Wednesday, March 11, 2009

News Mixer and Mona Lisa

The red-headed javascript guru Chris Heilmann, whom I had the pleasure to meet at the Stockholm's GeekMeet in December, published a post describing how he built News Mixer using the newly released Guardian’s open platform content API.

I played a bit with the mixer and I stumbled upon this article which came up in the list of search results for "photography". It talks about photo snappers at Mona Lisa's painting in the Louvre museum in Paris.

Some deeply asleep memories suddenly woke up inside my mind while reading the article.

Image by Bret Arnett

In 1999 I was one of those snappers. I was in Paris with a few friends, participating in a 2 weeks event organized by Best Supélec.

We went to visit Louvre one day and, since our agenda was pretty busy for that day, we rushed to a couple of famous objectives in the museum and Mona Lisa was on top of the list. Following the guiding signs To Mona Lisa, posted strategically all around the place, led us to a crowd of about 3 dozens people snapping photos in front of a glass box protecting the painting.

Another article which came up in the list of search results from News Mixer reads:
People no longer study it. It is no longer a painting, but has become a symbol of a painting," says Darian Leader, author of Stealing the Mona Lisa: What Art Stops Us From Seeing. Looking at the visitors from the front of the crowd, about half have their faces pressed into a camera. Those at the back arch onto tiptoes, hold their arms far above their head and take a picture, paparazzi-style.
[begin quick thought] Doesn't it look a bit like the web today, with all its social interaction sites? [end quick thought]

I remember at that time I wanted to see if my father was making any sense when he told me that the eyes of Mona Lisa follow you no matter what angle you look at the painting. But I couldn't focus to see that, being pushed around by other tourists taking photos.

"Let's just do what everyone does, take a photo and get out of here while alive", I told my friend accompanying me. And so we did. My camera was a simple film one, which, as opposed to the digital devices used today, kept the image to itself as a surprise for when you have developed the film.

Now, I wish I had that photo to include it here. It's probably lost somewhere in a drawer in my parents' house, waiting to be scanned. But a few weeks later, when I got it, I saw 2 doofuses grinning in front of a completely black background, which was the glass in front of the painting, bouncing flash lights from all the cameras around.

In any case, the night cleaner confirms what my father told me:
After 30 years in France, he saw the painting for the first time three days ago when he started this new job with the Louvre. "It's hard to hard to understand what the fuss is about," he says. "But the way that the eyes follow you around the room as you work is disconcerting."

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