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Geek art

July 01, 2007

BEFORE HE EMBARKED on "Core Memory," Mark Richards was a photojournalist. He covered the 1992 riots in Los Angeles and photographed combat in Afghanistan for Time magazine. He worked as a staffer at the Orange County Register and took pictures of Southern California street gang members.

But when he went to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., one day 3 1/2 years ago, an idea came to him for a project unlike any he'd done. He said that "something struck me" as he wandered through the halls, gazing at the classic, wall-size machines from the early days of the Computer Age: Univac I, the Minuteman Guidance Computer, Eniac, the Philco 212 -- some of the most curious devices in the history of technology.

Some people might not have been impressed by a bunch of antiquated machines in what was then just a new, still-in-formation museum. But Richards was captivated.

"They were just steel and plastic. But they were fantastic," he said. "Even the wiring resembled some 17th century illustration of veins and arteries."

"Core Memory," Richards' "visual survey of vintage computers" (with text by John Alderman), was published this month by Chronicle Books. The reason it took 3 1/2 years from start to finish was not that it was time-consuming to take the pictures, but because Richards had to persuade a publisher that he could pull off a photo book about "beautiful computers."

"I had to convince them that this was art," he said.

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