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Nature Exposed

Photography as Eyewitness in Victorian Science

Jennifer Tucker

Publication Year: 2006

In Nature Exposed, Jennifer Tucker studies the intersecting trajectories of photography and modern science in late Victorian Britain. She examines the role of photograph as witness in scientific investigation and explores the interplay between photography and scientific authority. Almost immediately after the invention of photography in 1839, photographs were characterized as offering objective access to reality—unmediated by human agency, political ties, or philosophy. This mechanical objectivity supposedly eliminated judgment and interpretation in reporting and picturing scientific results. But photography is a labor-intensive process that allows for, and sometimes requires, manipulation. In the late nineteenth century, the nature of this new technology sparked a complex debate about scientific practices and the value of the photographic images in the production and dissemination of scientific knowledge. Recovering the controversies and commentary surrounding the early creation of scientific photography and drawing on a wide range of new sources and critical theories, Tucker establishes a greater understanding of the rich visual culture of Victorian science and alternative forms of knowledge, including psychical research.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-xii

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pp. 1-16

Ever since its invention in the 1830s, many have seen photography as a medium of truth and unassailable accuracy. Photographs have been used by scientists to map the planets, by police to identify criminals, and by magazine editors to document events around the world. Photographs are able to represent phenomena that are invisible or difficult to see with the naked eye, whether bacteria...

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1. Constructing Science and Brotherhood in Photographic Culture

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pp. 17-64

Photography, by the end of the nineteenth century, was a well-established method for documenting different aspects of the city: its streets, people, and monuments. A photograph taken by Scottish photographer James Valentine between 1870 and 1880 shows London Bridge teeming with people and commerce (Fig. 1.1). The capital city of London was the scene of rapid innovations...

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2. Testing the Unity of Science and Fraternity

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pp. 65-125

From the late 1850s on, the press reported numerous cases of mistaken photographic identity, particularly in metropolitan cities. Although readers learned about many people who were arrested solely on the basis of a photograph, they also learned about mixed success with photographs as a test of identification. They discovered, for example, that a solicitor sued the sheriff of Surrey for false...

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3. Acquiring a Scientific Eye

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pp. 126-158

Meteorological photography, one of the fastest growing and publicly visible areas of scientific photography during the second half of the nineteenth century, resembled spirit photography in its reliance on a network of skilled amateur and professional photographers. Developing at the nexus of landscape painting, drawing, and amateur nature photography, serious interest in meteorological...

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4. Photography of the Invisible

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pp. 159-193

An 1882 Photographic News essay, “What Photography Does for Science,” compared the proliferation of photography during the late 1870s and early 1880s to the hierarchies within the rising Victorian labor market for domestic service. Roughly forty years after its invention, the author wrote, the camera was no longer an “upper-servant” but rather a “maid of all work.” After elaborating...

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5. Photographic Evidence and Mass Culture

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pp. 194-233

For hundreds of years, astronomers and members of the lay public had speculated about the possibility of life on other planets. In May 1905, the “proof ” appeared in the first successful photographs of Mars, made by amateur planetary astronomer and wealthy businessman Percival Lowell. Around the world, newspapers and magazines published reproductions of the photographs with...

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Epilogue: Enlarging the Concept of Photographic Evidence

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pp. 234-240

It is more important than ever at this historical and political moment to consider the complex ways in which knowledge based on photographs is appropriated, resisted, and transformed by different groups. Visual arguments and evidence are central role to a range of policy and institutional activities today. More than a decade after the Rodney King trial in Southern California and in...


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pp. 241-272

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Essay on Sources

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pp. 273-284

This essay reviews the photographic collections, organizational and private papers, books, newspapers, journals, and other sources used to research this book. For articles in newspapers, magazines, and scientific and medical journals, the reader is directed to specific references in the notes...


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pp. 285-294

E-ISBN-13: 9781421413211
E-ISBN-10: 1421413213
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421410937
Print-ISBN-10: 1421410931

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 68 halftones
Publication Year: 2006