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On Nov 4th 2019, former boy band member and current fashion icon, Harry Styles, posted
an image to twitter.
Within 24 hours it racked up over half a million likes.
It was the cover to his long awaited sophomore album, and fans dissected every last detail.
From the pink and blue color palette, which was used for the studio backdrop, his
custom Gucci outfit, and was even painted on his fingernails.
To this disembodied hand in the corner, which belongs to Tim Walker, the photographer.
And finally, the scandalous release date - Friday December 13th.
His ex-girlfriend, Taylor Swift's, birthday.
But zoom out to the whole image, and you'll see something that extends far beyond the
world of Harry Styles fandom.
This circular photograph is the latest in a long line of album covers that have that
same warped composition.
This is the story of music's obsession with the fisheye lens.
In 1906 renowned physicist Robert W. Wood was in his lab at Johns Hopkins University
with a bucket full of water, a pinhole camera, mirrored glass, and a lot of light.
He wanted to see if he could create an image of the world from the perspective of a fish.
Whose view from underwater compresses the entire horizon.
This experiment might seem unusual, but Woods was a professor of optical physics and he
dedicated his career to inventing unconventional tools to study light.
From developing this disk whose microscopic components helped determine the age of stars,
to inventing this toy which, according to the patent, “created grotesque images of
people's faces” through a series of perfectly placed mirrors.
I first heard of him as being sort of an offbeat kind of guy.
He often had a deep insight into things and kind of a quirky way.
That's John Beaver, a photographer who is also a Professor of Physics and Astronomy.
That basic diagram of the rays coming at different angles, I teach that all the time, it's
in every beginning physics book.
But the idea of making a camera out of that, I had never heard that Robert Wood had done
that.
In this paper, Wood detailed what he wanted to see:
“the circular picture would contain everything embraced within an angle of 180 degress in
every direction, i.e. a complete hemisphere.”
And luckily, he left us with a set of instructions.
Diameter of the paper, what's that?
Open only in photography darkroom.
I feel like I'm about to murder somebody.
Let's go get some water.
Anchors away.
Let's get another one of those clamps.
In case of contact flash skin or eyes with water for at least 15 minutes.
That's fine.
Oh no it's not because it has to be under the pinhole.
I honestly have no idea how the hell he did this.
I think there's an easy way for you to do it now that he couldn't have done.
You can just put a waterproof GoPro in the bottom of the bucket.
God dammit.
Can we just cut to the pictures?
This is a picture he took from under a bridge.
This is a line up of men.
And this is what a fish might see if all those men were looking down at it from above the
surface of a pond.
Soon, researchers and scientists built on Wood's idea.
From 1915 through the 1930s, it was the fields of meteorology and astronomy that drove the
development of a camera lens that could capture that coveted fisheye perspective.
And on the eve of World War II, German inventors filed a patent for a lens which they then
shared with the Japanese company Nikon.
The lens used the same principles as Woods' water experiment.
You can see it right in his diagram with the bucket.
As the light rays come in at a steep angle, they come out at a less steep angle.
And so those light rays that are coming from huge angles are compressed onto the picture.
In 1957 Nikon produced their first special order fish-eye camera, factoring in inflation,
it was a $27,000 piece of gear.
Though they were still primarily used for scientific research, a few caught the attention
of magazine and newspaper photographers.
This 1957 issue of Life Magazine, shows a fisheye view of a senate hearing.
A few months later that same camera photographed a pole vaulter mid jump.
And in 1962, Sixty years after Robert Woods' original experiments, Nikon's first
consumer grade fish-eye lens hit the market.
And it became a pop culture phenomenon.
It captured baseball stadiums Shark cages
Political conventions The Apollo trainings
And protests.
It was and always has been a handy tool to capture tight quarters.
as well as huge spaces.
But perhaps its greatest strength was making rock stars appear larger than life.
When the Beatles kicked off the British Invasion in the mid 60s.
The fish eye lens was uniquely suited to document the insanity.
Here they are at a Miami press conference.
And during a TV performance.
The len's warped perspective reflected the trippiness of the psychedelic era.
Including the Woodstock music festival.
This is jazz musician, Sam Rivers', 1965 album Fuchsia Swing Song and it's one of
the earliest fisheye album covers.
A few months later The Byrds Released Mr Tambourine Man.
Over the next few years the fisheye album art format cemented itself in music.
The most common format was this: A giant circular fisheye lens portrait of
the artist or band. with typography above and below it.
In more illustrated approaches, the font wraps fully around the image
And some exclude the artist altogether, opting to show an interesting scene or landscape.
Oh, I just thought of a fish eye album cover.
Do you know Hergest Ridge by Mike Oldfield?
No, but I'm going to look it up.
Wow that's cool.
The fisheye lens was a go-to piece of gear for music photographers and filmmakers by
the end of the 1970s.
It was there for concerts, television performances, and photoshoots.
So by the time MTV launched in 1981, it was inevitable that the super wide angle lens
would play a huge role in music videos.
It could get super close to a performer while still capturing the space around them.
This is the music video for the Beastie Boys track “Shake your Rump”
It was shot with at least three cameras equipped with a fisheye lens.
Fisheye worked for every genre, from 60s hippies to alt rock to hip hop.
But hip-hop had a sense of humor, and it was in your face.
Which helped turn it into one of the genre's signature looks.
And in the 90s that's thanks to director Hype Williams. —
From 1991 to 1999 he directed dozens of music video for top artists.
And many of those prominently featured a fisheye perspective.
Busta Rhymes,
TLC,
and of course, Missy Elliot.
The list goes on and on.
And let's not forget those album covers.
The Fisheye lens is, no doubt, a novelty.
When you see a photo taken with it, your eye will likely first focus on the highly distorted
style of the image, and then register what's in it.
But that undersells how timeless and useful of a tool it actually is.
One generation sees it as a psychedelic photography trope.
Another a 1990s hip-hop throwback.
If you're an astronomer, it helps you track clouds moving across the atmosphere
and the terrain on the surface of Mars.
And if you're as curious as Robert Woods, it'll let you see the world from the point
of view of a fish.
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How the fisheye lens took over music

8 Folder Collection
林宜悉 published on August 8, 2020
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