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  • La plaque photographique – Un outil pour la fabrication et la diffusion des savoirs (XIXe–XXe siècle) [The photographic plate: A tool for the production and diffusion of knowledge (19th–20th centuries)] ed. by Denise Borlée and Hervé Doucet
  • Amandine Gabriac (bio)
La plaque photographique – Un outil pour la fabrication et la diffusion des savoirs (XIXe–XXe siècle) [The photographic plate: A tool for the production and diffusion of knowledge (19th–20th centuries)] Edited by Denise Borlée and Hervé Doucet. Strasbourg: Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, 2019. Pp. 476.

This volume holds the proceedings of a colloquium held in Strasbourg (France) in 2016. Denise Borlée and Hervé Doucet have worked together on the history of art at the University of Strasbourg through its photographic collection, in particular, its projection plates. The work brings together authors from diverse backgrounds, including academics, experts, and curators of museums and collections. Comprising four parts and twenty chapters, La Plaque photographique investigates the use of photographic projection in various pedagogical contexts in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This reflection is part of more general questions about the materiality of photography, the use of projectors and magic lanterns, their conservation, and the enhancement of a sometimes-unknown and recently rediscovered French academic heritage.

Scholars such as Monique Sicard, Lorraine Daston, and Peter Galison have examined scientific images and their use in a pedagogical context since the 1990s, focusing on objectivity. Other research has zoomed in on stereoscopic photographs and their use for entertainment. This work contributes to these fields, presenting multiple perspectives and specific examples. The authors study and compare the use of the photographic plate as a "polysemic object," linking it as a source of knowledge for historians of pedagogy and science, but also for those interested in the economic, technical, and commercial issues with projection practice (p. 351). There is much here to interest historians of technology: the story not only traces a photographic medium and its uses, but also the relationships between visual culture, the history of knowledge, and the history of techniques through those who used them. It answers important questions such as: who ordered these plates, and for what uses? Who were these photographers? What was communicated through these visual aids? The authors are not just interested in the subjects photographed but also in the producers of these images and the modalities of their projection: how quickly did they scroll images? What type of projector did they use, and how did they adjust the light, for example, at the Trocadero Museum of Ethnography in Paris? [End Page 288]

The book also tells the story of a mediator of knowledge and ideals, a means of representing the world and transmitting it. It focuses on "pedagogical inventions" and the success of projection plates, which depended on the fidelity of the images produced and their "didactic effectiveness," which in turn relied on the quality of "listener-spectators," that is to say, the audiences (p. 27). Several chapters investigate how projection plates were used for teaching certain disciplines at university, especially art history, archaeology, earth science, and architecture. For example, it is interesting how photographer Adolphe Braun revolutionized the teaching of technical drawing in the textile industry. Photography provided new images of flowers that replaced engravings for training draftsmen, yet there are few traces of this use by direct testimony.

Some of the authors analyze learned societies' use of plates: lecturers attracted large audiences by using images to illustrate their talks. This fascination with images, along with their tendency to permeate memory, are good reasons for using them in primary education. Equally, images demonstrate and lend weight to discussions on explorations and discoveries in economic and physical geography.

Although some chapters analyze the same actors and institutions, the volume offers an interesting synthesis of recent research on bygone pedagogical practices from over half a century ago and their conservation in French university collections.

Amandine Gabriac

Amandine Gabriac is a Ph.D. student in history at the Université de Paris and in charge of valuating the historical archives of the French Patent and Trademark Office. Her work focuses on nineteenth-century inventors of patented photography.

Citation: Gabriac, Amandine...


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pp. 288-289
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