pioneer in photography? He had to uncover the lens, run to be in the photo and then go back to replace the lens cap. There is a copy of his selfie etched onto his gravestone.
In 1913 the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia was only thirteen when she took a picture of herself in the mirror with a Kodak Brownie camera and sent it to a friend.
In the 1970s instant cameras made it easier for amateur photographers to take photos with instant results. And digital cameras thirty years later made it even easier.
When did the word selfie become a common word in the English language? I first heard it from my granddaughter, now thirteen-year-old Clara, who asked me to take a selfie with her on her smart phone. That was only about three years ago but by then “selfies,” especially by teenage girls, had flooded the internet. By 2017, social media, such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, all of which encouraged the practice, reported over 800 million monthly users of their selfie promotion app. Features of this selfie phenomenon include apps that allow users to alter their appearance, sometimes in both hilarious and unflattering ways.
In 2013 the Oxford English Dictionary anointed the selfie word of the year, making it officially worthy of a spot in our vocabulary. Here is their definition.
“A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.”
Cindy Sherman, an artist who uses photographs as her medium, just as others might use paints and brushes, has made a career of using herself as the model, the photographer, the director and the costumer of her artwork. As a child she loved dressing up, disguising herself with make-up and clothes she collected at Goodwill or secondhand shops. When she grew up, she still liked playing dress-up and at art school, started photographing herself posed in various roles. Her first photographs in black and white, grainy images she meant to be faded and imperfect, came out in 1977. She was in her twenties, living in New York, working as a receptionist in an art gallery. As a clown, a teen queen, a society matron, a biker, and many other characters in elaborate costumes, she mainly explored roles of women in America’s cultural landscape. The art world took notice of these sixty-nine black-and-white prints of young women, who each seemed caught in an uncomfortable or scary moment. Sherman’s career has moved forward with fame and fanfare ever since.
Two summers ago she took her private Instagram account public. Tens of thousands of followers signed on to watch Sherman’s self-portraits, wildly distorted headshots of herself. Instead of masquerading with fake noses and lips, thick make-up and wild get-ups, she used Facetune, Perfect365, and YouCamMakeup to change the shape of her face, the color of her eyes, her hair and her complexion. The results were both hilarious and frightening. How did she start on this new quest? She says she was lying around for weeks after an injury and just started playing around with her iphone, taking a look at some apps friends had told her about. The results, she says, are not competing with her serious art. She’s not a perfectionist about these selfies as she is in her studio. But selfies freed her up to experiment. They allowed her to imagine the images of these molded and sculpted, at times grotesque, at other times fetching portraits going out into cyber space. She envisioned them arriving onto thousands of screens and devices, each time making us all wonder yet again, “Who is the real Cindy Sherman?” “Who is the real me?”
Jan Greenberg's latest book (with Sandra Jordan) is Meet Cindy Sherman: Artist-Photographer-Chameleon. They have created an unconventional biography, that much like Cindy Sherman's famous photographs, has something a little more meaningful under the surface. Infusing the narrative with Sherman's photographs, as well as young people's first impressions of the photographs, this is a biography that goes beyond birth, middle age, and later life. It's a look at how we look at art.
Kryptos stands in the shadow of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in Langley, Virginia−waiting to be revealed. No, Kryptos is not a foreign spy. It is a mysterious sculpture. The large, curved copper monument is covered with 1800 cut-out letters that together form four separate coded messages.
The sculpture was created by artist Jim Sanborn who was chosen to create it for the grounds of the CIA. When Sanborn began the work, he was not an expert in codes. He learned about writing codes and breaking codes from Ed Scheidt of the CIA.
Kryptos stood there, like a silent challenge, after it was installed in 1990. Two years later men from the National Security Agency (NSA) set out to crack the code and they did solve the first three messages. Then in 1998 one man at the CIA also solved the first three. But neither agency publicly announced they had done it. Nine years after Kryptos was unveiled, Jim Gillogly was the first person who did not work for a government agency who solved the first three of four messages. These three messages are a poetic phrase, coordinates for a location on the grounds of the CIA, and an account of the opening of King Tut’s tomb.
The fourth message is the shortest and only has 97 letters. For more than twenty years people all over the world have tried to figure it out. Sanborn, the creator of Kryptos, has grown impatient that the last section of Kryptos has not been solved. In 2010 he released a clue and revealed that one six word section of letters were code for the word “BERLIN.” Still no one could solve it. In November 2014, Sanborn announced another clue, a five word section of letters were code for the word “CLOCK.”
Still the fourth message on the Kryptos code has not been broken. It remains one of the world’s most famous unsolved mysteries.
Would you like to try to crack the fourth code of Kryptos? Here it is:
Carla Killough McClafferty writes about international intrigue in her book In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry. In this book you will learn the true story of how one American man traveled to France during World War II with the intention of rescuing refugees from the Nazis. Fry lived a double life as he secretly smuggled people out of Europe. Ultimately Varian Fry’s efforts saved the lives of more than 2000 people.
Carla McClafferty is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
In 1888, Vincent moved to Arles in the south of France. He planned to establish an artists’ commune where his friends could live together to create a new direction in painting. Vincent persuaded the artist Paul Gauguin, who was desperate for money, to move to Arles to help him. Vincent also was lonely.
For two months Gauguin lived in the Yellow House Vincent had lovingly filled with paintings hoping to impress his friend. Gauguin bossed Vincent around and criticized his artwork. Eventually, when Gauguin sold a few paintings, he threatened to abandon Vincent.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, after a quarrel at dinner, Gauguin stalked off into the streets. Vincent followed him. What happened next is unclear, but Vincent returned to the Yellow House alone and cut off his earlobe (not the whole ear) with a razor. Vincent couldn’t remember the details of this terrible night. But when he was discharged from the hospital a few weeks later, he went right back to work.
There have been many theories about Vincent’s condition. The theory most generally accepted is that he suffered from epilepsy, a disease that could have caused his seizures and hallucinations and for which there was no medication. In Vincent’s case, another reason for his “attacks” might have been his habit of drinking absinthe, an alcoholic drink popular in 19th century France. It contains a strong nerve poison, now illegal in most countries.
Today many popular performers advertise how dangerous and extreme their lives are by writing shocking lyrics and acted outrageously on stage. They are mimicking the lives of artists such as Van Gogh. But he was not advertising or pretending. He just wanted to be useful—to make art that would last. His glorious paintings are the result of his discipline and dedication, despite the turmoil of his life.
Vincent Van Gogh, The Yellow House, 1888, oil on canvas, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. This is the house at 2 Place Lamartine, Arles, France, where, on May 1, 1888, Vincent van Gogh rented four rooms and where Paul Gauguin lived for nine weeks from late October, 1888. The left wing housed a grocery (French: Comestibles, inscribed on the signboard over the marque). Van Gogh indicated that the restaurant, where he used to have his meals, was in the building painted pink close to the left edge of the painting.
If you are interested in finding out more about Vincent Van Gogh, Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan have written an award-winning book on the subject. Click here for more information.
MLA 8 Citation
Greenberg, Jan. "Vincent Van Gogh and the Case of the Missing Ear." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 20 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/vincent-van-gogh-and-the-case-of-the-missing-ear.
“What is this country bumpkin up to? Is this some kind of a joke?” Laughter rippled through the conference room in Richmond as Lemuel Chenoweth unloaded his saddlebags and took out a bunch of oak sticks wrapped in newspapers.
He was the last builder to show his plans for the great competition in 1850 to build a bridge across the Tygart River in western Virginia (now West Virginia). Only a ferry connected the bustling north-south throughway at Philippi, causing traffic jams and the slowing of our young nation’s relentless commerce and travel.
Engineers had come from all over the east to show their plans … blueprints of cable suspension bridges, fancy cantilevered structures, an arched bridge. It had to be durable, and support wagonloads of heavy goods and herds of livestock. ridge across the Tygart River in western Virginia (now West Virginia). Only a ferry connected the bustling north-south throughway at Philippi, causing traffic jams and the slowing of our young nation’s relentless commerce and travel.
Quietly Lemuel assembled a miniature bridge, using no hammer or nails. Compared to the fancy bridge models shown, his was plain. Then, he pulled out two chairs, placed his construction across them, and spoke.
“Since I have no blueprints,” he said, “you may allow me a demonstration.”
Suddenly he stepped up onto the top of the model, and walked across it--from one end to the other. A gasp went up. No way could it hold! They knew their mathematics. Had this been the actual bridge it would have been as if a six-hundred-foot man stood on it. But the model held, and in the hushed silence that followed, Lemuel turned to the other contestants and asked, “Can you stand on your models?”
No one dared. They all knew theirs would be crushed.
And that's how Lemuel Chenoweth, a shy western Virginian with a third-grade education, won the competition for the famous Tygart River Bridge.
The double-barreled bridge has survived fires, the Civil War, floods, and 18-wheeler trucks. It is the only covered bridge left in the US serving a federal highway. It has its own museum, and in 1983 Governor Jay Rockefeller declared June 15 Lemuel Chenoweth Day.
Lemuel started out making furniture, wagons, and coffins, and later built houses, a church, and many bridges. He married Nancy Hart, the great-granddaughter of John Hart, signer of the Declaration of Independence. They had 13 children.
So how do we know about this story?
Because Lemuel Chenoweth was my great-great- granddaddy, and throughout my childhood I heard the story of Lemuel, the model bridge, and the two chairs.
Roxie Munro's newest book uses thirty-seven of her favorite masterpieces by great artists as an inspiration for her own masterpiece that is a cityscape and a game. You can read a review of the book here.
Roxie is also a member of iNK's Authors on Call where you can invite her to your classroom virtually.
MLA 8 Citation
Munro, Roxie. "Lemuel's Bridge." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 16 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/lemuels-bridge.
STEM through the lens
In 1953, a scientist named Edmund Schulman discovered that bristlecone pines are the world’s oldest trees. They live high in the mountains—between 9,000 and 11,000 feet above sea level where the soil is rocky, the air is as dry as a desert, and the temperatures are extremely hot in summer and cold in winter. Most ancient bristlecones grow in California’s White Mountains and Nevada’s Snake Range, and scientists now know that some of these trees are more than 5,000 years old. They are the oldest known living things on the planet.
Edmund Schulman used a boring bit, a tool shaped like a drinking straw, to drill into old trees and pull pencil shaped pieces of wood called cores out of the trunks of very old trees. Cores contain patterns of stripes. One stripe represents one year of growth. Schulman counted more than 4,600 stripes from a tree he named Methuselah--after the oldest man in the Bible.
Today, the Methuselah Tree’s exact location is kept secret to protect it from too many visitors. Like all ancient bristlecone pines, Methuselah’s annual growth rings contain secrets spanning thousands of years—secrets that are being discovered by scientists who know how to “read” tree rings. Rainfall, fires, volcanoes, droughts, and climate changes, are literally recorded in the growth rings.
In the summer of 2011, I went searching for Methuselah. I brought along my camera. Although I am not a tree-ring scientist, I did my own research using my five senses. I tasted the pitch and pollen from cones (it was a little bit bitter); smelled the bark (it smelled like rain); touched wind sculpted and sun bleached wood surfaces (it was smooth and grooved); listened to the sound created when I tapped the rock-hard wood (it was sharp and short); and I was amazed by their strange forms and colors (they looked like dancers).
Did I find Methuselah during my adventure? Actually, when I stopped searching,Methuselah found me. I will share that story along with a lot of science, in the book I am writing. But I won’t publish Methuselah’s photo or location. Some things must be kept secret.
Alexandra Siy says, "I write books that put the "A" into STEM! Reading about science should be as creative and fun as doing science. Science is not simply information and facts--it's about questions, exploration, and the process of discovery. My books are illustrated with real scientific images that bring alive the stories that inspire kids to think like scientists! " If you would like to know about some of her award-winning books, click here.
Alexandra Siy is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Siy, Alexandra. "The Oldest Tree on Earth." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 10 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/the-oldest-trees-on-earth.