Thursday, September 22, 2011

Five books on the art of observation

Alexandra Horowitz holds degrees in philosophy and cognitive science, and teaches in the Department of Psychology at Barnard.

She is the author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know.

With Daisy Banks at The Browser, she discussed five books on the art of observation, including:
Manhole Covers
by Mimi Melnick (photos by Robert A Melnick)

I am intrigued to find out more about how Manhole Covers by Mimi Melnick fits in with your theme of looking at the world.

This covers the part of the world which is underfoot, and might be the way that a lot of people find most immediately rewarding – to start to look at an ordinary block in a way they haven’t before. For the most part, even in New York where a lot of old manholes have been replaced and covered with resin, there are still many, many beautiful examples of 19th century ironwork that we drive or walk over. And this book is a picture history of a number of these covers. The Melnicks were some of the first to publish images of metal covers as though they were art. I think the covers really are beautiful and it is surprising that there will still be millions of people walking around in cities who haven’t bothered to look at these covers, which have things on them like a radiating sun pattern, or to wonder about the initials that represent the iron forger or the company which commissioned the making of the manhole. And so from this book you can remember to walk down your block, gaze at what’s underfoot and enjoy that.

And it talks about all the different types as well, including coalholes, grates, lamp-holes, storm drains, steam covers and meter lids.

Yes, which are easily identifiable as soon as you have an eye for it. The phone lines and the electrical lines are all going to be represented by different covers.

It sounds a little bit like trainspotting.

There probably are collectors of these covers, too. And there was a point at which, unlike trainspotting, people were often stealing these manholes and taking them away to have at home or be sold as scrap.
Read about the other books Horowitz tagged.

The Page 99 Test: Inside of a Dog.

--Marshal Zeringue