Photography and the art of science

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Photography and science have a symbiotic relationship; they always have. It was in the context of science that photography was first announced to the public by Francois Arago in 1839. And it was the rhetoric of observation and objectivity that was so beloved of scientists in the mid-nineteenth century that photography very soon acquired. It was, in fact, photography's close ties to science that hindered its bid to claim fine-art status. It is photography's close and continued ties to science that have also been utilised by artists through the decades, artists who played with the concepts of objectivity, truth, documentary and surveying. The author discusses the unique place that photography has taken up in the art of science and the science of art, dwelling on moments when the two appear to be one and the same, and moments where they appear to diverge. Rather than writing a sort of survey, the paper will dip in at various points in history, looking at the debates from various historical perspectives so as to consider the paradigm 'art science' as it has variously been applied to photography. The paper will take up the conflicting rhetorics of passivity and control, mechanical and creative, showing how each is used in its place, but always emphasising the back-and-forth, the give-and-take between science and art. It will be argued that photography's dual nature is exactly what makes it interesting to artists, and what makes it valuable to the sciences.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 2009

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