Announcing The Telling Image

The Telling Image

Shapes of Changing Times

by Lois Farfel Stark

Now Available for Pre-Order! 

I am very pleased to share with you the cover for my new book, The Telling Image: Shapes of Changing Times. This book has been ten years in the making. As many of my friends can attest, these ideas have been swirling with me since my years as a documentary filmmaker for NBC News. During my travels, I was trained to look for the telling image—a picture that gives the essence of the story. In covering countries in times of tension and transition, I had to look through other people’s eyes to learn how they saw the world. I filmed in Abu Dhabi before the United Arab Emirates were unified, in Cuba ten years after their revolution, in Northern Ireland when their religious conflict burst into urban warfare, and in Liberia covering its social split.

While history gives us versions of a story, a telling image has the power to tap a deeper understanding. I practiced seeing with new eyes, open to take in the unfamiliar and to discover clues to another culture’s worldview. Dropping into a foreign country and trying to understand it enough to present its various factions, historic background, and current controversy was daunting and humbling. I knew I needed to lasso the topics at play, and I knew I would never know everything. One approach I took was to step back and look at the situation with the largest lens, seeing all sides, noticing the geography that influenced the culture’s way of living, and learning the historic background. I had to find an image that could relay the issues and emotions, the culture and landscape, in a way that could convey more than words can explain.

Searching for the telling image of a story, I found one, hiding in plain sight. It was shape itself. Once I looked for shape, I saw it everywhere—in shelters, social systems, and sacred sites. From indigenous cultures to modern societies, our answers to survival, social bonding, and sacred symbols differ vastly. Yet the blueprint for each culture became clear when I looked for shape.

Now you can join in my journey. I extend my thanks to my friends, colleagues, and supporters who have been there with me along the way. Without you, this book wouldn't be possible.

If you'd like to receive more updates about my book, click here to sign up for my book newsletter and get a free excerpt of the book. Or you can pre-order your copy on Amazon. 

Technology's New Lens

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Technology's New Lens

We often don’t realize how much technology shapes our daily lives. A few decades ago, a cell phone was something out of Star Trek. But now new technologies seem less and less like science fiction and more like essential parts of our world. What we don’t realize is how much this can affect our perception.

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For example, the new Nokia 8 allows you to take a picture of what is in front of you as it also records you and what is behind you. This is called a “Bothie” now adding to selfies, allowing people to take pictures forward and backwards simultaneously. The concept is simple—two lenses. But it blows open our habit of perception. Will we start to perceive like the proverbial teacher with eyes in the back of her head?

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3-D printing is another way of seeing in new ways. It incorporates a full-sphere visual of the object being replicated. The blueprint of a hand tool can be sent to the International Space Station, where a 3-D printer creates the tool for astronauts to use. This cuts down on payloads launched and allows for devices to be created as they are needed. But it wouldn’t be possible without the technology that allows us to see in multiple dimensions. Inside the space station, astronauts float and summersault to move about. They tether themselves to a spot with a foot latch to anchor themselves to a place on the cylinder-shaped interior walls. Without gravity, our way of seeing the world changes. When the first crew left earth they were astounded by the sight of our Earth from outer space, it allowed them to see our world in new ways.

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Even healthcare is rearranging. Robotic assists during medical surgery become a 360-degree eye that can image the space around and under the bones, nerves, tissues, muscles, and organs being operated on.

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These new ways of recording, seeing, moving, working upend our basic assumptions. We can feel unmoored, as dizzyingly adrift as an astronaut floating in space. The ability to see all around us at once will be an acquired perception, much like a blind person suddenly given sight needs to learn to distinguish the depth of fields, the outline of forms. Add virtual reality to these multiple lenses, and the job of making sense out of what is real or imagined, what is forward or back, or what is in around the corner, requires a major adjustment in our senses and how we make sense of the world. The question is: What will you do with this new sight?

The Magic of Coincidence: On the Solar Eclipse

The Magic of Coincidence: On the Solar Eclipse

Predicting the future sounds like the power of a super hero. But in early Aztec and Babylonian cultures, priests held the knowledge to do just that. Take for example, the total solar eclipse. Priests received the wonder of their flock for being able to chart the skies—something we consider now a natural science. The trick of magic is knowing where the secret actually is—up a sleeve, in a hat, coming out of a scarf.

In the case of the total solar eclipse, the magic of coincidence mounts. It is not only that the moon enters the path of the sun. The relative size and position of the sun and the moon also matter. The moon is four hundred times smaller than the sun, but it floats four hundred times nearer to Earth. From a certain spot on our globe, the smaller moon can then entirely cover the larger sun to the viewer on Earth. 

This is a coincidence in our notion of time and space. But in a few hundred million years, total solar eclipses will be over forever. The moon has been moving away from us at a rate of one and a half inches per year, since its birth four billion years ago. What we see in the sky the as the total eclipse will be but a memory, a chance encounter that can either change our perception of the world or simply pass us by. 

How easy it must have been for early cultures to believe that the sun revolves around the Earth. Like early humans, we too experience our day as starting with sunrise and ending at sunset. But we know now the opposite is true, that the Earth revolves around the sun.

The sun rises in the morning and the moon appears at night, two fixed points of reality—daylight and moonlight. Sure as can be, the world must be divided by twos. But this perspective changes when you’re in space. An astronaut sees a whole new reality—a system with moving parts. From a space ship there are 16 sunrises in 24 hours.

We are a part of a solar system that is a part of the Milky Way. How grand and beautiful it feels to see the whole splay of stars in the sky from a rural area on a cloudless night. You know where you are. But hold on. We are part of a galaxy that is one of two trillion galaxies. I repeat, two trillion, so far and still counting. Put your mind around it. You cannot. It’s more than we can fully comprehend. Yet it does quicken our appreciation that whatever answers we have are partial answers to ever larger possibilities. 

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Square, Triangle, Circle

Square, Triangle, Circle

You’ve heard about trying to put square pegs into round holes. The message is they don’t fit. It’s one of the first games young children are taught—how to distinguish a circle from a square from a triangle. Once we learn this way of seeing, we tend to categorize. We determine the shape of things and figure out what fits where. As useful as this lesson is, it sticks so deeply that we forget there’s more than one way to see things, more than one approach to a problem, more than one way to write an equation.

In today’s world, visual information outranks text. Animations can show us dimensional fields. With 3-D printing machines, children can easily imagine multiple dimensions. So let’s teach them how what seems impossible is possible with a new way of thinking, and that there can be multiple correct answers to a question.

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Upside Down

Upside Down

Have you ever looked at photograph of a human face upside down? It takes awhile for our eyes to process through our brain, to even be sure it is a face, much less a face we know.  Our automatic recognition of the world is keyed to frame and name the familiar. 
 
Today’s world can seem upside down. Accelerated change has made it almost impossible to find a fixed point that is not in flux. The shape of cities will alter as we go from cars we drive to cars that drive themselves. Drones multiply our capacities to see with 360 degree vision, both from above the landscape and within buildings .Think of astronauts floating in the space station, with no up nor down, somersaulting rather than walking. We relearn how to orient, how to pattern, while it’s all in motion.
 
Henry Ford said if he had asked people what they want, they would have said faster horses. If Steve Jobs had asked us, we could not have imagined icons that lead us to draw on a computer, icons that let us shop on a cell phone. So let’s be clear. Since we are in motion, since the new can come to us from any angle, we must start to see like a floating astronaut, alert in all directions.
 
Familiar patterns are coming to us upside down. Dylan the musician gave a concert in England in 1965 where the first half was his popular folksong style. The second half burst open with an electric band, full of unfamiliar sounds, that are now classics, such as Tell Me How Does It Feel from the song Like a Rolling Stone. Food is in fusion, from IndoChine to Tex Mex. Family systems now come in multiple combinations, as well as gender. It feels like a blend, a potpourri, but eventually fresh forms become their own new selves, like jazz, where African beats become American blues.
 
More voices are being heard today by more people than ever before. By voices I mean musicians, writers from all cultures, tech creations from drones to genomics.
It is the age of participation, of networking, of the inane and the incredible in the same mix.
It can disorient, seem raw, but also freshly intriguing, up to each of us to discern the pattern in unfamiliar terms, like recognizing a face upside down.
 

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