Tuesday, July 31, 2007

urban-historical peep show

(Houston, Circa 1891)

The Amon Carter Museum has a fantastic little toy that allows you to browse through an enormous collection of Nineteenth Century bird's-eye views of Texas cities. As they put it:

Bird’s-eye views, many of which are more than three feet wide, appear as something between a panoramic view and a map, as though they were drawn by the artist while he was suspended in a hot-air balloon. In fact, they were drawn by hand using, most often, two-point perspective to produce a three-dimensional rendering. The city views are surprisingly accurate (even to the point of documenting the presence of a tree in the middle of Gonzales Street in Cuero) and represent a much neglected source for understanding the history of Texas.

My only complaint about this website is that the flash browser is so tantalizingly small that I'm left hunched over my screen, eyestrained, scrolling around frantically, tempted by the "buy" link in the toolbar above and cursing the Carter Museum's for not providing (at least low-quality) full size images. But that's beside the point. The fact is, there is no form of art that captures aerial experience better than first-person hand drawings done while levitated. There is something beautiful about the conflict between penciled subjectivity and the exactitude of aerial two-point perspective. But enough said-- go take a look for yourself.

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