Earthscapes: Bottom Row


Earthscapes. United States Postal Service (2012)

[Click on images to view at higher resolution.]


The last of three posts about postage. You can skip the short context-setting intro section if you’ve already DVRed this series. If you’ve just wandered in, you might want to bounce back to the previous posts to view the top row and the middle row. The U. S. Postal Service, as part of National Stamp Month, issued a series of Forever stamps entitled Earthscapes. Three rows of five are displayed in the stamp pane seen above. Here’s the aesthetic big picture from the USPS publicity page:

The Earthscapes Forever stamps allow customers an opportunity to see the world in a new way. This stamp pane presents examples of three categories of earthscapes: natural, agricultural, and urban. The photographs were all cre­ated high above the planet’s surface, either snapped by “eyes in the sky” — satellites orbiting the Earth — or carefully composed by photographers in aircraft.

As always, for readers of this blog, the axiomatic fractal aspects of these aerial views are the central concern. I believe these stunning shots not only decidedly make the cut for high and snooty art, but also, for fractal art enthusiasts, must be considered just the coolest stamps ever.

I thought it best to look at the stamps in the order they appear on the pane.


Row Three: Urban Earthscapes

The bottom row discloses the intricacies of urban landscapes. This world — here reduced to the scale of a miniaturized movie model — is so familiar that we have become nearly benumbed to its beauty. These earthscapes are man-made and thus seem more consciously engineered. They also, to my eyes, look more overtly mathematical.

Residential Subdivision 

Residential Subdivision

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look the same

–Malvina Reynolds, "Little Boxes"

Let the heathens rage over suburban generia. Lovers of fractal art, in contrast, should dig the much maligned replication of suburbia’s self-similar forms. At first glimpse, this is a still life tinted in beige and tar. Fairly straight lines predominate: the flat and dark arterial roadways vs. the sloped depth of the lighter and rectangular roofs. Rounded forms, being more scarce, jump out. Cul-de-sacs, resembling abstract planaria, dead end in a head shape. The softer and irregular forms of swimming pools, not uncommon for a desert development in Nevada, provide a bright and counterpunching splash of aquamarine.

This photograph reminds me of the iconic shot I showcased earlier on OT of yellow taxi cabs left soggy and stranded in a parking lot by Hurricane Sandy.

One often hears the expression of being "cocooned" in suburbia. This aerial snap suggests a hive is likely the more apt metaphor. Workers, whether bees or ants, build their naturally fractal receptacles. Why would we assume human workers would not follow a similar, standardized instinct?

Barge Fleeting 

Barge Fleeting

The USPS handily provides the parameter files for this iteration:

A pair of towboats “wrangle” commercial barges in the Old River barge fleeting area near the Houston Ship Channel in Texas. The channel allows access from the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of Houston, a major industrial center.

This is the most colorful stamp. It is also the most intensely angular one. Recursion is evident as rectangles iterate from top deck to bottom (or bottom to top if you prefer 3D). The height of the shot turns the barges into massive circuit boards that remind me of the work of e-waste artist Chris Jordan.

The extruding tubes and rectangle box forms on the green barge in the upper right remind me of some of Jock Cooper‘s "mechanicals" series. The brown barge in the upper left looks like the mother of all harmonicas or two pieces of a Kit Kat bar — that fractally self-similar chocolate-covered biscuit bar food substance.

By the way, the top vertical boat is named Apollo and the bottom horizontal boat is named Taurus. Despite the mixed mythologies, the god of light and the disguised god of the sky, working together, become emblazoned barge parking lot attendants.

Railroad Roundhouse 

Railroad Roundhouse

The USPD tells us what we are viewing:

Early 20th-century steam locomotives undergo maintenance inside the restored railroad roundhouse and museum. A turntable turns locomotives around and provides access to the roundhouse service stalls.

This imprecise Escher fractal is a DJ’s dream. I get a massive scale sense of something being repaired — everything from a immense, circular piano to the saucer section of the starship Enterprise. If a piano, the once mighty locomotives now serve as keys strung to especially intricate wiring. If the Enterprise, then Scotty looks to have patched her in the lower right with duct tape. I bet shields are down. Better set phasers to fractal.

It just struck me. The locomotives look like tinier versions of the barges seen in the last stamp — a rare sighting of cross-postage recursion.

Skyscraper Apartments 

Skyscraper Apartments

Iterations of windows and balconies constellate the Manhattan cityscape. The photographer’s post-processed compression of two towers into one adds significantly to depth of field and compacts perspective into even greater Escheresque recursiveness.

This stamp seems the most aesthetically industrial and engineered from a source code drawn directly from algorithms. Could it be the great-great grandparent of many a Mandelbulb 3D fractalscape?

Mandelbulb's Green City by Marcos Napier 

Mandelbulb’s Green City by Marcos Napier

Tim has earlier blogged about this artist and has convincingly illustrated numerous times, most recently here and here, the ostensible visual connections between 3D fractal imagery and urban land/sky/earthscapes.

William Carlos Williams once said that "the pure products of America [modernization? urbanization?] go crazy." I think they go fractal and use self-similarity to hide in plain sight becoming pastiches of the fractalized clutter of contemporary life. Brick walls. Privacy fences. Venetian blinds.

Not all of the fractal clutter shuts us out though. The best iterations always let us in. Books arranged in bookshelves. Frames of film. Poetic meter. Computer coding. Pixels filling everything everywhere.

Even stamp panes that enable us to see a fever dream of the organized chaos of apartment buildings.

Highway Interchange 

Highway Interchange

But when the suppers are planned
And the freeways are crammed…
Will I finally be heard by you?

Neil Young, "L.A."

An urban crossroads shot of Interstate highways 95 and 395 converging in Miami. Such complex interchanges, like the less convoluted cloverleaf variant, were once all but an archetype for what W. H. Auden called the "Age of Anxiety."

The sun provides convenient natural shadowing here and renders additional depth to the multiple structural levels. Is it ironic that this particular stamp chances upon the most skillful use of earth tones?

Here is another iterated variation of a circulatory system. More boxy barge shapes are found, too, but this time on tires rather than on water. Hot Wheels-sized cars creep like blood clots through corkscrewing concrete veins and arteries. Blame modernity for this paradigm of self-inflicted road rage.