Cover image for Photography and Other Media in the Nineteenth Century Edited by Nicoletta Leonardi and Simone Natale

Photography and Other Media in the Nineteenth Century

Edited by Nicoletta Leonardi and Simone Natale

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ISBN: 978-0-271-07915-8

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256 pages
7" × 10"
41 b&w illustrations
2018

Photography and Other Media in the Nineteenth Century

Edited by Nicoletta Leonardi and Simone Natale

“This groundbreaking volume embodies a major shift in the historiography of photography. These first-rate contributions bring to bear the intellectual resources of the numerous disciplines that must inform the holistic study of photography in the future. Taken together, a new approach emerges, one in which photography's status as a medium is not taken for granted and in which its boundaries are defined dynamically by its interactions with other forms of representation and communication in the nineteenth century.”

 

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In this volume, leading scholars of photography and media examine photography’s vital role in the evolution of media and communication in the nineteenth century.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the introduction of telegraphy, the development of a cheaper and more reliable postal service, the rise of the mass-circulation press, and the emergence of the railway dramatically changed the way people communicated and experienced time and space. Concurrently, photography developed as a medium that changed how images were produced and circulated. Yet, for the most part, photography of the era is studied outside the field of media history. The contributors to this volume challenge those established disciplinary boundaries as they programmatically explore the intersections of photography and “new media” during a period of fast-paced change. Their essays look at the emergence and early history of photography in the context of broader changes in the history of communications; the role of the nascent photographic press in photography’s infancy; and the development of photographic techniques as part of a broader media culture that included the mass-consumed novel, sound recording, and cinema.

Featuring essays by noteworthy historians in photography and media history, this discipline-shifting examination of the communication revolution of the nineteenth century is an essential addition to the field of media studies.

In addition to the editors, contributors to this volume are Geoffrey Batchen, Geoffrey Belknap, Lynn Berger, Jan von Brevern, Anthony Enns, André Gaudreault, Lisa Gitelman, David Henkin, Erkki Huhtamo, Philippe Marion, Peppino Ortoleva, Steffen Siegel, Richard Taws, and Kim Timby.

“This groundbreaking volume embodies a major shift in the historiography of photography. These first-rate contributions bring to bear the intellectual resources of the numerous disciplines that must inform the holistic study of photography in the future. Taken together, a new approach emerges, one in which photography's status as a medium is not taken for granted and in which its boundaries are defined dynamically by its interactions with other forms of representation and communication in the nineteenth century.”
“This timely and refreshing book challenges the introspective ‘media exceptionalism’ that often accompanies photographic studies. Instead it places photography firmly within the broad field of cultures of communicative technology, from the telegraph to postal systems, enriching the understanding of all these entangled practices.”

Nicoletta Leonardi is Professor of Art History at Albertina Academy of Fine Arts, Turin, and the author of Il paesaggio americano dell’Ottocento: Pittori, fotografi e pubblico.

Simone Natale is Lecturer in Communication and Media Studies at Loughborough University and the author of Supernatural Entertainments: Victorian Spiritualism and the Rise of Modern Media Culture, also published by Penn State University Press.

Contents

List of Illustrations

Acknowledgments

Introduction (Nicoletta Leonardi and Simone Natale)

Part I: The Emergence of Modern Communications

1. Elephans Photographicus: Media Archaeology and the History of Photography (Erkki Huhtamo)

2. A Mirror with Wings: Photography and the New Era of Communications (Simone Natale)

3. The Traveling Daguerreotype: Early Photography and the U.S. Postal System (David M. Henkin)

4. The Telegraph of the Past: Nadar and the Time of Photography (Richard Taws)

5. With Eyes of Flesh and Glass Eyes: Railroad Image-Objects and Fantasies of Human-MachineHybridizations in the Mid-Nineteenth-Century United States (Nicoletta Leonardi)

Part II: Technologies of Reproduction

6. Peer Production in the Age of Collodion: The Bromide Patent and the Photographic Press, 1854–1868 (Lynn Berger)

7. Two or Three Things Photography Did to Painting (Jan von Brevern)

8. Uniqueness Multiplied: The Daguerreotype and the Visual Economy of the Graphic Arts (Steffen Siegel)

9. Photographs in Text: The Reproduction of Photographs in Nineteenth-Century Scientific Communication (Geoffrey Belknap)

Part III: Popular Cultures

10. In the Time of Balzac: The Daguerreotype and the Discovery/ Invention of Society (Peppino Ortoleva)

11. Sound Photography (Anthony Enns)

12. Photography, Cinema, and Perceptual Realism in the Nineteenth Century (Kim Timby)

13. The Double-Birth Model Tested Against Photography (Andre Gaudreault and Philippe Marion

Afterword: Media History and History of Photography in Parallel Lines (Geoffrey Batchen and Lisa Gitelman

Bibliography

List of Contributors

Index

From the Introduction

Nicoletta Leonardi and Simone Natale

In Media and the American Mind, a seminal work for media history published in 1982, Daniel J. Czitrom argued that the era of modern communication in the United States was inaugurated by the introduction of the telegraph in 1844. In an attempt to explore “how media of communications have altered the American environment over the past century and a half,” he focused on the advent of telegraphic technology, on the rise of the motion picture at the turn of the twentieth century, and on the development of American radio from wireless through broadcasting. In a book whose time frame is 1844 to 1940, it is curious that almost no reference is made to photography, which is mentioned in passing only as a precondition for the appearance of another medium, cinema.

More than thirty years later, media history has become an established field of inquiry, supported by dedicated journals, associations, and conferences. Topics of interest to media historians include technologies as different as telegraphy, telephony, radio, television, film, sound recording, and digital media. More broadly, a systemic approach has emerged within this discipline, which not only explores the relationship and intersections between different media but understands media as an integrated field of technologies, systems, and artifacts that can only be studied in its entirety. Yet, in this context, photography has remained a neglected subject. An integrated approach to the history of photography and media is still much needed.

Conceived by two scholars who have different training and work in different disciplinary environments, art history and media studies, this book is built upon the assumption that a media history that fully and programmatically includes photography in its field of interest can make a substantial contribution to the discussion of the history of this medium. The word “other” in the volume’s title, Photography and Other Media in the Nineteenth Century, is intended provocatively. It reflects the need to overcome artificial distinctions among “individual” media in favor of an integrated approach. In fact, the evidence and reflections collected here show that any medium is not just one thing but many, depending on its meanings and its uses, and demonstrate the need for further examination of photography’s insertion into nineteenth-century media systems and cultures, as well as for consideration of its links and exchanges with the many “other” media of the time. Such endeavors promise to be stimulating and productive challenges for scholars in different disciplines, such as media historians, historians of photography, art historians, historians of science, visual and material anthropologists, material culture scholars, and cultural geographers.

Written from a cross-disciplinary perspective and having as its main object of inquiry the relationship between photography and other media, this volume moves away from the notion of an autonomous history of photography. It points to the opportunity of decentering the dominant narratives of canonical and new histories of photography, in the attempt to build a more inclusive, diversified, and empirically oriented approach to the study of photographs and photographic apparatuses. While this volume focuses on Western cultures and places, the contributors offer insights into the potentials and promises of a perspective that, we hope, will continue to be explored in the future, as the study of photography in Western and non-Western societies develops from different methodological, theoretical, and disciplinary viewpoints.

The book covers a time frame that runs roughly from the invention of photography (an event that, like most inventions, can only be arbitrarily dated, in this case to the year 1839) until the end of the nineteenth century. The borders of this periodization are flexible, however, and occasional excursions before and after these time limits are included. While starting with the introduction of photography might be an obvious choice—although arguably a tricky one—the end of the nineteenth century is only one of many potential end points for our time frame. Yet media historians have often considered media as “a nineteenth-century invention.” It is in this period that one might uncover the foundations of modern media culture—defined by Erkki Huhtamo as “a cultural condition where large numbers of people live under the constant influence

of media.” If ongoing processes of technological and institutional convergence in the digital age have stimulated scholars of photography to look beyond the borders of their discipline, this book serves as a reminder of the fact that photography and other media have been converging and mingling for a long time—indeed, they have always done so. Both the 1830s–1840s and the 1880s–1890s are periods marked by what media historians have defined as “explosive innovations” in the field of communication. Photography, rapid typographical techniques powered by steam engines, the telegraph, and the postage stamp were introduced between the 1830s and the 1840s. At the end of the nineteenth century, photography was entirely redefined due to the emergence of new forms of collective entertainment, such as the cinematograph, along with the appearance of fast newspaper-folding machines; the linotype; the typewriter; the gramophone; Edison’s Kinetoscope; the telephone; radiotelegraphy; new literary genres; sports such as baseball, rugby, and football; modern advertising agencies; and new journalistic formulas. Yet a history based on inventions and “new media” is only one among the many possible narratives through which we can make sense of media change throughout the nineteenth century and beyond. As Gaudreault and Marion rightly point out, media are born not just once but two or multiple times, as they are constantly renovated on technological, cultural, social, and institutional levels. The history of photography, in this regard, is a history of continuous change, a history that can be told only by combining, rather than contrasting, the ideas of rupture and continuity. Several contributions in this volume engage with the implications and the inescapable contradictions that result from the encounter between different media and practices. In pointing to the complex relationship between rupture and continuity, as well as between the “old” and the “new,” they offer an escape from the otherwise limiting boundaries of historical narratives based on the idea of technological revolutions. In the last few years, a rising corpus of works addressing nineteenth-century photography from a perspective complementary to our own has emerged, offering an important context and inspiration to us and other researchers who are working in this direction. Scholars have started to investigate photography’s insertion within the broader context of media history, looking at the photographic medium in relationship with the history of communications, print culture, and the news. Moreover, a range of theoretical and methodological explorations have pointed toward new directions and possibilities for conceiving the history of photography and, more broadly, the humanities and social sciences. Perhaps the most relevant of these explorations is the wide shift in the study of society and culture that has been labeled the “material turn.” Until relatively recently, the most prevalent tendency within the history of photography has been to consider images as an essentially visual phenomenon. The materiality of images has been predominantly conceived of as a mere support for their textual productivity, for their status as commodities, and for the analysis of their meanings as expressions of dominant ideologies projected onto them. The physical presence of photographs has been mostly overlooked or addressed in terms of connoisseurship and conservation. Furthermore, the history of photography has so far been constructed primarily as a history of images and authors. Cameras, supports, presentational forms, modes of distribution, and so forth have been largely overlooked. Contrary to such tendencies, the impact of the material turn has brought about the idea that a material perspective is essential to looking at the history of this medium. Starting in the late 1990s, scholars working within the history of photography have produced groundbreaking studies on the materiality of photographs.

Issues of materiality have recently gained centrality in the fields of media history and media studies too. Authors such as Lisa Gitelman and Jonathan Sterne have deepened a perspective that addresses different media technologies as complex sociotechnological artifacts whose material nature influences the way they are used and actively interpreted by audiences and users. In this regard, a theoretical framework that relies on the study of material culture promises to be a powerful tool for fostering dialogue and mutual exchange between scholars in the fields of media history and the history of photography. As Jennifer Roberts rightly emphasizes in her recent book on the movement of images in early America, mobility is a function of materiality: in other words, the material character of photographs is the condition that ensures the limits and reaches of their movement in space (as well as time). Yet, while Roberts posits a rigid distinction between new electrical media emerging since the nineteenth century, starting with the telegraph, and the “stubborn materiality” of analog pictures, media scholars have shown that materiality is an element that shapes the movement of information in all media. Even digital media, in fact, move and exchange information through physical changes that possess their own materiality—although this might not be immediately evident to our senses.

Within media studies, a powerful impetus for the study of material culture has been given by the work of authors working under the umbrella of media archaeology. Scholars such as Erkki Huhtamo, Jussi Parikka, and Wolfgang Ernst have pointed to the opportunity to combine the skills of the historian with those of the antiquarian, looking at the traces of media culture that can be located beyond written texts, in artifacts and objects to be researched and studied in archives as much as in antique shops, flea markets, private collections, and museums. Although art historians are used to working in such environments and to looking at objects and artifacts as primary sources for their work, the example of media archaeology stimulates the addition of further depth to this enterprise. Huhtamo’s recent monograph on the history of the moving panorama, for instance, is an example of how media archaeologists interrogate artifacts in terms of their visuality, materiality, technology, and context of use. Artifacts—which, in the case of photography, include pictures but also and crucially cameras, photographic supports and materials, reagents, and so forth—can literally be brought back to life by the work of media archaeologists, who do not limit their gaze to the visual, cultural, or technological character of objects, but explore the broader implications of the material turn.

In recent years, moreover, increasing attention has been directed to photographic practices outside the professional and artistic realms, as well as to the productions of groups of individuals such as amateur photography clubs, commercial photographic studios, and researchers from the scientific community. The ways in which photographs circulate and change hands in different social and cultural circles, both within organizations and institutionalized groups and in private and informal contexts, has also come under scrutiny. From this methodological standpoint, studying the work of amateurs can substantially contribute to integrated approaches to the history of photography and media. As indicated by Gil Pasternak, despite the fact that amateur photography has at times been addressed through the notion of the vernacular, this has never produced a decentering of dominant narratives about photographic history. As he puts it, “The canonical and new histories of photography have both paved orthodox courses to tell the story of photography, inserting it into different filing cabinets in a library that fails to record how vital photography has been to private experiences of modern everyday life and public experiences of the ordinary.” In this context, the opportunity for historians of photography to enter into dialogue with studies of the role of amateurship in the history of media such as wireless telegraphy and radio, as well as digital media, is a promising direction that has until now been very little explored.

Another fruitful context of dialogue for scholars interested in the history of photography is the tradition, heralded by Bourdieu’s influential volume on the topic, which focuses on the use and impact of photography from a sociological standpoint. Media history’s transdisciplinary perspective, which combines historical methodologies with sociological perspectives and approaches, offers a powerful encouragement to pursue and further develop this focus. Media scholars interested in inquiring how people integrate different media (including photography) into their experience and everyday life have recently shown how qualitative methods may provide key insights into photography’s social and cultural presence. Historical scholarship can take up this same preoccupation in the attempt to recover and animate the social life of the photographic medium, exploring how it was used and integrated into the experience of people in different times and places. In this book’s opening chapter, pioneering media archaeologist Erkki Huhtamo observes that histories of photography tend to emphasize the medium’s achievement from aesthetic, technological, and cultural points of view. As a consequence, sources that display the problems and difficulties people encounter with photography may be disregarded. Just as ethnographers need all their attention to perceive the full complexities and nuances of what informants and sources tell them, historians need a fresh and receptive mind frame to enter into the fabric of textual, visual, and material sources through which they contribute to building our understandings of the past.

While looking at the drastic changes in the technologies and practices of communication that characterized the nineteenth century—such as the introduction of electric telegraphy and the development of the railway and the postal system—in relationship to and in conjunction with the contemporary emergence of photography, the essays collected in this volume offer theoretical explorations that address the history of photography from fresh viewpoints. The volume is organized in three parts. This structure helps highlight the significance of three processes—communication, reproduction, and dissemination—through which photography is inserted within a broader system of media and communications.

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