Illegitimate Englishman donated millions to U.S.: Which museum bears his name?

Here’s an unusual piece of American history that illustrates the power of philanthropy and what happens when money is used for the purpose it was intended. Imagine what James Smithson must think if he can view Smithsonian Castle and all the other buildings that line the Mall in Washington D.C.? Possibly, he’s pleased as punch.

Smithson, an illegitimate Englishman who died in 1829, left between $50 to $100 million dollars to the United States, a country he had never visited. His desire was for his money to be used “‘for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.'”

If the slew of buildings that includes the Air and Space Museum, the American History Museum, and the African Art Museum isn’t an indication of what can happen when one person’s generosity is put to good use, I don’t know what is. Of course, Smithson’s money wasn’t enough to create all of the Smithsonian’s building, but still, consider what what can happen when there’s a mighty good idea that has a healthy start.

In this article that first appeared in the Washington Post, Moira E. McLaughlin covers a bit of the history of Smithson’s gift that consisted of 105 bags of gold. She also points out the significance of Smithsonian Castle, the Smithsonian’s first building that is now used for the Smithsonian’s administrative offices and information center. According to McLaughlin, the information center is a perfect place to begin a visit to the Smithsonian. It can help you orient the rest of your time there.

I’ve been to the Smithsonian several times and have never visited The Castle. Next time I’m in D.C., this is my first stop. In case no one has thanked you properly James Smithson,THANKS a million times over. Your gift was truly splendid.

If the style of the building looks familiar, it’s because its architect, James Renwick, Jr. also designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Artcars given kudos by Smithsonian Magazine

This month artcars have well-deserved attention by Smithsonian Magazine. The magazine sent a crew to the H Street Festival in Washington, D.C. on September 19th to cover artcar artists and their work. The result is this video that provides a wonderful overview of the artcars that are tootling about on American roadways. More importantly, it highlights the motivations of the people who create them. An insight into the mind of an artist is a worthwhile ride.

An interesting point made in the video is that artcar artists don’t only take their cars to festivals or put them in parades. Often they are the main mode of transportation for the owners.

This video contains artist interviews and up close looks at some of their creations. As I was watching the video and considered the way cars have been used to create art–whether they are placed in a tree or arranged in a field, or driven around, I thought about how they do have a way of bringing people together in an unusual way.

One can not pass by an artcar without stopping for a closer look. Chances are, if you’ve stopped and looked, so has someone else. Stick around for a few minutes and you may find yourself in a small crowd sharing an experience you may not have expected when you woke up that morning.

To an artcar artist, that’s part of the point they’re trying to make. Stop and pay attention. There’s wonder happening in the world if you slow down long enough to take a look.

Get out and go: Events around the world (October 8-11)

It’s time to look at the festivals and events happening around the world, and this week has a particularly international selection of happenings. If you’re close and have time, then you have no excuse to get out and go!

  • AlbuquerqueThe 38th Annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta kicked off earlier this week and runs through October 11. It is the most photographed event on earth, as more than 700 colorful balloons from all over the world fly high in New Mexico’s sky.
  • AmsterdamVan Gogh’s letters’ exhibition opens on October 9 at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The exhibition Van Gogh’s letters offers a fascinating view of Van Gogh as letter-writer and artist.
  • MelbourneMelbourne International Arts Festival begins October 9. The festival is a series of cultural events by Australian and International artists and will continue through October 25.
  • Washington D.C.At the Green Festivals this weekend, enjoy more green business lectures, how-to workshops, green films, yoga classes, organic beer, organic cuisine and live music .

If you make it to one of these events, let us know how it was, or if you know of an even that’s coming up, please let us here at Gadling know and we’ll be sure to include it in the next “Get out and go” round-up.

‘Til next week, have a great weekend!

Through the Gadling Lens: the latest, greatest shots from the Gadling Flickr pool

It’s been a little over three months since the last time we waded through all the amazing images shared in our Gadling Flickr pool, and it seems like it’s time to do so, again: after all, schools have closed (or are about to close) for the summer break all over the world, and prime vacation-photo-shooting season is upon us. So to help provide you a little inspiration before you head out for your summer holidays, I thought I’d go through eight of my favourite photographs from the Flickr pool and share with you what, in my opinion, makes them great. As with all art, of course, beauty is subjective; however, hopefully you’ll see something in the images shared here which will spark some creativity in you the next time you pull your camera out.

And so, on with the show:
1. Capture the ambiance the weather gives to the scene.

I love the image above, captured and shared by AlphaTangoBravo/Adam Baker, primarily because of the way he totally captured the mood of the scene as the two surfers venture out to capture their first (last?) waves of the day. The way he does this? Buy shooting into the sun, he draws your attention to how bright the day was, and the cloudless sky. In addition, he makes sure to crop the image so that the long shadows of each of the surfers, giving you some clue as to the time of the day that the image was shot. In addition, notice that there are no other people in the shot, other than the two friends in the shot — it gives the feeling that there are no other people in the world other than the two men. Fabulous capture.

2. If there’s something particularly stunning about the day, don’t forget to capture it.

In the same spirit as the first image in this post, this shot shared by insEyedout does a great job of featuring what was most stunning about his visit to The White House, in Washington D.C. — the amazing weather. The difference in this case, however, is instead of shooting into the sun (which, admittedly, can damage your sensor if you do it too often, so shoot into the sun sparingly), he uses the glow of the sunlight off of his companion’s shoulders to communicate the bright sky. And speaking of sky, look at that amazing blue! I also love how he doesn’t take your focus off of the sky, by shooting from behind his friends — had the women in the shot been facing us, you might not have noticed the sky, in favour of looking at their faces or smiles. Well done.

3. Look for patterns.

I love this photograph of the Painted Desert in Arizona, shared by Ash Crowe — and one glance makes it pretty apparent why, I think. Obviously, the coloured striations within the rock formations are pretty spectacular; however, how amazing is it that the pattern repeats itself in the cloud formations in the sky? One of the coolest things that you can do when taking any sort of landscape or scenery shots is to look for any sort of patterns within the frame of the shot — patterns always create interest. Really fantastic shot.

4. Don’t forget about flora and fauna.

While we’re still outside, just a reminder not to forget the flora and the fauna. Because, seriously, do I even need to explain why this image shared by fiznatty is so amazing? This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime type images, captured in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

A note about taking photographs of wildlife: obviously, the best way to make it happen is to gain trust — and many times, this means being very still, and being very patient. Also, be sure you don’t take risks: it’s not a great idea to touch wild animals, and remember — when cute babies like the above are around, mom and dad may not be far behind.

5. Do a bit of preparation for fabulous interior shots.

If you’re going somewhere with tons of architectural history, you’re likely going to want to take some interior shots, like the amazing one of the stained glass windows in Sainte Chappelle in Paris, shared by Amy Mengel, above. In my experience, shots like these are possible if you pay close attention to the light that is falling inside the building. In essence, this means:

  • Turn off your flash. Particularly when shooting inside a church or cathedral — your flash is going to wash out the vibrant colours of the glass.
  • You will likely have to up the ISO setting in your camera, unless you happen to have a tripod on you. Remember, if there’s low light, you’ll want a higher ISO setting; if the area is brightly lit, then you can get away with a lower setting (click here for a quick review on ISO). Play with your setting and take a few shots to find the best one.
  • If your camera has a white balance setting (sometimes indicated by “WB”), then adjust accordingly before you take the shot. In essence, this means evaluating what the main light source is in the room — incandescent light (which can make your resulting photograph yellow), florescent light (which can make your resulting photograph green) or natural light. Consult your camera manual beforehand to learn how to adjust white balance.

6. Don’t be afraid of movement.

I love this image shared by t3mujin of a typical tram in Lisbon, and it teaches a valuable lesson: not all out-of-focus images are bad. The blur of the vehicles in this photograph convey speed and movement, which help you to place yourself right there on the busy street corner. Also, I love the use of colour in this image — all of the colours in this shot are generally bland and neutral, save for the bright yellow pop from the paint colour on the front of the tram. Fantastic.

A tip on how to create a great blurry shot? Just shoot and shoot and shoot — keep clicking from the same and different vantage points over and over again. Mere statistics will tell you that you’ll end up with at least one shot that you’ll be pleased with.

7. Don’t forget to look up.

I absolutely adore this image shared by of an intersection in Florence, Italy, particularly because it teaches a valuable lesson: don’t forget to look up! The beauty of this shot is that the negative space (the space between the buildings) communicates the narrowness of the streets and exactly how the streets flow without ever actually showing you the images. In addition, the tall buildings convey the feeling of being closed in amongst all the architecture. And finally, I love how the image is framed so that the intersection isn’t straight up-and-down, but instead, at an angle, providing visual interest. A beautiful shot.

8. Don’t be afraid to shoot at night.

And finally, don’t forget that cities can be absolutely stunning at night, as evidenced by this really beautiful shot shared by macdonaldj2wit of the Washington Monument. The easiest way to take an amazing shot like this is as follows:

  • Look for a location with lots of points of light, to create visual interest — traffic lights, car lights, whatever.
  • Set your camera on automatic or program mode.
  • Set your ISO as low as possible, and the affix your camera to a tripod or rest it on a very level surface.
  • Turn on your camera’s self-timer.
  • Focus the shot, and press the shutter, and then step away from the camera.

By setting the timer, the camera will have time to settle from any movement caused by your clicking the shutter release. The camera will likely keep the shutter open for quite a while in this low light, so it’s absolutely imperative that the camera keep absolutely still. Once you hear the shutter close again, take a look — picture perfect night shot.

So, how was that for a few stunning images? If you’ve got a few great images you’d like to share (or tips that you think might be valuable), please feel free to leave them in the comments section below. And as always, if you have any questions, you can always contact me directly at karenDOTwalrondATweblogsincDOTcom – and I’m happy to address them in upcoming Through the Gadling Lens posts.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.
Through the Gadling Lens can be found every Thursday right here, at 11 a.m. To read more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.

Cherry blossoms at New York’s botanical gardens

With only through next week to catch the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., there’s another chance in April to enjoy the pink glory if you head north. At the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, and at the Brooklyn Botantic Gardens, the cherry trees bloom later than those in D.C.

To create this time lapse photography video that highlights the blooming, 3,000 shots, one every three minutes, were taken between April 18 and April 26, 2008. The video was created by Dave Allen, the webmaster for the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. The effect is a bit like a musical kaleidoscope of nature in shades of pink. Nicely done!

To see the cherry trees bloom in real time, head to the section the Brooklyn Botanic Garden called Cherry Walk. According to the New York Botanical Garden website, rhododendron, buttercups, pansies, and magnolias are some of the other flowers and trees that bloom there in April.