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Hybrid photography in the history of science: the case of astronomical practice

The case of astronomical practice

Omar W. Nasim

Photography is celebrated for having heralded a new epoch. At the heart of this celebration is the feeling that in the history of photography one encounters something profoundly different from all other modes of representation, from all previous forms of media. This feeling continues unabated up to our own time. Take, for instance, Jonathan Crary’s claim that the invention of photography constituted “a vast systematic rupture ... Photography is an element of a new and homogeneous terrain”.1 Crary has coined this “the photography effect”;2 and the rupture, here, marks photography’s fundamental break with older, more traditional media such as painting or drawing. Photography seems to stand alone—a point of view that frames many who write about photography’s role in the history of science.

Placing photography on an island of its own, where it can be compared, if at all, at a safe distance to other media, has been a means of articulating its objectivity and its role as evidence. As one historian of science dealing with photography has put it:

Diagrams could help to inform, maps to chart, drawings and paintings to recognise, but until photography appeared with its promise of a fool-proof objectivity, images could only be illustrative, for they could represent but they could not be used, in their own right, as evidence ... [Photography] produced a paradigm shift.3

The sharp dividing lines to be gleaned from this statement demarcate each medium’s own rightful place, only to highlight photography’s distinct status in relation to objectivity, evidence, and science.

But there is another way to approach photography, at least with respect to the sciences; and that is as an element within an extended research process—as something implicated in the production of knowledge, an element not merely to be looked at, but also to be handled, marked, worked with, and treated at the scientist’s bench.4 When photography is reinserted in to the distinct observational and experimental practices of science, we begin to see something different about photography’s relationship to other modes of representing and presenting. We begin to see how very much fused and entangled photography is with a whole host of other media. Drawing on a series of cases from the history of astronomy, I want to show how scientists fearlessly merged, blended, and fused media. I want to showcase photography’s hybridity particularly as it relates to other more traditional media. Photography does not stand alone.

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Figure 1.1 Francesco Rondoni’s alleged daguerreotype of the Orion Nebula, published in F. de Vico’s report on the nebulae in 1841. Courtesy of the Biblioteca dell’INAF at the Osservatorio Astronómico di Capodimonte in Naples.

To start, let us turn to 1844, when Robert Hunt, the author of Researches on Light, reported that Italian astronomers had taken the first daguerreotype impressions of the nebula in Orion by using a “secret method of receiving photographic images on a lithographic stone”. The image referred to was this (Figure 1.1) by Francesco Rondoni, published in 1841 by the Roman astronomer Father Francesco de Vico.5 For John Herschel, who had just returned to England from the Cape of Good Hope, and with his own exquisite but laborious handmade drawings of the same nebula, Hunt’s declaration must have been startling. When Herschel finally published the results of the Cape observations in 1847, he wrote that were Hunt’s claim true, then “the high authority which a self-impressed picture would claim must necessarily lead to the absolute rejection of ... my own figures”.6 Herschel, however, was suspicious, and quickly ascertained that Hunt was mistaken. The lithographer Rondoni, Herschel explained, had not photographed a nebula, but had “simply” transferred a drawing to the lithographer’s stone by means of a photographic process, perhaps a kind of photolithography (de Vico had said as much in this publication that included a description of Rondoni’s method). Yet it seems that both Herschel and de Vico were also misled by Rondoni’s method, which, in the end, was not photographic at all. Indeed, the first photograph of a nebula was not taken until the fall of 1880 (Figure 1.2), over 40 years after the momentous Paris announcement of photography’s invention. That said, what is striking about this early incident is Herschel’s response: photography would “necessarily lead to the absolute rejection” of any handmade drawing, including his own.

The earliest photograph of a nebula, in this case the Orion Nebula (M42). Produced by Henry Draper on September 30, 1880. Courtesy of the Hastings Historical Society, New York

Figure 1.2 The earliest photograph of a nebula, in this case the Orion Nebula (M42). Produced by Henry Draper on September 30, 1880. Courtesy of the Hastings Historical Society, New York.

However, only a few years later, Herschel offered a more restrained view of things. In a letter about the aims of a newly conceived southern telescope in Melbourne, Australia, Herschel advised that when it came to the nebulae, photography could only be effectively used to “impress on paper a skeleton picture [of] the images of the stars only which might accompany or be disseminated over a given nebula to be delineated [by hand]”.7 Herschel was endorsing a limited role for photography in relation to handmade drawings. In point of fact, Herschel’s suggestion reflected his own sophisticated carefully thought-through procedure of representing nebulae employed previously at the Cape of Good Hope—a sophisticated procedure which he employed before the invention of photography was even known to him. This was a camera-less procedure that relied on measurements made with the telescope to pinpoint the exact relative positions of a few fundamental stars. These stars, once plotted onto paper, become the foundation for the triangulation of all the other information to be entered in by hand and eye, including the faint nebulosity.8 But what Herschel was suggesting in 1853 was to take photographs of the major stars in or around a nebula, instead; so that they could act as the basis for the entry of nebulous material by hand. In other words, Herschel was suggesting ways in which photography might come to aid the act of drawing.

In contrast to Herschel, I will examine some of the ways in which astronomers used drawing as an aid to photography. I am interested in how the act of drawing assisted photography. And though cooperation exists between the two, in Herschel’s suggestion, drawing is still the leading partner, a dance that has its own dynamic. By contrast, the dynamics I will explore are those where photography is the leading partner.

By stressing cooperation in this dance of media, I want to avoid perpetuating hard-and-fast distinctions between drawing and photography, a separation presumed in so much that has been written about these two activities. I do not deny their important differences, but it might be more productive to think at last about how the two were used together, in joint processes, hand in hand, in order to achieve common ends, especially in the name of science.

My primary focus will be on photographs taken of the nebulae. This is for two reasons. For starters, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, one of the most widely regarded triumphs of photography was its successful application to astronomy. And no other object in astronomy was as challenging for photography as the “barely visible” and faint nebulae. In fact, when the nebulae were finally photographed, it was said to have been “the only actually modern achievement of photography”.9 By focusing on the nebulae, therefore, we are in the very heartland of photography’s most acclaimed success. So, when we find hand drawings being made directly within this heartland of photography’s triumph, we are forced to take notice and investigate. Second, because, unlike objects in many other sciences where photography and drawing operated together, nebulae could not be simply taken in hand and examined; nor could they be sliced or diced, stained or prepared, as microscopic objects were.

But before we get to the nebulae, let me begin with the foundations of all else to follow, namely, the stars. In 1888, Agnes M. Clerke proclaimed in her celebration of “sidereal photography” that the “impressions on the sensitive [photographic] plate are cumulative as well as permanent”.10 This was said in the context of explaining the progress of stellar photography and its culmination in the Carte du Ciel project—a major, international, multi-observatory project to photographically chart all the stars of a certain predetermined magnitude in the heavens.11 Over ten years after Clerke’s declaration—and in dramatic contrast to it—one of the chief astrophotographers of the day, Isaac Roberts, complained that “the records obtained by photography are peculiarly liable to be lost by accidental breakage of the glass negatives. Besides this there is a certainty that after the lapse of a limited number of years the gelatine films will become discoloured; the images will fade, and the faint stars and the faint nebulosities will entirely disappear from view”.12 So, for instance, on February 15, 1886, a photograph was taken of a specific region of the sky. Roberts counted 403 star-images on the resulting negative. Nine years later, Roberts again counted the number of stars on the same negative, and found only 272—131 stars had simply disappeared! The solution, thought Roberts, was to find a way to retain the information on these plates by using the “printer’s ink”.

But the problem was not only the stars’ disappearance. If stellar photography were to be useful then star-images would have to be “perfectly round” in order to serve as mathematical points and the basis for measurement. But the attainment of circular dots for star-images, was, as one astronomer put it, “the greatest of all the difficulties of a practical character”.13 Assuming one could distinguish tiny—sometimes, microscopic—stars from the grain and specks found on the same plate, there was still the fact that the star-images would often turn out to be asymmetrical, elongated, or over-exposed. These deformed images of stars were considered to be inconsistent with the kind of precision that was expected, and were sometimes simply thrown out.

Roberts’ solution to these problems was to construct a tracing machine, or what he called a “stellar pantograver”14 (Figure 1.3). This was a device that allowed him to accurately transfer stars from a glass plate to a copper plate, which transferred not just the stars but also their exact relative positions and magnitudes. To do this, the pantograver was equipped with a microscope and a micrometer with fine lines to bisect

Isaac Roberts’ “stellar pantograver”, a device used to transfer star-images found on a photographic glass plate onto the copper plate for printing and thus preservation

Figure 1.3 Isaac Roberts’ “stellar pantograver”, a device used to transfer star-images found on a photographic glass plate onto the copper plate for printing and thus preservation. From Roberts’ “On an Instrument for Measuring the Positions and Magnitudes of Stars on Photographs and for Engraving them upon Metal Plates, with Illustrations of the Method of using the Instrument” (1888), plate 1.

a star’s image at its center. As the center was determined using the micrometer on the negative, a finely tuned appendage equipped with a steel pin carrying a diamond point simultaneously slid over the copper plate. Once the arms were exactly positioned in correspondence to both plates, the diamond point was used to engrave a dot of varying sizes, each corresponding to different apparent magnitudes. The process could be reversed so as to check for errors. The engraved stars could thus be printed and thus preserved in the usual way.

So much for the stars, at least for the moment. Let us now turn to the nebulae. When it came to photographing them, for a long time the challenge remained this: to capture on one and the same photographic plate the fine gradations of nebulosity along with perfectly round stars. Having both on the same glass plate would be a huge advantage in measuring what was long regarded to be simply immeasurable. But it remained a challenge, because the telescopes intended for stellar photography required long focal lengths, while those used in nebular photography used much shorter focal lengths. In addition to this, to capture the light of the nebulae, gelatin dry plates had to be constantly and uniformly exposed for many hours at a time. In contrast, plates used to capture the light of a star were typically exposed for only a few minutes at a time. As a result, many stars that did emerge on a negative for a nebula were often asymmetrical, elongated, or just over-exposed—and thus useless for the purposes of measurement.

To begin with, one sometimes encounters such drawings made from photographs (Figure 1.4a). Here, we have a drawing made by Roberts of the famous spiral nebula, M51. It was made after a photograph of the spiral, previously taken (Figure 1.4b). However, as a mere outline drawing, its main purpose was to enable Roberts to


(a) An outlined drawing of a photograph of M51 used by Isaac Roberts to provide labels, measures, and scale to the object

Figure 1.4 (a) An outlined drawing of a photograph of M51 used by Isaac Roberts to provide labels, measures, and scale to the object. From Roberts’ Photographs of Stars, Star-Clusters and Nebulae (1900) between pages 108 and 109. (b) Isaac Roberts’ photograph of M51 that formed the basis of the previous drawing. From Roberts’ Photographs of Stars, Star-Clusters and Nebulae (1900), plate 15.

Hybrid photography in science 17 compare the rough measurements made of the object with those made by others, such as Lord Rosse’s famous hand drawings of the same object. But for our purposes, a much more interesting case is the first photograph made of M51, because by the 1880s, the spiral character of this object was in serious doubt. Lord Rosse (William Parsons or the third Earl of Rosse) had first discovered the spiral character of some nebulae in 1845, using the largest telescope of the nineteenth century: a reflector with a speculum of 72 inches in diameter. By the 1880s, some keen observers, using much smaller telescopes, could find and draw the object, but not its spirality; thus, doubts arose. The common response to these doubts was simple: one just required a larger telescope to see the spirals with.15 The first photograph of M51 was made with an exposure time of 2 hours and 35 minutes, on April 11, 1888 (Figure 1.5). Aside from confirming the existence of the spiral structure, this photograph was taken with a small reflector telescope with a mirror of only 10 inches. As a result of the small aperture used for this photograph, the dimension of its image on the negative was less than 4 mm across. Typically, one enlarged such small photo-images by means of photography. In this case, however, because of the ratio of the image to the particles of silver that formed it, the glass plate could not be enlarged without losing all relevant details. So, it was in conjunction with a microscope that an enlarged drawing was made by hand of the spiral’s photo-image. Given the current historiographical state of the literature on photography in science, one may be tempted to believe that the use of enlarged drawings served only for the purposes of print and publication.16 But the article, which originally presented these engravings to the world, belies this

A hand drawing executed by an engineer working at the Royal Potsdam Observatory S

Figure 1.5 A hand drawing executed by an engineer working at the Royal Potsdam Observatory S. Widt using a microscope on a photograph of M51 by the Hungarian astronomer Eugene von Gothard. In Vogel’s “Uber die Bedeutung der Photographie zur Beobachtung von Nebelflecken” (1888), figure 4.

interpretation, since it is principally composed in relation to a number of other drawings of nebulae.17 Each is carefully compared to the other. The task is not to put to shame or reject the drawings, but to use them in relation to the engraving of a drawing of a photograph in order to come to a more complete understanding of the object and the modes of its representation. The engraved drawing of a photograph is thus an instrument of comparison, a research tool.

Difficulties with enlarging photographs of the nebulae continued well into the twentieth century. And the solution to this problem continued to be the use of handmade drawings. Take, for instance, Heber Curtis’s article of 1918 on the planetary nebulae. Curtis was a leading observer working at the world’s premier institution for astrophotography, Lick Observatory in California. The chief purpose of Curtis’s paper was to present a variety of the forms assumed by planetary nebulae, a class of nebulae of “considerable value” in understanding the natural history of the heavens.18 When one turns to the published illustrations, one encounters a total of 78 figures (Figure 1.6). However, what at first glance appears to be prints made of photographs turns out on closer inspection to be prints made of drawings. In fact, of the 78 figures, 61 are drawings, while the remaining 17 are photographs. Given that we are already in the twentieth century and at the premier observatory for astrophotography—to say nothing of the advances made in photographic technologies and the hundreds of

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Figure 1.6 Heber D. Curtis’ comparative technique, showing drawings and photographs of the same object as a means to enrichen what is seen. From Curtis’ “The Planetary Nebulae” (1918), plate 12.

Hybrid photography in science 19 successful photographs taken of the nebulae by this time—when we find drawings and photographs in such proximity, in a major scientific publication, we are compelled once again to ask: What is going on?

Planetary nebulae were especially interesting to astronomers because it was thought that an analysis of their different structures and morphologies might reveal their age and distance, thus providing a hint as to the age and size of the universe. The sharp contrasts to be seen in them between bright regions and very faint or dark ones were clear markers to work from. Now considering the original size of the image in the negative, any enlargement would jeopardize these crucial structures. But what is more is that in order to bring out an object’s varying details on the photographic plate, radically different exposure times were required, ranging from seconds to hours. The catch was that all these different exposures, and the corresponding details, could not be captured on one and the same glass plate: “no single photograph of the object,” explained Curtis, “will give an adequate representation of all the details of the nebula”.19

After many experiments, Curtis adopted what he considered to be “the most satisfactory method”, namely, the use of composite white crayon or chalk drawings done on black paper. This is how Curtis describes the process:

For each planetary a series of negatives of widely different exposure times was secured, so planned as to give a legible photographic record of both the brighter nuclear portions and the fainter peripheral details. The range of exposures was determined by trial, and frequently, on the same object, from a few seconds to two hours. The drawings are composite in that I have endeavored to combine in a single sketch all the details visible in all the negatives of a given object... In many cases the sketches give a better idea of the sum total of the structural features of a planetary than an enormously enlarged photograph could have done.20

Three observations are warranted here. First, Curtis’s composite drawings are actually used to advance a process begun by photography. The media complement one another in the pursuit of images suitable to the scientific gaze. Second, although Curtis’s drawings are sometimes paired with photographs (Figure 1.7), Michael Lynch’s heuristic notion of “juxtaposed pairings” is not helpful here because it is premised on insurmountable differences between photography and drawn diagrams. For Lynch, drawings are “parasitic” on photographs, and depend on the latter’s surplus of information—drawings are said to merely simplify and abstract.21 In contrast, Curtis’s pairings emphasize a process that maintains fluidity between the two media rather than dividing them. In fact, they show how drawings might even be used to compound complexity, rather than simplify. Finally, and in connection to the last point, these drawings contribute to a larger research process, one that does not simply end with drawings of photographs. The drawings, in point of fact, were used as instruments of comparison within another distinct experimental procedure, besides the observational one. Using a series of experiments with light reflected at different angles, through an opaque solution in glass containers of different shapes and sizes, Curtis attempted to derive three-dimensional forms that would help to explain the nebular morphologies presented in his flat drawings (Figure 1.8). He was keen, in other words, to escape the bonds of the flat, two-dimensional image and enter into their three-dimensionality. He was aided in this by the fact that the results of the experiments with glass, light, and solution were represented using exactly the same

Fig. 46

A closer look at Heber Curtis’ comparison of a drawing

Figure 1.7 A closer look at Heber Curtis’ comparison of a drawing (on left) and a photograph (right) of the planetary nebula Lyra. Curtis remarks in the caption for this pair of images on the richness and complexity of the drawing over that of the photograph. From Curtis’ “The Planetary Nebulae” (1918), plate 17.

Fig. 46a

One of a series of figures showing the results of experiments meant to model the three-dimensional appearance of the planetary nebulae

Figure 1.8 One of a series of figures showing the results of experiments meant to model the three-dimensional appearance of the planetary nebulae. These figures, like the drawings of the nebulae, are also depicted using chalk and black ground. From Curtis’ “The Planetary Nebulae” (1918), plate 25.

Hybrid photography in science 21 media as the drawings of the nebulae—white chalk on black paper—and thereby facilitated comparison and assessment, judgment and inference. Images are thus used as tools which tend to multiply and “cascade”. These are what I have called elsewhere, “working images.”22 And as Latour has put it when referring to such “representation chains” in science: “An isolated scientific image is meaningless, it proves nothing, says nothing, shows nothing, has no referent. Why? Because a scientific image ... is a set of instructions to reach another one down the line”.23 Photography is not exempt and we see it also cascade into pairings of intermedialhybridity especially when meaning is laboriously derived for its many surfaces. Far from being averse to this free mixing, photography in the history of science was made into a tool precisely thanks to this hybridity.24

Let us return to the nineteenth century. Isaac Roberts had already appreciated the significance of combining photographs of one object in order to stabilize what was supposed to be seen. In writing about two negatives of the nebula in Orion, he proclaimed that the two taken together show the nebula “more completely and truly than it was previously known”.25 In 1895, a year after Roberts’ assertion, William Pickering, an astronomer at the Harvard Observatory, published one of the most extraordinary examples of this principle.26 Before I conclude, then, let me say a few words about Figure 1.9, a print of Pickering’s hand-drawn map of the nebula in Orion. There is so much contained in this contour map that much of what I have said up to this point has been meant to prepare us to better understand it. However, for lack of space, there is no way I can describe all it contains. So, permit me to limit myself to some of its most important features.

Using multiple telescopes, Pickering obtained 22 plates of the Orion nebula. From among the negatives taken with these telescopes, Pickering selected eight in total. Each of the eight plates was exposed to the light of the nebula at different times, between 1887 and 1889. In addition to coming from different times, telescopes, and sites around the world, each was made using standard, commercial emulsions. The eight plates were then divided, so that half became the basis of the drawing and the other half the basis of verification; that is, if a feature of the nebula seen on a plate for drawing could also be found on a plate for verification, it was then confirmed for entry onto a separate piece of paper where the chart was to be entered. From out of the four glass plates used for drawing, one was selected as giving the “best negative” and formed the initial basis of the paper chart—this is the plate numbered B 2312 (Figure 1.10). It is further enlarged (by means of photography), and from it a bromide print is made. This paper print is then attached to another blank piece of white paper. The positions of all the more conspicuous stars on the bromide print are then pricked through with a steel pin, through to the blank piece of paper behind it. Using these pricked holes, or stars, as the standards, the blank piece of paper is provided with lines to form a scaled grid. Afterward, stars and all sorts of other information about the nebulae are extracted from other plates, and are entered by pencil into the sheet of paper, already prepared with pinholes and a grid. What we have, then, are obviously multiple layers of working images incorporated into an elaborate, pre-fabricated observational procedure, that only complicates how photography was used at the scientist’s bench.

It must be noted that on many of the photographic plates the stars appear slightly elongated rather than perfectly round. As we have seen, this would have been a problem for astronomers interested in measurable photographs. Pickering turned this to his advantage by recognizing that when it came to tiny and faint stars, as consistently deformed marks, they might, as such, be distinguished as true stars rather than specks

William H. Pickering’s chart of the Orion nebula, which plots several fundamental pieces of information extracted from a series of photographs of the nebula

Figure 1.9 William H. Pickering’s chart of the Orion nebula, which plots several fundamental pieces of information extracted from a series of photographs of the nebula. From Pickering’s Investigations in Astronomical Photography (1895), plate 4.

One of the fundamental photographs that formed the basis of the previous chart of the Orion nebula. Frontispiece to Pickering’s Investigations in Astronomical Photography (1895)

Figure 1.10 One of the fundamental photographs that formed the basis of the previous chart of the Orion nebula. Frontispiece to Pickering’s Investigations in Astronomical Photography (1895).

or grain inconsistently scattered on these glass plates. But when transferred to paper— either as pricked holes or as drawn dots—misshaped stars become dots or holes. The holes through the paper, which represent standard, foundational stars, are also useful as paper tools that help Pickering to label stars on the reverse side of the paper, so as not to disturb the image with too many marks. But, as seen in the published chart, there remain many kinds of marks, nonetheless. A series of diverse lines—thin or thick, red or black, solid or perforated—are entered so as to represent different kinds of information about the nebula’s complex makeup. This information is extracted from several photographic glass plates, using a variety of techniques—such as the use of a magnifying glass or even microscope and a range of photographic enlargements, only to multiply negatives and thus working images even further. But of particular interest are the red lines or the isophotal contour lines, which are taken from another entirely different batch of photographic plate—a cascade that just continues from the previous ones. These were prepared with a thin sheet of brass, perforated with very fine holes, and exposed, using different telescopes, to the light of the same nebula. The same thing was then done for sensitized plates exposed to the light of a standard lamp whose light intensity was already quantified. The pixilated light of both the photographs of the nebula and the standard lamp are then closely examined by eye so that different intensities of light found throughout the nebula might be ascertained and quantified. This is a fascinating example of the early use of pixilation—the earliest, in fact, that I know of—reminiscent of the ways in which today each pixel of a Hubble image is analyzed for a variety of values, including light intensity.27

Considering the quantity of marks included on Pickering’s map, clutter of inscriptions on the paper with the chart was a serious concern. Given this, the pinholes acted as a paper tool in another way: if the piece of paper studded with the star holes is held up to the light, they brilliantly shine again—as in the heavens—allowing Pickering not to miss any of the fundamental stars now run over by lines, dots, and curves on the paper chart. Far from being novel, pricking holes through stars was an activity already encouraged by some publishers of star charts, earlier in the nineteenth century. A popular one was a set of 12 hand-tinted prints published by James Reynolds of the Strand in 1846 that included a transparent star chart, which could be poked through with a pin, so that when held up to some kind of backlight the stars would shine through.28 Indeed, we find that none other than Etienne-Jules Marey too was keen on poking holes. In Marey’s chronophotographs of leaping men and a series of homme squelette (skeleton man), he was intent on extracting, distilling, and displaying the essentials to the scientific gaze. He did this by producing handmade drawings or “geometric sketches” from photographs (Figure 1.11), so that the drawings, and not

Etienne-Jules Marey’s “geometric sketches” derived from photographs of homme squelette by means of lines and pinholes. From Marey’s Movement (1895), 142, figure 96 Etienne-Jules Marey’s “geometric sketches” derived from photographs of homme squelette by means of lines and pinholes. From Marey’s Movement (1895), 142, figure 96.

Hybrid photography in science 25 the photographs, might operate as final products and standards for research.29 But in order to go from photographs to sketches, Marey instructed his assistant Georges Demeny to poke holes: “poke with a needle on the little negative the points of the hip, knee, and ankle”.30 Like the constellation of stars, the holes pricked through knees, hips, and ankles are connected on paper by pencil or ink lines to produce significant visible forms.

As in Marey’s case, drawing after photographs provided Pickering with a means of synthesizing broad-ranging information from many different kinds of media and sources. But these activities also provided Pickering with paper tools that went hand in hand with an elaborate research process—one fundamentally determined by its photographic basis. I want to end with three general provocations which, though briefly sketched, are packed with significance for how we treat photography’s role in the history of science; as such what follows are what I believe to be some of the positive consequences of taking photography’s hybridity seriously. The first is to draw our attention to the fact that I have resisted the common set of binaries found in works that sharply divide photography and drawing, namely, distinctions such as concrete/ abstract, objective/subjective, complex/simple, and mechanical/manual. I hope to have shown that when both drawing and photography are taken as two collaborative components of an epistemic process, such distinctions are not as helpful as getting a hold on what each is doing in practice in relation to the other. In other words, the re-introduction of such distinctions into our story would actually work against the proper description and evaluation of the cases presented. What we need is to rethink our categories for understanding this joint, hybrid activity.31

Second, while I have primarily focused on drawing’s relationship to photography, I would like to point out that we’ve touched on a variety of media under the heading of drawing, media such as paper, pencil, chalk, pen and ink, pins, and even etching with diamond point. Each of these has its own unique dance—if I may—with photography. One often finds, for instance, markings made with styli directly on photographic plates. Also, directly upon the glass plate’s surface, we find paper pasted on for a variety of purposes, such as labeling and measurement. These multi-media inscriptions may or may not occur on both sides of the photographic plates, which highlights the fact that they were treated as three-dimensional objects, encouraging thereby a different treatment and performance than would two-dimensional prints of photographs. It also indicates that far from being mere “pretty pictures” these photographs were handled within procedures of observation and scientific research—that is, as a part of the production of scientific knowledge rather than just its presentation. Already, it should be apparent that photographs might be treated not only as an image but also as an object, one just as much implicated in the haptic as the material and ontological.32

The final point stems from an observation made by a late nineteenth-century astronomer: it is that photography had ultimately changed astronomy’s “scene of operations”: rather than performing at night at the telescope with pencil and paper and a limited view of the sky, astronomers now operated in altered conditions of work and space. These alterations in the scene of operations thus had implications for drawing, making it a different operation than it was when one drew seated at the telescope and directly from the heavens. In contrast to drawings that were made at the telescope, this meant a new set of performances and postures, architectural spaces and assemblages, and instruments and techniques at the prosaic desk. As old as the act of drawing was, it was remediated and made new again by photography.


The author would like to thank audiences in Manchester, Berlin, Pennsylvania, and Uppsala where previous versions of this chapter were presented. I would also like to thank Nella Ferrigno at the Biblioteca dell’INAF at the Osservatorio Astronómico di Capodi-monte who provided me with hard to find images. And finally, my gratitude to the anonymous reviewer and to the editors of the present volume, whose comments have benefited this paper. Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990), 13.


P. Hamilton and Roger Hargreaves, The Beautiful and the Damned: The Creation of Identityin Nineteenth-Century Photography (Aidershot: Lund Humphries, in association with The National Portrait Gallery, 2001), 57; italics in the original.

In a series of connected papers, I have engaged different dimensions of photo-objects as handled things, see O. W. Nasim, “Handling the Heavens: Things and the Photo-Objects of Astronomy”, in Photo-Objects: On the Materiality of Photographs and Photo-Archives in the Humanities and Sciences, eds. Julia Barnighausen, Costanza Caraffa, Stefanie Klamm, Franka Schneider and Petra Wodtke (Berlin: Edition Open Access, 2019), 161-175; “The Labour of Handwork in Astronomy: Between Drawing and Photography in Anton Pannekoek”, in Anton Pannekoek: Ways of Viewing Science and Society, eds. Chaokang Tai, Bart van der Steen and Jeroen van Dongen (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2019); “James Nasmyth on the Moon; Or on Becoming a Lunar Being without the Lunacy”, in Selene’s Two Faces: From 17th Century Drawings to Spacecraft Imaging, ed. Carmen Pérez González (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2018), 147-187.

Robert Hunt, Researches on Light: An Examination of All the Phenomena Connected with the Chemical and Molecular Changes Produced by the Influence of the Solar Rays... (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1844), 274 and F. de Vico, “Nebulose”, in Memoria intorno ad alcune osservazioni fatte alia specula del Collegia Romano (Rome, 1841), 22-29.

John F. W. Herschel, Results of Astronomical Observations Made During the Years ... (London: Smith & Elder, 1847), 25, fn.

Letter from Sir John Herschel to Mr. Thomas Bell [1853] in Correspondence Concerning the Great Melbourne Telescope, in Three Parts: 1852-1870

For more details about this observational procedure, see O. W. Nasim, Observing by Hand: Sketching the Nebulae in the Nineteenth Century (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2013); and O. W. Nasim, “Astrophotografie und John Herschels ‘Skelette’”, in Zeigen und/oder Beweisent Die Fotografié ais Kulturtechnik und Medium des Wissens, ed. Herta Wolf, Studies in Theory and History of Photography (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2016), 157-178.

A. A. Common, “Photographs of Nebulae”, The Observatory 11 (1888): 390-394; here, 391.

A. Clerke, “Astronomical Photography”, The Sidereal Messenger 7, no. 4 (1888): 138-153; here, 146.

See Lorraine Daston, “The Immortal Archive: Nineteenth-Century Science Imagines the Future”, in Sciences in the Archives: Pasts, Presents, Futures, ed. Lorraine Daston (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 159-182; and Charlotte Bigg, “Photography and Labour History of Astrometry: The Carte Du Ciel”, in The Role of Visual Representations in Astronomy: History and Research Practice, eds. Klaus Hentschel and Axel D. Wittmann (Thun: Harri Deutsch, 2000), 90-106.

Isaac Roberts, Photographs of Stars, Star-Clusters and Nebulae: Together with Records Obtained in the Pursuit of Celestial Photography, vol. 2 (London: The Universal Press, 1900), 15.

B. A. Gould, “Photographic Determination of Stellar Positions”, Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Thirty-Fifth Meeting Held at Buffalo, New York, August 1886 (Salem: The Salem Press, 1887), 74-81; here, 77.

I. Roberts, “On an Instrument for Measuring the Positions and Magnitudes of Stars on Photographs and for Engraving them upon Metal Plates, with Illustrations of the Method of using the Instrument”, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 49 (1888), 5-13.

For more details about this controversy see Nasim, Observing by Hand, chap. 4.

See, for instance, Phillip Prodger, Darwin’s Camera: Art and Photography in the Theory of Evolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

H. C. Vogel, “Ueber die Bedeutung der Photographie zur Beobachtung von Nebelflecken”, Astronomische Nachrichten 119 (1888): 337-342.

H. D. Curtis, “The Planetary Nebulae”, Publications of Lick Observatory, 13 (1918), 55-74; here 57.

Ibid., 57.

Ibid., 57-58.

Michael Lynch, “Science in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Moral and Epistemic Relations between Diagrams and Photographs”, Biology and Philosophy 6 (1991): 205-226; here, 216.

Nasim, Observing by Hand.

Bruno Latour, “What Is Iconoclash? Or Is There a World Beyond the Image Wars?”, in Iconoclash, eds. Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (Karlsruhe: Center for Art and Media, 2002), 1-40, here, 34. In the same volume see also Peter Galison, “Images Scatter into Data, Data Gather into Images”, in Iconoclash, eds. Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (Karlsruhe: Center for Art and Media, 2002), 300-323.

See, for instance, Christopher Morton, “The Graphicalization of Description: Drawing and Photography in the Fieldwork Journals and Museum Work of Henry Balfour”, in Anthropology & Photography, no. 10 (London: Royal Anthropological Institute, 2018).

Isaac Roberts, “Address”, Proceedings Commemorative of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Foundation of the American Philosophical Society (Philadelphia, PA, 1894), 97-104, here, 103.

W. Pickering, “Investigations in Astronomical Photography”, Annals of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College XXXII, Part 1 (1895).

Elizabeth A. Kessler, Picturing the Cosmos: Hubble Telescope Images and the Astronomical Sublime (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2012).

See, for instance, the online collection of the National Maritime Museum:

See Marta Braun, Picturing Time: The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey (1830—1904) (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press 1994), but also Josh Ellenbogen, Reasoned and Unreasoned Images: The Photography of Bertillion, Galton, and Marey (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2012).

Quoted in Josh Ellenbogen, “Camera and Mind”, Representations 101 (2008): 85-115.

A point of inspiration here is the wonderful treatment of photography’s history in Peter Geimer, Inadvertent Images: A History of Photographic Apparitions (Chicago, IL, and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2018).

See especially Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart, “Introduction: Photographs as Objects”, in Photographs Objects Histories: On the Materiality of Images, eds. Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart (London: Routledge, 2004), 1-15.

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