- Associate Professor
- Dickinson College
When Nature Begins to Write Herself: German Romantics Read the Electrophore
The invention of photography was first announced in January 1839. Why it was not discovered earlier is perceived as a mystery. The camera obscura had existed for ages, and in the 1720s a German chemist published a widely read paper on how the darkening of silver salts exposed to light could be applied to the making of images. But only in the last years of the eighteenth century were the first proto-photographic experiments conducted—and then by various researchers working quite independently of one another. This study argues that what made photography possible was not only natural science but the imagination, and that a crucial contribution was made by Romantic thinkers who were captivated by certain image-producing electrical experiments, which they viewed as an example of "nature writing herself."
Printing the Invisible: The Invention of Photography as a Cultural Technique
"Printing the Invisible: The Invention of Photography as a Cultural Technique" studies the birth of photography in the early nineteenth century as an innovation reaching far beyond the scope of a new technology or a novel art form. The concept of a “Kulturtechnik” (a cultural technique) provides a theoretical frame work to investigate a variety of influences participating in the conception of this emerging imaging process. This new examination integrates the canonical considerations of optics, chemistry, and art history with so far unappreciated developments, such as eighteenth-century electrical experiments and Romantic poetry, to reveal how photography originated not so much as a method to copy an existing view or object but as a process to make visible something that could not be seen otherwise.