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FASHIONOLOGY

WORDS David Lichtneker

With technology increasingly becoming part of our daily lives, the devices and gadgets we use are becoming less intrusive. Soon they will be all over our clothes – and even part of our bodies.

FASHIONOLOGY

Fashion has seen all kinds of weird and wonderful things come and go. From platforms and flares to boob tubes and zoot suits, wearing the right clobber has always been a sure-fire way to express your character and identity. These days, extra street cred can be gained if you wield the latest phone or use the slickest pair of headphones.

All of that is now being combined into one as the digital juggernaut thunders ever onwards into a new era, one which heralds the dawn of wearable technology. In other words, our clothes and accessories are about to get smart. Google Glass (the hi-tech computer specs with optical head-mounted display) has stolen something of a march, but there’s plenty more to come. 

Tech consultancy iSuppli estimates that by 2016, more than 92 million wearable technology devices will be sold every year, while Credit Suisse reckons the market in wearable tech could be worth $50 billion in five years. That’s more than ten times its current value, officially making it a mega-trend.

“Wearable gadgets are definitely going to be one of the big areas of growth over the next two years,” said Frost & Sullivan analyst  Andrew Milroy during an interview with the BBC. His opinion is backed up by the fact that 2014 looks like being a massive year for wearable technology, with a line-up of products so dazzling it will make Q’s lab from the James Bond movies look positively pre-historic.

So what’s in store? Well, in addition to the global launch of Google Glass – already on sale in certain countries – the likes of Apple, Samsung and Microsoft are all said to be planning to release a snazzy range of smart watches.

Sensor socks
Over in the US, Heapsylon says it is developing sensor-equipped socks that help owners monitor their balance when walking or running. Meanwhile, in China, another company has already unveiled the Geak Ring – a finger-worn device which can unlock a user’s smartphone or pass data to others.

Then there’s Sony, who have reportedly filed a patent application for, wait for it, SmartWig. And before you ask. Yes. It’s a wig. Which is smart. Apparently, it can be worn in addition to natural hair and will be able to process data and communicate wirelessly with other external devices. The SmartCap could be slightly more practical. Essentially a smart baseball cap or hard hat, it measures brainwaves to tell you when you’re tired. Useful in industries such as transportation or construction, perhaps. 

This expected boom could actually be good news for AkzoNobel. Already a leading supplier of coatings to the consumer electronics industry, there is certainly potential for the company to offer existing technology – and innovate to meet changing needs.

“Wearable devices are highly technological products that often require breakthrough coatings, which AkzoNobel’s Specialty Finishes business is constantly developing,” explains Global Segment Manager, Consumer Electronics & Lifestyle, Jeff Bailey. “These innovative coatings incorporate new functionalities that not only improve the devices from a performance point of view, but also enhance the customer experience by adding aesthetic qualities.

"In addition, our new colors, effects and textures, all of which are state-of-the-art, will offer consumers a more fashionable and personalized look and feel.” He adds that trends foreseen in wearable technologies include coatings for very flexible surfaces and coatings that feel very natural, like skin or leather.

Gadget oblivion
Given the expected boom, it’s inevitable that some of the wearable products due to hit a store (or website) near you will soon end up in gadget oblivion. But which ones. What about the Navigate jacket from Wearable Experiments?

It uses LED lighting and something called “haptic feedback” to provide directions for the wearer. It also comes with an accompanying app that stores destinations and uploads the directions to the jacket’s built-in GPS system, allowing the wearer to walk to their destination without having to whip out their devices for directions. These are visualized on the sleeves, with LED light letting you know how far you are before the next turn, while vibrations tell you when to turn and in which direction.

Scour the internet and you’ll soon come across smart teeth (which know your eating and talking habits); tattoos that monitor your sweat; a power pocket for clothes which recharges your phone; scannable pyjamas that tell bedtime stories, programmable T-shirts and a wristband which confirms your identity through electrocardiogram sensors that monitor the pattern of your heartbeat.

How many of those will prove to be commercially successful, only time will tell – unless some kind of funky gadget embedded in our ears tells us first.  

FASHIONOLOGY

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    24 April 2014 22:21
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PHOTOGRAPHY'S DIGITAL LANDSCAPE

Leading landscape photographer Marcus McAdam discusses the impact digital technology has had on the way he works and how it has changed the way we see the world. 

WORDS Marcus McAdam

PHOTOGRAPHY'S DIGITAL LANDSCAPE

As with many other mediums, the introduction of digital technology to the world of photography has bought about tremendous changes. It is has revolutionized the industry in more ways than was ever imagined and has opened up the art to millions of newcomers.

In the modern world, where everything needs to happen immediately, the thought of having to wait a couple of hours for your film to be processed is something the next generation will no doubt laugh at, assuming they are being told some kind of joke.

I learned my trade in the days of film and was a bit of a latecomer to embrace the digital revolution. I shot all my images exclusively on medium format film, and to begin with there was no comparison in making the switch, as the best digital capture could offer wasn’t even in the same league as what could be produced on a decent sized piece of film.

The same could still be said today, but the gap has certainly closed. I still shoot film if the intended print size is going to be over a meter wide, as this is where 35mm digital reaches its limits. I can, however go to three or four meters wide on my film cameras without any noticeable loss of definition, so film still rules in this sense.

I only made my first investment in a digital camera when the resolution went over 20MB, as this for me was an important threshold. I didn’t know it at the time, but it turns out this was a natural limit to where things would settle for a while. I still have the same camera – the only digital model I have ever owned – and six years on it is still right up there in the resolution wars with the latest competition.

Evolution
It seems that the initial rapid pace of evolution in digital photography products has slowed to the point where cameras now last a few years rather than a few months before they are superseded. This is good news for the consumer, as we can now buy with more confidence.

I’m often asked how digital has changed the way I work, and I always struggle to answer this question. Not because I don’t know where to begin, but because I haven’t really changed at all. I treat my digital camera in the same way I always treated my film cameras.  I turn it on, I make adjustments to the aperture and shutter speed, I focus and then take the shot. Up to this point it is identical to how I shoot on film, but my procedure does change drastically once the photo has been captured.

In the days of film, I wouldn’t be able to see if I had got everything as perfect as I wanted it, so would often take a second and third shot with slight adjustments to increase my chances of success. This made me think things through more thoroughly and try harder to master the image I had created in my mind. Now I simply check the initial shot is OK on the camera screen, and if it’s not, I take a second with the necessary alterations. The whole affair is far more boring, but at the same time far more convenient.

When shooting film, I always play the shot in my mind, making sure I don’t overlook anything. If I do, by the time I realize, it will be far too late. Digital removes the need for this, and while this is great for the confidence of any photographer, there is a flip side to every coin. I dearly miss the anticipation of waiting hours, days, or even weeks to see the result of my hard work. Gone are the days of returning from a long haul trip with several rolls of exposed film and then excitedly rushing to the lab to have them all processed.

Nostalgia
I used to love the nostalgia of looking through photos of my trips for the first time. As I viewed each one, some would evoke powerful memories, some would send a tingle down the spine, others would raise a smile. Inevitably there would be the occasional disappointment too, but these were acceptable as long as lessons were learned in the process. Regardless of the outcome though, the experience was as though I was reliving my trip, with all the smells, sounds and atmospheres all making a reappearance to excite the senses.

The best part was seeing the grab shots I had forgotten about – the lady in the doorway, the passing cyclist, the exchange of money at a market – fleeting moments which had all but been forgotten until reliving them through my images. Nowadays, we all spend hours in our hotel rooms at night, in the airport departure lounge, or on the flight home scrolling through our images, to the point where we are bored of them by the time we join the back of the immigration queue. There’s no doubt that digital has bought us convenience, but in the process much has been lost.

The digital image is used very differently to how we used to use those shot on film. I shot exclusively on medium format film (which was seven to 18 times the size of a 35mm frame – depending on the camera used) because the demand for very high resolution images was necessary for full page newspaper and magazine reproduction, while for billboard advertisements it was essential.  Back in those days, photo libraries only accepted TIFF format files, which are large and uncompressed. JPEGs were not allowed as they were seen as being far too inferior in quality.

Nowadays, the end usage for images has gone digital too. Rather than their primary use being for print, it is now for viewing on screens. These screens are becoming smaller and smaller, from computer, to tablet, to phone. An art editor today is far more likely to be thinking about an on-screen design rather than a billboard. Download speeds are also a major consideration, so TIFF files are now not accepted, while JPEGs are often the only requested format. Today, there would be little point in me shooting medium format film, because the end use of the image would probably only be around 1000 pixels wide.

Convenience
This mirrors the evolution of digital in many other mediums, such as music and film – quality has been lost in favor of convenience. I refuse to let this drop in standards influence my own work though, so I continue to strive to make the best images I can, and my working methods and principles haven’t changed at all. I go to great lengths to get the image perfect at the capture stage, which means understanding light and how to take advantage of it. Many think they can create an image with digital processing, but this is rarely the case. The old saying still rings true – you can’t polish a poo!

Digital capture has made photography accessible to millions and this is a good thing of course, but increase the numbers of almost anything and the result is a dilution of the end product.  People who have never picked up a camera before can now go around with automated technology in their hands and take reasonable shots, fooling themselves they are photographers. These are the people who will never learn to develop their art because they aren’t making any of the important decisions themselves. Instead, they get by on a trial and error approach, where the good shots get kept and the poor ones get deleted under the pretense that the camera got it wrong.

Modern digital cameras can tell us where we were in the world when we took a shot, or the name of the person in a portrait, but cannot tell us if we are pointing it at a white or a black object. I’ll let you decide which information is critical to the success of the photo. As you can see, for all its advantages, digital capture is no replacement for genuine talent. Users need to understand this, rather than have the attitude that the more money they spend on a camera, the less experience and knowledge they need themselves.

Visit Marcus' website to see more of his work, or visit his Facebook page.


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PHOTOGRAPHY'S DIGITAL LANDSCAPE

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    24 April 2014 22:21
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RENOVATED AND REINVENTED

How do you make an historic museum relevant for the 21st century? At Amsterdam’s famous Rijksmuseum, they’ve been working on the answer for the last ten years, with a little help from AkzoNobel.

WORDS David Lichtneker

RENOVATED AND REINVENTED

You know the feeling. You’re on holiday and visit a landmark or building you’ve been looking forward to seeing for ages. Only to find it’s closed or covered in scaffolding. Your timing couldn’t possibly have been worse.|

It’s a gut-wrenching experience anyone visiting Amsterdam at some point during the last ten years might be familiar with. Because for the last decade, one of the Dutch capital’s star attractions has been embroiled in a massive renovation project. The Rijksmuseum, home to Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, has been through one of the most significant transformations ever undertaken by a museum.

Work started in 2004, and while it has remained open, parts of the historic building and a big chunk of its famed collection have not been accessible to the public. That all changed in the middle of April 2013, however, when the revamped museum finally staged its grand reopening.

It brought to an end ten long years of painstaking work which included faithfully restoring some of the original paintwork and overhauling the interior to bring it more into line with how architect Pierre Cuypers had designed the layout when the museum first opened in 1885. 

Modern age
For General Director Wim Pijbes, a fully open and completely transformed Rijksmuseum which is fit for the modern age is something he’s been looking forward to since he took up the position in 2008.

“When I arrived I only had one word – open. Open the building – as the end of the renovation project; open the collection – to share it with the world via the internet or lending to museums worldwide; and open the institution – to make us more accessible.

“It has been frustrating at times, because we have encountered a number of delays, but it’s incredibly exciting now that everything has come together and I’m very proud that all 440 staff members have achieved it together.”

Boasting 80 galleries, 6,500 paintings, 150,000 photographs and 700,000 works on paper, the Rijksmuseum’s collection tells the story of 800 years of Dutch art and history from the Middle Ages to the present day and features masterpieces by artists including Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals and Jan Steen.

But in Pijbes’ presence, you refer to Rembrandt and his contemporaries as Old Masters at your peril. “Rembrandt is a revolutionary painter from the 17th century. He was not an Old Master and I don’t like that phrase. People think it refers to old people from the past. Rembrandt was a young artist for today’s people and he is still relevant. He’s timeless and universal. He is above time.”

The museum's prized possession – what Pijbes refers to as “our Mona Lisa” – is The Night Watch. For the last ten years, it has resided in a temporary gallery, but has now been returned to its original location in the heart of the building. In fact, it is the only artwork to remain in its old position. Everything else has been moved to a different part of the building.

Deciding on where to put everything was one of the many challenges Pijbes and his team faced during the renovation. One of the most fundamental was how to meet the needs of the 21st century while retaining the museum’s keen sense of heritage and deep historical importance. “We adopted an approach similar to the Louvre in Paris,” he explains.

Old and new
"When it was renovated, they built glass pyramids but they didn’t create a 20th century Louvre, they combined the old and the new so that one complemented the other. We’ve done the same thing. You see a Neo-Gothic building on the outside, then you enter the Atrium, which is new. 

"But you still see the original building all around you. So the look and feel is a harmonious combination of 21st century and 19th century which works perfectly.”

Achieving that balance owes a lot to the decision to, as Pijbes puts it, “renovate back to Cuypers”. Essentially, this involved composing a palette of colors that closely matched those the architect originally selected back in the 1880s, as well as reintroducing crucial aspects of his interior layout. For help with the colors, they turned to AkzoNobel.

After analyzing samples of the original paintwork, color matching experts from the company’s Sikkens brand reproduced more than 60 of Cuypers’ authentic 1885 colors, along with eight brand new colors. AkzoNobel also became the official supplier of all paint and decorative products used for the Rijksmuseum renovation, with more than 8,000 liters of Sikkens paint having been used throughout the building, both inside and out.

“Working with AkzoNobel and Sikkens was very important,” says Pijbes. “As the national museum, we are a catalog of what the Netherlands can bring to the world. We showcase the best art, the best ideas, the best paint and represent what the Dutch stand for. Through working with our partners, we also highlight the work of some of the best companies in the Netherlands, so we are proud to use AkzoNobel’s paint and expertise.”

Cultural ticket
The hope now, of course, is that visitors start flooding in. Before the transformation started, the Rijksmuseum used to attract around 1.4 million visitors a year. Pijbes estimates that figure will rise to around 1.7 following the reopening, but hopes to achieve closer to two million. “The reopening of the Rijksmuseum is the cultural ticket for Europe this year. In tourism terms, we are the biggest event in the Netherlands so I’m hoping that the continued appetite for museums works in our favor.” 

His comments raise an interesting point. Why do museums endure? In this gadget-crazy, technological age, what is it about museums that keeps people enthralled? “We are authentic, we have the real thing,” offers Pijbes. “The more that people are busy with gadgets, screens and virtual reality, the more they appreciate the real thing. Imagine what it would feel like to receive a hand-written letter in the mail these days. One-to-one contact is much more valued and appreciated and museums can offer that authenticity.”

Dazzling
You can’t argue with that. You only have to look at the sheer volume of dazzling work on display to appreciate that Pijbes is spot on. The Night Watch is a big enough draw in itself (although Pijbes admits he prefers The Jewish Bride and The Syndics), but the fact that much of the collection is being reunited for the first time in ten years (many artworks have been out on loan) is sure to attract a lot of attention.

The collection has also been enlarged and enriched by new acquisitions, while works that have been in storage have been renovated and are now back on display. What’s more, the library is now open to visitors for the very first time.

“We’ve got a beautiful building and a beautiful collection which we want to share with everyone,” continues Pijbes. “We have an exciting museum for a modern, international audience which is completely in step with the 21st century.”

In the end though, it all boils down to one simple question. Why should people visit the new-look Rijksmuseum? “Because it’s one of the few places where you can see some of the best paintings in the world with your own eyes.”

RENOVATED AND REINVENTED

Your thoughts

  • José Manuel Casasnovas

    I've visited Rijsmuseum a couple of times, but after reading this article I must come back to watch "with my own eyes" again all these marvelous master pieces from Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals and others, and the renovated museum.

    07 October 2013 10:50
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