Documenting the World: Film, Photography and the Scientific Record




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The University of Chicago Press



Peer reviewed



Imagine the twentieth century without photography and film. Its history would be absent of images that defined historical moments and generations: the Battle of the Somme, the death camps of Auschwitz, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Apollo lunar landing.
The introduction of photography, and subsequently, film in documenting the present created new types of records that altered notions of historical, legal, and scientific evidence, changed interactions among scientists and their subjects, and challenged the very construction and meaning of the archive. Together, the still and moving image helped to instill a documentary impulse that combined the power of science and industry with a particularly utopian (and often imperialistic) belief in the capacity of photography and film to visually capture the world, order it and render it useful for future generations.
In the virtual world of images, it is easy to lose sight of the material dimensions of the film and photographic record left behind in this quixotic quest. But the sheer mass of photograph and film documents that take up space in archives and consume vast resources in their virtual state on the web is a reminder of their material impact. At 100 million images and counting, Corbis, for example, one of the largest sites for one-stop shopping for digital still and moving images, is dependent upon a gigantic physical infrastructure of fiber optic cables, routers, hubs, and servers that greatly expand the material footprint of the archival image. This book is about the material and social life of photographs and films made in the scientific quest to document the world. Each step of documentation—from the initial recording of images, to their acquisition and storage, to their circulation—has physically transformed natural and built environments, altered the lives of human subjects, reconstituted disciplines of knowledge, and changed economic and social relationships. Drawing upon scholars from across the fields of art history, visual anthropology, and science and technology studies, the essays in this volume explore the work that photographs and films do as evidentiary documents, narrative objects, and the stuff of archives spanning more than a century of photographic and film history.


The link below is for the introduction of this book.


photography, film, science, archive, document, material culture, evidence


Wilder, K. and Mitman, G. (2016) Documenting the World: Film, Photography and the Scientific Record. University of Chicago Press: Chicago


Research Institute

Institute of Art and Design