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Lileks @ Lunch

James Lileks writes about everything - except sports and gardening

Finally, a use for stock photos

This is fascinating: lost masterpieces recreated by using the lowliest of art forms, the Stock Photo. If there's a DaVinci lost to time that featured the Madonna grinning while eating salad, now's the time to bring it back to life. Adobe has put together some examples, using - surprise! - Adobe stock photos.

The first one you see - a Rembrandt - was stolen in 1990, and will probably turn up in 300 years in someone's attic. Others were lost to fire. You might meet some names you haven't encountered, such as Karl Friedrich Schinkel. An architect as well as a painter, he "believed that in order to avoid sterility and have a soul, a building must contain elements of the poetic and the past, and have a discourse with them."

Well, we can't have that now, can we.

One of the lost paintings can be seen in larger size here - Gothic Cathedral by the Water. Impressive. If you're wondering how they got such a good photo of a painting lost in 1931, that's because it's not the original. It's a copy by K. E. Biermann. So the Adobe reconstruction is copying a copy.

Why was the original lost in fire in 1931? Because of the Glass Palace disaster.

The fire of the Glass Palace is one of the biggest destructive disasters to Europe's art. In Germany since the Thirty Years' War were never at one time so many works of art destroyed as by this fire. Only 80 of the 2820 exhibited works of painting, graphics and sculpture were rescued. The damage is estimated to be between 25 and 30 million Marks. [...] A special tragicomedy was the fact that the pictures rejected by the jury were stored in an adjacent shed not affected by the fire. About the cause of the fire only assumptions are known. Provisional Rumor of a discontented artistic revenge, but which cannot be confirmed. The initial investigations show that the fire may have broken out in the carpentry shop, where work continued on the day. 20 firefighters were injured in the rescue work. General Zimmermann, who risked his life to save treasures from the 75 completely burned halls, had first to be forcibly restrained by police. A meeting at the Ministry of Culture, which ended in the afternoon, has decided to immediately initiate a relief by a public appeal to the German people on the occasion of national calamity ... "

So wrote a newspaper at the time. Horrible. To remind you there's no justice,  this Shinkel work has survived: an allegory of Prussia's industrial renewal, the kitschiest thing you've seen this week. You can see the patron looking at it with a scowl: I like the naked man on the pegasus over the industrial zone, but shouldn't he be blowing bubbles?

"The man," says Shinkel through clenched teeth, "or the horse?"

The bard of Wisconsin

This Daily Dot piece on the early days of a Content Farm makes you realize that for some, 2009 is "the early days" of the internet. Hah! It's an interesting look at the soul-smothering process of writing something no one will ever read for a company doomed to stutter and shutter some day, or get bought by a big player who'll pay too much, won't know what to do with it, fold it into the big blob of useless features, then close it down, leaving only ghostly pages in the Internet Archive.

At least the pieces the author wrote consisted of actual writing, instead of the subliterate cutlines in the link-chum like "1,046 Shocking Historical Pictures That Will Leave You Speechless (#932 is scary!)" The article links to a blog devoted to hammering the Content Farm for various reasons, and one entry begins thus:

Howdy all, Yeah, know it’s been a while since we rapped at ya, but not much seems to be going on at the Demand, er, excuse me, Studio D front. Pretty funny. If you told me 5 years ago I’d still be updating this site, I would have laughed.

Sound familiar?

If it doesn't, you don't remember the unchanging intro of our old friend, Jim Anchower, the Bard of Wisconsin.(Warning: language, if you're bothered by salty vernacular.)

Anyway: the Daily Dot piece has this observation:

The scheme has popped up since, because money is money and the internet is so easily exploitable. But due to Google's new algorithmic tweaks, they've been forced into insidious disguises, lingering at the bottoms of articles in Internet Chum boxes, or branded content interspersed with actual journalism so the two forms blend as one. It's an open question of which era was better for our information gathering. Classic content farms didn't trick you; if you ended up at an eHow page, you Googled to get there. And the pages were answering questions people had; that's how the titles were created in the first place. Google broke a bad system, but when it did, worse ones rose in its place.
Absolutely so. I check out the chum boxes just to see how bad they get; today I found a useless site that promised 20 shocking photos of the sinking of the Titanic.

Not one photo of the sinking of the Titanic.