"Nothing Is So Dangerous as Hypothesis": The Mission Héliographique, Photography, and the Spectacle of History
Abstract:This article considers the place of photography within historical discourse by reexamining the maligned 1851 Mission Héliographique , a French government photographic survey of ancient buildings and sites, alongside competing forms of visual representation and contemporaneous theories of photography and historiography. Tracing the epistemologies and ideologies of photography, lithography, and architectural drawing, it contests interpretations of the Mission's work as derivative of earlier image-making systems, instead attributing the Second Empire's rejection of these photographs to perceptions of photography's evidentiary value and temporal disruption. Unlike a lithograph or drawing, the photograph's presumed spatial and temporal specificity contradicted efforts under Napoleon III to construct French cultural memory around ancient monuments as signs of historical continuity and unified national identity. This article combines close comparative analysis of mid-nineteenth-century drawings, lithographs, and photographs with conceptions of history, memory, and photography developed by Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, Jules Michelet, William Henry Fox Talbot, and others.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: November 1, 2010
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