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Inadvertent ImagesA History of Photographic Apparitions$
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Peter Geimer

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226471877

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226471907.001.0001

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Visibility by Destruction/Disturbance

Visibility by Destruction/Disturbance

Incidents of Photography

(p.31) 2 Visibility by Destruction/Disturbance
Inadvertent Images

Peter Geimer

, Gerrit Jackson
University of Chicago Press

Since the early nineteenth century, every new photographic process has engendered novel and specific forms of disruption as well. This chapter traces these photographic contaminations from the early pictures of the French and English pioneers of photography to the scientists, artists, and amateurs who began to investigate them in the late nineteenth century. Thus, the ambivalence of image noise comes into view: although it initially appeared primarily as an obvious “defect,” “flaw,” or even “enemy,” it very soon also revealed its specific surplus value. Artists like August Strindberg now elaborated an aesthetic of noise and exploited the vicissitudes of the photochemical processes to produce unpredictable images. In the field of scientific photography, researchers recognized that ostensible defects and contaminations frequently turned out to reveal phenomena that had hitherto gone unnoticed. Around 1900, attention increasingly turned to the depiction of objects, fluxes, or radiations that were virtually invisible to the naked eye (distant galaxies, objects in rapid motion, or phenomena like electricity, X-rays, or radioactivity). The highly sensitive photographic materials confronted scientists and amateur photographers with an excessive production of traces whose invisible sources were often virtually undetectable and raised the question of the truth of photography.

Keywords:   noise, contamination, materiality, invisibility

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