Kate Flint on the Technological History of Photography

Flint image

The Media History seminar & Nineteenth Century Studies seminar are pleased to be holding a special joint session featuring Kate Flint talking about the history of photography. We’ll be meeting at 6pm on Thursday February 8 in the Senate Room at Senate House.

“Permeability, agency, and the technological history of photography”

What happens in the permeable area between the human body and a piece of photographic apparatus? This question is crucial to our histories of nineteenth-century photography, and I approach it in two ways. First, I discuss the conceptual and theoretical challenges that I encountered when writing a cultural history of flash photography. Above all, how to weigh up the merits of narrating this history through chemical and material innovations, when the somatic experience of being photographed, and of the choices involved in using this new technology of producing light, were certainly of equal importance? The presence of certain stray hands in flash photographs – ones that hold the technology involved in igniting powder, above all – lead me to my second line of approach. I consider the usefulness of the hand – both as a physical part of an individual, and as a synecdoche – as a means of approaching the conundrum about the interwoven roles of human and mechanical in writing photographic history. The hand proves to be a rhetorical and literal instrument that not only connects eye, brain, and camera, but that helps to articulate the art vs. mechanical reproduction/commercial activity distinctions that are inseparable from this history.

Kate Flint is Provost Professor of Art History and English at the University of Southern California. She has published The Woman Reader, 1837-1914 (Oxford University Press, 1993), The Victorians and The Visual Imagination (Cambridge University Press, 2000), and The Transatlantic Indian 1776-1930 (Princeton University Press, 2008), edited The Cambridge History of Victorian Literature (2012), and written widely on Victorian and modernist fiction, Victorian and early twentieth-century painting and photography, and cultural history.

All are welcome. This seminar is generously supported by the Media History journal, Queen Mary University of London’s English Department, the Institute of English Studies, and the Institute of Historical Research.

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