Desktop version

Home arrow Travel

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font


Fantasy of a world without humans

Jimena Canales

In 2014, an estimated average of 1.8 billion digital images were uploaded to computers every single day.1 This number was only a small percentage of the approximately 700 billion photos taken by humans that year. Historically, these quantities are unprecedented, as “every two minutes, humans take more photos than ever existed in total 150 years ago”.2 Yet they are miniscule when compared to the number of photographs taken by machines, recorded by security cameras, CCTV systems, aerial cameras, and satellites. This vast transformation in contemporary visual culture has not only affected what most humans see on a daily basis and what we consider to be true, but, more importantly, they have changed how we think about ourselves and our existence in the universe.

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth”. We have come a long way rejecting one of the ten Hebrew commandments. Most of the images in circulation today do not feature humans or the human-related forms as their principal subject. They are not even taken by humans. They are not made to be viewed by humans at all. They are very different when compared to the majority of images that have been produced since the dawn of civilization to the eighteenth century. Up to the eighteenth century, human bodies and human culture were most celebrated in the high art of European court culture. For the most part, natural scenes with no presence or no mark of human beings were largely deemed unworthy of representation. Even technical scientific images that did not take human bodies or animals as their subjects included their presence in some way. What changed?

Accounts of our modern condition rarely include the role played by recording instruments in its formation.3 Their absence is stark, especially in comparison to how central these instruments are to advanced technological cultures. If we reintegrate them into our accounts of the modern world, we can see how an orthodox understanding of scientific knowledge and of reality depended on the setting aside of the apparatus from nature and culture.4

The impetus driving the development of many techniques and technologies of representation (from the eighteenth century to the twentieth century) was to catch nature as if no one was there to see it. As a result of the success of this endeavor, imaging processes started to be considered as independent from any and every form of consciousness. The territory that they depicted, although it depended on new technologies of representation, was widely considered as separate and free from wider systems of meaning and webs of interpretation. It was, ostensibly, impervious to the traditional hermeneutical analysis that had been developed to study the work of human authors

Fantasy of a world without humans 175 either aided or unaided by instruments based on Enlightenment categories (such as “oeuvre”, “intentionality”, “talent”, “genius”, and others). It is thus that we came to believe in a world that could be accessed in a way that did not involve cognition at its very basis, and that the concept of “Bild” would lose its relation to “Gestaltung”.


Throughout history, changes in visual culture have affected how philosophers of science and epistemologists think about scientific and practical knowledge. The goal of obtaining knowledge that did not depend on any human observer was a particular strong ideal in the eighteenth century. This knowledge ideal was realized in practice during the nineteenth century with the appearance of new photographic and recording technologies and reached new heights in the twentieth century with the rise of logical positivism as a dominant approach to the philosophy of science.

This knowledge ideal is now largely taken for granted, but its singularity becomes clear when contrasted against alternative ways of conceiving knowledge that were prominent earlier. For example, Thomas Hobbes, in the second part of his Elements of Philosophy (published in 1658), described the process of attaining knowledge as quite the opposite of that of eliminating ourselves from the world. In order to understand how to reason and gain knowledge, one should start by eliminating the world—“feigning the World to be annihilated”—thus leaving only ourselves to consider our selves, a process that he termed Privation-. “In the Teaching of Natural Philosophy, I cannot begin better (as I have already shewn) than from Privation; that is, from feigning the World to be annihilated”.5 His ideal shared some similarities with Descartes’s invitation to start reasoning by considering the world outside as illusory: “I shall consider that the heavens, the earth, colours, figures, sound, and all other external things are nought but the illusions and dreams”, and looking instead inside our minds for clear and distinct truths.6 These aspects of Hobbes’s and Descartes’s philosophy were slowly replaced—until they were ultimately reversed—by new narratives about the rise of modern science that considered knowledge in terms of the elimination of subjectivity.

While in the twentieth century authors from various fields often marveled at the possibility of knowing and showing nature free from humans and from human forms of intervention, in the eighteenth century the value attributed to such depictions was much the reverse: critics underlined the “uninteresting” quality of the “actual”. In his “Critical Reflections on Poetry and Painting” (1719), the writer Jean-Baptiste Dubos, known as l’Abbe Du Bos, considered the meager value of images that showed no presence or mark of human beings. What interest could one have in copying nature in its “actual” state? “The most beautiful landscape, even by Titian or Carracci”, he wrote, “is of no more interest to us than an actual tract of country, which may be either hideous or pleasant”. Why such disregard for images of the empty countryside? Dubos was unapologetic: “Such a painting contains nothing which, as it were, speaks to us; and since we are not moved by it we do not find it of particular interest”.7

Recently art historians have considered Dubos’s comments to be characteristic of a widespread outlook present throughout the seventeenth century, a period when “landscape was not considered a particularly elevated branch of painting”. Landscape, at that time, “was appreciated only in so far as it served as the setting for some human activity”.9

Attempts to eliminate subjectivity from knowledge took many forms. In nineteenth-century astronomy, for example, slight differences in the precision measurements obtained by different observers were considered a source of noxious errors whose source was traced to a “personal equation” associated with each observer. They motivated the creation of some of the first self-registering graphic instruments that would serve as models for many others, from chronography to cinematography. In other scientific fields, the intervention of the human hand in depictions of nature was seen as most problematic.10 By the end of the century, distortions coming from the human mind, in addition to the eye and hand, appeared to contaminate measurements and results. In the early twentieth century, philosophical paeans to the impersonal nature of scientific knowledge abounded. For example, the psychologist Jean Piaget heaped praise on “formal thought”, considering it as only possible by “placing oneself at every point of view and of abandoning one’s own”.11 During these same early twentieth-century decades, the physicist Albert Einstein considered the essence and value of scientific knowledge to be its independence from a human viewer. “The belief in an external world independent of the perceiving subject is the basis of all natural Science”, he stated in 1931.12 The sociologist of science Robert K. Merton, criticizing the aberration of the Deutsche Physik movement of the 1930s, claimed that science’s real virtue lay in its independence from individuals as much as from its autonomy from other sources of “external authority”. Merton considered the distortion affecting science coming from sources of “authority” akin to that from the “personal equation”. “Modern science”, he explained, “has considered the personal equation as a potential source of error and has evolved impersonal criteria for checking such error”.13 More recently, the philosopher Thomas Nagel described this ideal as “a view from nowhere” in a book by that title published in 1986.14 The transformation of knowledge practices away from subjectivity, the personal equation, and particular points of view took place alongside the development of new recording devices that documented the existence of a world independently of particular humans in a manner that was considered to be impersonal and disembodied.

The seventeenth century

The scarcity images without humans in European culture before the eighteenth century is stark when compared to later eras. This is the case even among the pictorial genres that have nothing to do with portraiture or that are unconcerned with illustrating human bodies, such as botanical illustrations, still-life paintings, and maps. Artists and artisans strove to relate them back to human culture, crafting images that to this day remain very different from later ones.

Early modern depictions of flora and fauna drawn by botanists did not attempt to show nature in a state that we now identify as “natural”. On the contrary, most specimens were depicted as transformed, selected, isolated, artfully rearranged, or manipulated by humans. For example, in Robert Thornton’s celebrated Temple of Flora (1807), nature is distinctly anthropomorphized. In still-life paintings, another genre that typically does not include humans, artists focused on nature as produce after it has been hunted, harvested, transported, and rearranged by humans. Flora and fauna was often set next to objects of everyday use, such as silverware and glasses, and on tabletops and in identifiable living quarters. Most seascapes of this time period include ships and boats. Maps covering entire continents often included text, sometimes inside of drawings of ornately carved frames, as well as pictures of humans in autochthonous garbs,


Maps showing the common convention of including people and ships, (a) William Blaeu, ca. 1640; (b) Jan Jansson, ca. 1636

Figure 14.1 Maps showing the common convention of including people and ships, (a) William Blaeu, ca. 1640; (b) Jan Jansson, ca. 1636.

native animals, and ships. These elements were included even when they had to be set at a completely different scale from the depicted territory (Figure 14.1).

Technical drawings of that period—prints and engravings that do not depict people—showed man-made objects: machinery, architecture, arts, and crafts, as was the case in the numerous illustrations of the Encyclopédie. In the rare cases where we do find almost empty landscapes, as in the paintings of Titian, Carracci, and Claude Lorrain, for example, the composition frequently includes man-made objects, are dotted with dwellings (castles, homes, cottages, or archaeological ruins), or are populated by domesticated animals. Even then, some of Lorrain’s most sparse landscapes drew criticism from critics precisely because they threatened the neoclassical principles of ideal art based on exalting human culture and forms.

Media historian Bernhard Dotzler identified in Lorrain’s oeuvre a key turning point in European art.15 While, previously, landscape had been used as a backdrop for narrative figuration it now started to move into the foreground. “It appears that Lorrain used both biblical and mythological figuration only as a pretext for painting landscapes”, instead of the other way around. “Indeed, it is as if he had only landscape in mind—landscape without humans”, he concludes.16

Scientific representations of “landscape” during this period can seem, at first sight, as depictions of empty natural land, yet on closer inspection it becomes clear that they depicted it as something to be accessed, utilized, and opened up to industrialization. Alexander von Humboldt, for example, saw nature through “imperial eyes” as lying in wait for explorers to enter it.17 Another classic example of this time period’s approach to visualizing the “natural” world comes from Johann von Wolfgang von Goethe’s descriptions of plants. The concept of the Urpflanze, as developed in his correspondence, revealed an understanding of “nature” as an archetypal and intellectual construct related to its beholder.18

When did artists start to shift away from neoclassical conventions in the portrayal of nature? In a groundbreaking lecture delivered in 1811 the famous “landscape” painter J.M.W. Turner sought to rehabilitate those part of paintings often “called Backgrounds”, arguing that they should not be considered as nugatory or auxiliary.19 He saw in Lorrain’s genius this revolutionary inversion, where instead of “pictures made up of bits”, Lorrain offered “pictures of bits”.20 For this reason, as well, he forcefully rejected the fleshy depictions of Rubens, whom he accused of “destroying the simplicity, the truth, the beauty of pastoral nature”.21 Yet even he understood the value of landscape as emerging only when carefully selected rather than ordinary or commonplace. “The business of the landscape painter”, he said, was “to select, combine, and concentrate that which is beautiful in nature and admirable in art”.22 Turner continued to deeply disdain “the mean vulgarisms of common low life and disgusting incidents of common nature” associated with most seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish art.23 His interest continued to lay in exposing links between “Landscape, Architecture and Sculpture with History”, clearly stating that “whatever is little, mean and commonplace enters not, or ought not”.24

Photography: erasing humans

The disappearance of humans from various genres of representations was first a technical defect. This deficiency greatly affected the visual culture of the second third of the nineteenth century before it was overcome by the end of the century. When photography was first introduced publicly in the late 1830s it only captured the world without humans—things or beings in motion disappeared from the scene due to long exposure times. One of the earliest daguerreotypes ever taken, known as “Boulevard du Temple” (1838), shocked viewers because a regularly busy, bustling, and sunlit boulevard appeared devoid of all of the people in the scene and the vehicles that carried them to and fro in the Parisian metropolis, except for a lonely shoe-shiner and his client that were left on the plate (Figure 14.2). Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre worked hard to overcome the medium’s deficiency in this respect, prophetically writing in his famous announcement of the medium that, in the future, “even portraits will be made”, as he was endeavoring to reduce exposure times by altering his chemical recipe.

In most of the early accounts of the medium, photography is described in a way that does not account for the apparatus that produces it. The solid body of the camera, its glass lens, or the glass or paper on which the image becomes imprinted are left out of most explanations. What is more, the work done before and after the image-taking act, including transportation and set-up is similarly ignored. The complex process of

Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, Boulevard du Temple, 1838

Figure 14.2 Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, Boulevard du Temple, 1838.

photographing is frequently understood by reference to a simple mirror reflection, without the objects and practices necessary for producing a mirroring effect. In the early days of photography, its “mirroring” qualities were either defended (as in the descriptions of Oliver Wendell Holmes) or contested (as in Lady Eastlake’s writings), but in both cases the “mirroring” qualities emerged as a preeminent motif that persists in later descriptions of recording technologies. Holmes, for example, referred to photography as a “mirror with a memory”, and Lady Eastlake claimed with equally strong conviction that photography was the opposite of a mirror. “An assertion usually as triumphant as it is erroneous”, she explained, is that photography was equivalent to “holding up the mirror to nature”. 5 In both, the material hardware of the mirror, its placement, and its role in everyday practices were left out of their descriptions. Most writers from those years onward would focus on the image (reflection in the mirror) without considering the object and technology that produced it (the mirror itself).26

Landscape photography

We now identify landscape photography with the work of innovators such as Gustave Le Gray, Charles L. Weed, Carleton Watkins, Timothy O’Sullivan, and Ansel Adams, yet the medium itself was particularly well-suited for producing these kinds of images. In Before Photography, art historian Peter Galassi noted how photography shared most similarities with “landscape painting, the class of art that had always held a low place in the academic hierarchy”.27 According to art historian Robin Kelsey, the rise of landscape genres coincided so closely with the rise of photography that “to a remarkable extent, landscape gave rise to photography”.28

Even these landscape photographers, like the artists who inspired and preceded them, often included human culture in their scenes. Timothy O’Sullivan, the official photographer on the United States Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel survey of 1867 to 1869, focused on depicting those aspects of landscapes that could be potentially opened up to further exploration and exploitation by settlers. The photographs of William Henry Jackson, who was employed after O’Sullivan in another government survey, showed the presence of native Americas, as well as potential railroad and navigational routes. In Ansel Adam’s photographs, indigenous populations were largely left out, while settler mining and logging were included. Later, in the work of color nature photographer Eliot Porter, mining and logging were largely out of sight, while dwellings, fencing, hunting, and houses of worship were included.

While humans started to become less prominent in certain kinds of late nineteenth-and twentieth-century genres, they appeared with a new intensity in others, such as in the Cartes de visite of the late nineteenth century. Yet portraiture, because of light and exposure time exigencies, continued to pose distinct technical challenges. Even after the rise of commercial photography, humans continued to be harder to photograph than still land and still life.

Flash and commercial photography

Portraiture required special studios and professional lighting or bright sunlight. Only with the introduction of the flash in commercial cameras could photography be used to represent people and/or landscape indiscriminately. The reduction of the exposure time of film (from minutes to hundredths of a second) swept away many of the technical difficulties of including people in the scene. Humans started to be seen as extras— potentially included or removed from any setting whatsoever. Since then, the fact that the apparatuses themselves do not discriminate between humans and the setting they occupy became a standard characteristic of modern recording devices. Environmental historian Greg Garrard pointed out this characteristic of film, noting how “the ostensible impersonality of the camera—its mechanical indifference, even—makes it possible to bracket out both humans as objects and, to some degree, the human subject in its most obtrusive forms”.29 This particular “indifference” is now shared by many other automatic registering apparatuses beyond film, from smartphone cameras to GoPros. What consequences did photographic cameras’ built-in indifference to picturing people or landscape, which is still characteristic of nearly all modern recording devices, have for our understanding of the world? For one, a growing number of viewers gained a sense of what a world without any human observers might look like as a precondition for picturing the existence of a universe without consciousnesses.

Labor, industrialization, and Kodak

Humans as image-makers and image-subjects became even scarcer with changes in the labor practices required for imaging production. The form of labor involved in image-making and printing techniques changed radically starting in the nineteenth century. With the invention of photography and the steam-driven printing press, the

Fantasy of a world without humans 181 radical simplification of the image-making process became a key quality of modern recording devices, especially in comparison to older laborious copying and drawing techniques. This simplification hardly eliminated human intervention in the creation of images, but it did introduce a new kind of displacement made possible by new forms of division of labor. With the invention of dry-plate photography, the image production process was split into two separate steps with increasingly distinct significance. Taking the image could be done separately from plate preparation and development. Kodak’s widely successful program, characterized by the slogan “you press the button, we do the rest” (coined in 1889), only exacerbated the sense that humans were barely necessary for image production. Their role as image-creators was ostensibly reduced to a simple click. After Kodak moved most of its chemical processing to industrial laboratories, the role of ancillary human laborers in the production of photographs was further hidden from view.

With commercial photography and the development of new printing processes, the fund of images of the world without humans available to the public increased rapidly. Nature photography appeared in the wake of these transformations. Historians usually trace the first “wildlife” photograph to an image taken in 1872, when members of the HMS Challenger expedition photographed penguins and albatrosses.30 Yet despite this “first”, photographs of wildlife did not become common until the last decades of the nineteenth century.

In the last decades of the nineteenth century the German biologist Ernst Haeckel celebrated the images that came from the Antarctic Challenger expedition, bringing them to the attention of a wider public in his widely read Weltratsel. “The opposite character of our naturalistic century to that of the anthropistic centuries that preceded it”, he wrote, “is especially noticeable in the different appreciation and spread of illustrations of the most diverse natural objects”. Haeckel described a remarkable transformation:

In our own days a lively interest in artistic work of that kind has been developed, which did not exist in earlier ages; it has been supported by the remarkable progress of commerce and technical art which have facilitated a wide popularization of such illustrations. Countless illustrated periodicals convey along with their general information a sense of the inexhaustible beauty of nature in all its departments. In particular, landscape-painting has acquired an importance that surpassed all imagination.31

In Haeckel, it is evident that the turn against picturing human likenesses continued to have religious connotations related to an injunction against idolatry. Haeckel, whose own illustrations of microscopic organisms were carefully taken out of context, selected, isolated, and manipulated to accentuate order and symmetry, was inspired by a disdain for the “outwardly disfigured by an immoderate crowd of human and animal figures” of Catholic art which he contrasted with “the simple and tasteful decoration” of Muslim religions. At this moment, the earlier illustrations of nature, such as Humboldt’s, started to be more widely appreciated and understood as “landscapes”. “One of our greatest and most erudite scientists”, wrote Haeckel by reference to Humboldt,

had pointed out that the development of modern landscape-painting is not only of great importance as an incentive to the study of nature and as a means of geographical description, but that it is to be commended in other respects as a noble educative medium.

Haeckel concluded that “it should be the aim at every school to teach the children to enjoy scenery at an early age, and to give them the valuable art of imprinting on the memory by a drawing or water-color sketch”.32

Further development of the landscape genre took place alongside changes in photographic technologies through the inclusion of flash and automatic triggering mechanisms. Congressman and amateur photographer George Shiras III pioneered the use of “camera traps” to capture animals in the wild. In some of his photographs, the animals themselves set off the flash and the camera trigger.33 Shiras’s contribution to National Geographic, “Photographing Wild Game with Flashlight and Camera” (July 1906), marks a major shift in the magazine’s editorial policy, as it became more of an illustrated magazine with photography playing an increasingly predominant role (Figure 14.3). Published among its pages were a growing number of photographs described as being “taken” by wildlife itself.

Electronic transmission

By the interwar period, new assemblages between cameras, communication networks, and printing processes changed the type of images available to the public. Until then, hard copies, mostly “mechanically reproduced” on paper, had to be dispatched on the same types of vehicles as goods and people. Vehicular-based means of transporting images started to give way to electromagnetic ones in the 1920s. When coded and sent through telegraph and telephone networks, they traveled at much faster speeds. A key innovation was prompted by the desire of obtaining recent images from the Japanese earthquake of 1923. Shortly after the disaster, the Pacific and Atlantic Photos syndicate of the Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News pioneered a new process that relied on a combination of vehicular and by-wire transmission. To

374 The National Geographic Magazine

Deer Taking its own Picture

The thread attached to tlie camera nretchc« from bonk to bank. The picture »»> taken in June and chow« the gaunt character of the deer during the fly «eason. Michigan

Figure 14.3 George Shiras III, Deer taking its own picture, first published 1906. Source: “Photographing Wild Game with Flashlight and Camera”, National Geographic 12, no. 7 (July 1906): 367-423, on 374.

Fantasy of a world without humans 183 transfer footage that had been sent to Seattle by airplane and was waiting on the runway, the newspaper agency coded it and sent it via the telegraph in code. At the receiving station, an artist translated the code into numbered squares that were painted in shades ranging from light to dark.34

With innovations in coding and transmission, images could travel on the same networks used previously to transport telegraphic, telephonic, and radiophonie messages. Another change involved establishing new links between telephone networks and radio stations to increase the distance of transmission. John J. Carty, a colonel in the US Army Signal Corps and chief engineer of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), connected seven large broadcasting stations to a telephone circuit linking San Francisco to Havana on February 8, 1924.3’ By sending images through a combination of by-wire with wireless infrastructures entirely new long-distance audio-visual exchanges soon covered the entire globe.

An increasing number of images traveled without even being viewed at the initial moment of their creation. The “Seven-League camera” unveiled on June 2,1924, was one of the first instruments that sent and printed images remotely. Time Magazine described the machine’s operation:

In a Manhattan skyscraper on lower Broadway, an engineer pulled a switch. Simultaneously two cylinders began to turn, one in New York, and one in the Discount Building, Cleveland. Two hundred and seventy-six seconds later a photographic film of President and Mrs. Coolidge, the original of which was 600 miles away, was ready for development in Manhattan. This was the first public demonstration by the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. (see Page 21) of the most successful method of electrically transmitting photographs yet developed. ’6

A year later, on April 4, 1925, AT&T started the first commercial public service for sending photographs by telegraph wire. “It charged $50 for a 5 x 7 transmission from New York to Chicago, $100 from New York to San Francisco”.3, A few years later the poet and writer Paul Valéry described how “it will be possible to send anywhere or to re-create anywhere a system of sensations, or more precisely a system of stimuli, provoked by some object or event in any given place”. In “La conquête de l’ubiquité” (1928) he described how “works of art will acquire a kind of ubiquity”.38


The dominant philosophy of knowledge of those years also changed alongside these new visual technologies. In various philosophical texts of the 1920s, scientific reality becomes equated with recordable reality. “Sense data” starts to be defined less in terms of human “senses” (traditionally understood as touch, vision, smell, taste, hearing) than with instruments that register physical effects (temperature, color, shape, chemical composition, frequency, etc.). Influential analytical philosophers of science defined the term “sense data” by reference to a potential to be recorded by instruments. Ironically, the instruments that produced this data were not considered as playing active roles in knowledge production. Thus, the mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell, in his seminal paper on “The Relation of Sense-Data to Physics”, claimed that sense data could be grasped equally by machines as by living observers. This new understanding of sense data was central to his philosophical project because it permitted the removal of the human observer from Russell’s philosophical understanding of knowledge. While earlier empiricist philosophers had initially sought to base science on “human” sense impressions, logical empiricists could do away with the human observer by basing science on “sense data” that could come from machines. Russell insisted on this same point in his later work on Einstein’s theory of relativity: “It is natural to suppose that the observer is a human being, or at least a mind; but it is just as likely to be a photographic plate or a clock”.39

By the second half of the twentieth century, Philipp Frank, one of the main representatives of logical positivism, considered humans as “self-registering instruments” that could be entirely replaced and superseded by the latter.

Whether I observe every hour a thermometer or after one month the curve of temperatures produced by an instrument, does not alter the logical structure of physical science. From a more general viewpoint we could even say that man is himself a self-registering instrument and what we call “sense observation” is not different from the registering by an instrument.40

Assertions such as Russell’s and Frank’s were typical of logical positivism in that they considered science in terms of the elimination of subjectivity and built by combining analytical mathematical logic with sense data.

The “Apparatfreier Aspekt der Realität”

In the 1930s the dramatic changes in culture brought about by new audio-visual media technologies started to become more widely noticed. The philosopher and essayist Walter Benjamin, inspired by Valéry’s “La Conquête de l’ubiquité”, famously described the space-altering qualities of mechanically reproducible photographic prints in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. He explained how the proliferation of copies “enables the original to meet the beholder halfway, be it in the form of a photograph or a phonograph record”.41 Distances were transformed: “The cathedral leaves its locale to be received in the studio of a lover of art; the choral production, performed in an auditorium or in the open air, resounds in the drawing room”.42 Although Benjamin focused on mechanical print reproduction, he wrote at a time when the distance-altering qualities of new visual media were increasing dramatically with the development of electronic means of transmission that would culminate with the birth of mass media.

Benjamin, in his work on photography and film, was one of the few thinkers to remark on the uncanny ability of recording apparatuses to hide themselves from the representations they produced: “The equipment-free aspect of reality (apparatfreier Aspekt der Realität) has here become the height of artifice”, he explained.43 Their disappearance was deceptive. It was “[pjrecisely because of the thoroughgoing permeation of reality with mechanical equipment” that spectators in the age of film, ironically, perceived “an aspect of reality that is free of equipment”.44

Post World War II

As logical positivism became the dominant philosophy of the second half of the twentieth century in the English-speaking world, alternative Continental and anti-logical positivist philosophies started to emerge post World War II. These un-orthodox

Fantasy of a world without humans 185 philosophies of knowledge frequently referenced the productive role of recording devices in altering reality and their ultimate reliance on human spectators. The work of the biophysicist Pierre Lecomte du Noiiy is one example. In his attempt to fight against a dominant materialistic understanding of the universe, he argued that this belief depended on forgetting the role of recording devices in creating such a universe. “To systematically ignore [the indispensable role of man]”, he argued, “amounts to forgetting the radiophonic receptor with its defects and idiosyncrasies”.4 - He insisted that scientists could not equate reality to the data given by recording devices. Ultimately, he reminded his readers, humans were recording devices too, but ones that needed to be included as active actors in our accounts of knowledge production. In L’homme devant la science (1946), he referred to man as a “thinking recording device (instrument enregistreur pensant)”.46 For him, a world without humans was essentially unrecognizable—even by machines:

In the absence of man, the universe no longer has form or color; just as, in the absence of the receiving station, the greatest symphony of Beethoven, if broadcast, disappears in space without being heard and without producing an echo outside of the theater where it is performed.47

Philosophers or scientists, such as Lecomte du Noiiy, who stressed the role of consciousness in the universe (considering it as a known entity rather than as a given one) were the exception. Increasingly after World War II humans were seen as dispensable occupants of the world. In some innovative novels of this period, humans and human creations were either absent or in the throes of disappearing.48 Humans even began to disappear from historical accounts which had traditionally focused so centrally on the actions of “Great Men”. From the Annales School of the 1950s to recent Big History, entire schools of historians started to understand the development of world history as one in which humans appeared at a certain point and would most likely disappear at another one. In these accounts, humans were frequently deemed to be comparatively insignificant when contrasted to larger material, evolutionary, geological, and cosmic forces.

These transformations in the disciplines of philosophy and history took place as images of pristine nature became more popular with the rise of color photography and the mass-market paper industry of the late 1950s.49 These types of representations of nature mainly sold as calendars, greeting cards, and posters were part of a new publishing industry that included the paperback and the art book. The main revenue of some major publishing houses (such as Ballantine Books by the founders of Penguin Press and Bantam Books) came largely from the commercialization of nature photography.

Nature photographers working after World War II could avail themselves with surplus military and industrial technologies beyond cameras, such as strobe lights and automatic triggering mechanisms, that up to then had only been available to specialists such as Harold “Doc” Edgerton. Most viewers of this period failed to account for the infrastructure, dependent on forestry and mining, that enabled the production of images of pristine nature in the first place. The photographic industry’s demand for silver mining further spurred the development of the American West, which also became the preferred exemplar of pristine natural land in North America. Despite the photographic industry’s links to environmental degradation,

“nature photography” became a potent force aiding environmental initiatives. The Executive Director of the Sierra Club, one of the world’s leading environmentalist agencies, explained how the celebrated color nature photographs of Eliot Porter “without question, helped to pass the Wilderness Act (1964) as well as to establish new national parks and wilderness areas”.50 During this period, environmentalism started to depend centrally on environmentally unfriendly visualization practices and infrastructures.

Artificial intelligence

A further transformation in technologies of visual representation came with the development of robotics. Since the early days of cybernetics, scientists and engineers strove to furnish electromotor machines with “sensing” capabilities that would permit them to obtain “feedback” from the environment. With the rise of artificial intelligence (Al) research, scientists started to believe that in order to learn how to think, robots had to first learn how to see. The Al pioneers Marvin Minsky and John McCarthy were some of the first to dream of furnishing robots with eyes. They also imagined how images would be fed to machines in order to furnish them with “common sense”. Minksy’s the “Builder” was a machine that “could see well enough to use mechanical hands”. John McCarthy’s “hand-eye” computer used a video camera to control a robotic arm. In 1968 “Butterfinger”, one of the first robots with vision, was created at Stanford University. By the 1970s, Freddy II, from the University of Edinburgh, was furnished with two TV cameras to guide a large robot arm.

The development of robotics was closely intertwined with space exploration initiatives that resulted in the production of new images of Earth and the solar system. Skylab Lunar Orbiter (launched 1966-1967) was one of the last spacecraft to use photographic film. While traditional film-based cameras required a human operator and the active retrieval of the film canisters, television did not. Due to how it could overcome the difficulties in furnishing and retrieving film from space, it became the preferred technology for capturing “live” events in space and displaying them at a distance. The moon landing was broadcast live on July 20, 1969. After that, television technologies started to be incorporated in unmanned missions. In 1979 astronomers mounted selenium-sulfur vidicon cameras on Voyagers 1 and 2. Solely from these two cameras, the number of images transmitted back to Earth was over 35,000, taken at a distance of 2-3 km. These wireless electromagnetic image transmission technologies, initially developed for the space program, became much easier to use with the development of charge-coupled device (CCD) “digital” cameras that could replace heavy and costly vacuum tubes and could be easily mounted on reconnaissance satellites. On May 20, 1990, astronomers celebrated the “first light” event sent back to Earth from the Hubble Space Telescope, inaugurating a new era of space photography (Figure 14.4-6).

Visual technologies developed for space exploration were also used to explore so-called “lunar” territories on Earth, changing our conception and understanding of our own planet. A key example of the “automatic” recording of remote territories was the production of the film La Région Centrale in 1971 by the artist and filmmaker Michael Snow. Snow commissioned the construction of an automated camera mounted on robotic arms to shoot a remote and uninhabited territory in Northern Quebec. “I want to make a gigantic landscape film equal in

Loading and unloading film canisters in the design of a space telescope of 1969. From Robert W. Smith, The Space Telescope

Figure 14.4 Loading and unloading film canisters in the design of a space telescope of 1969. From Robert W. Smith, The Space Telescope: A Study of NASA, Science, Technology, and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 106.

Monitor screen showing the moon landing live in 1969. Author unknown. From The Stephen White Collection II, Los Angeles. Andreas Blühm, Der Mond (Köln

Figure 14.5 Monitor screen showing the moon landing live in 1969. Author unknown. From The Stephen White Collection II, Los Angeles. Andreas Blühm, Der Mond (Köln: Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud, 2009), 68.

The first radio image received from the space telescope. From Robert W. Smith, The Space Telescope

Figure 14.6 The first radio image received from the space telescope. From Robert W. Smith, The Space Telescope: A Study of NASA, Science, Technology, and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 403.

terms of film to the great landscape paintings of Cézanne, Poussin, Corot, Monet, Matisse and in Canada the Group of Seven”, he wrote in his proposal. This film was to be “an absolute record of a piece of wilderness” that “will be what I imagine the first rigorous filming of the moon surface” was and which “will feel like a record of the last wilderness on earth ... a kind of Goodbye to Earth which I believe we are living through”.51 Viewers were thrilled to see his spectacle because “just think of that ... there is nobody there”.52 To achieve the desired visual effects, Snow was extremely judicious in hiding the photographic apparatus from the film: “He commissioned a camera mount, controlled by electronic instructions on magnetic tape, that would allow focus pulling and movement in every direction and plane except that which would point the camera at the apparatus itself”.53 Snow’s contraption was much like a disembodied eye unfettered from a single or fixed point of view. One viewer of the time noted how “the camera of La Région Centrale, instructed and controlled by the machine, turns in a wild and isolated Canadian landscape in a series of circular variations whose multiplicity— of speed, direction, focus—is the function of a ‘liberated’ eye” (Figure 14.7).54

Michael Snow’s film camera robot for La Région Centrale (1971), adapted to work with television cameras and monitors, from About 30 Works by Michael Snow (New York

Figure 14.7 Michael Snow’s film camera robot for La Région Centrale (1971), adapted to work with television cameras and monitors, from About 30 Works by Michael Snow (New York: Center for Inter-American Relations, 1972), 42.

Internet, virtual reality, and postmodern philosophy

The proliferation, in various areas of science and culture, of recording devices designed to replace and improve human perceptual abilities intensified the sense that humans could be dispensed with in their entirety from knowledge practices. The opposite assertion, claiming that humans would be ultimately needed for images to appear as such, would remain only as a rebellious protest against the prevailing empiricist doctrines characterizing most twentieth-century philosophy. In What Is Philosophy? (1991), Felix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze argued that recording devices had led us to believe in the existence of “sense data without sensation”. But these particular “sense data without sensation”, they argued, were always “waiting for a real observer to come and see”.55 Recording instruments, they insisted, only functioned because they “presupposed” an “ideal partial observer” that no longer had to be actually present.56 Similar points were raised by the controversial psychologist Jacques Lacan when he discussed the moment “we have manufactured instruments which, without in any way being audacious, we can imagine to be sufficiently complicated to develop films themselves, put them away in little boxes, and store them in a fridge” that could lead viewers to further “confusing symbolic intersubjectivity with cosmic intersubjectivity”.57

Capturing banalities became ever more simple and common. One of the first cameras to transmit images via the web was turned on a simple coffee pot in the Trojan room computer lab at Cambridge University on November 22, 19 93.58 A year later, a fish tank at the Netscape headquarters in California became the subject of one of the first web-based round-the-clock animal-centric cameras. Internet camera technologies, in contrast to traditional film and television media, did not rely on having many viewers per single spectacle. The ratio between recording cameras and display and screens could reach one-to-one, eliminating the need for the theater-based cinema architectures. In the earliest days of daguerreotypes, glass plates were so expensive that they were often recycled. In the early days of film, the difference between the price of recording on film stock and simply copying made the projection of films profitable. The introduction of Super 8 hand-held cameras of the 1960s permitted “home movies” to become commercially viable, paving the way for the later development of magnetic tape cartridges and video cameras. TV, however, continued to be limited by bandwidth which constrained the number of channels available to viewers and the number of cameras that could be employed at any given moment. With the development of the internet and CCDs it became possible to interconnect an ever-growing number of digital cameras to single users. In this new system, the type of subject which could be recorded could become increasingly personal, domestic, banal, and inane.

In 1996 a young student named Jennifer Ringley became the first woman ever to stream her life live on the internet. From the age of 19, she turned on her computer’s webcam (later renowned as the Jennicam) in her dorm room, in order to broadcast herself live every day, around the clock, for whoever wanted to log in to her site; and she eventually attracted an estimated three to four million people daily (Figure 14.8).59 As webcams became smaller, they started to be directly attached to cellphones in addition to computers. In 2002 cellphone companies started to add built-in cameras into their phones. Sending photographs and uploading images to computers and the internet became easier the ever. The further miniaturization of cameras permitted them to become even more commonly integrated with new means of transportation, continuing a process that started in the first hot-air balloon photographs of Nadar to the drones of today, and a more integral part of daily lives, where they can even be found on wearable technologies. Today, there are nearly as many cameras as internet users. Skype, Facetime, Snapchat, Periscope, Zoom, and other apps transmit a growing number of images (recorded or live) via the internet.

Most images today are no longer created for human consumption or meant for human eyes. They are no longer trailed by the traditional caption of the illustrated news era. Images created by and for human consumption are small in number compared to the operational images created by machines for machines. Traffic control cameras, which started to become popular around 2004, were designed so that only a few images of suspected violations needed to be viewed by humans.60 Since then, the goal of improving the visual recognition capacity of machines has increased apace and is now central to many Al projects. In 2007, computer vision expert Li Fei-Fei pioneered a new machine visual learning project that eventually moved to Stanford University’s Vision Lab. Billions of images were fed into machines in order to educate them for Al purposes. Images taken by machines for human consumption, by machines for machines, or by humans for humans all rely on similar technological assemblages. The

Jennifer Ringley at her webcam on March 15, 1998, at 5:53 pm. Source

Figure 14.8 Jennifer Ringley at her webcam on March 15, 1998, at 5:53 pm. Source: Wayback Machine at

gesture of eliminating humans from image-making processes continues to this day. Human labor is frequently displaced and effaced in so-called “artificial intelligence” vision learning projects, such as the one at Stanford University. Li Fei-Fei’s ImageNet Al project relied heavily on crowdsourcing for classification and categorization of images; yet, rhetorically, the entire project portrayed machines as having the ability to do this work automatically. In 2007, ImageNet, a partnership between Princeton University and Stanford University, started mining the fund of widely available internet images as “data” for Al “nourishment”. For their project, Li Fei-Fei and Kay Li gathered 50,000 people to work on classifying about one billion images which were then fed to computers that were being trained on them.

Selfies and existence

Many aspects of social media took on the role once served by the Carte de Visite and the “family album”. Self-portraiture reached a new level in 2013, the year that Oxford Dictionaries declared the word “selfie” to be the “word of the year”. Yet the number of images constituting selfie-based or “Reality TV” media pale in comparison to those that use images for surveillance purposes. That same year the British Security Industry Association reported that about 5.9 million CCTV cameras were in operation in Britain, approximately 1 camera per 11 individuals, filming each person on average about 70 times per day. While back in the early days of photography Daguerre worked so hard to reduce exposure times in order to be able to photograph humans, now some of the most voracious image-taking initiatives strive to remove them along with any traces of the recording apparatus itself. For Google’s Street View, the presence of individuals is such a problem that their faces are purposely blurred so as to avoid identification. The photographer Greg Allen has noted the great lengths to which Google’s mapping initiative goes to hide its filming equipment and personnel: “Whether selfies are considered distracting, extraneous, or just undesirable, Google is trying not to photobomb itself”.61

By the early decades of the twenty-first century visual technologies advanced to the point where not even another person’s experience seemed to remain un-representable. Artists have been some of the first to explore these new forms of shared experiences. In 2014, the artist Mark Farid proposed a project: he would “live” another person’s life for 28 days using a virtual reality headset. The surrogate whose life he would live was known as the “input” or the “other”. Farid would spend a month wearing a pair of recording glasses that used Oculus Rift virtual reality technology to capture 180-degree video and 3-D audio. New technologies permit us to access another person’s life, experiences, and surrounding environment in real time.

Images now greatly outnumber the individuals available to view them. What is more, most of the visual culture in the electronic age is, paradoxically, invisible, as digital images remain unseen during much of their lifetime, emerging only when we turn on our computers, televisions, or smartphones. Today’s visual culture is no longer characterized solely by relations between the “visible” and the “invisible”, for their very “existence” cannot be calculated or thought of in traditional terms. According to Sarita Yardi Schoenebeck, director of the Living Online Lab at the University of Michigan, the question of how many images exist is “like that thing about the tree falling in the forest”.

Are you talking about any photo that’s ever existed, or photos that exist right now? If you delete the photo, does that count? If you have thousands of photos on your hard drive but nobody ever sees them, does that count?

she asks.62 We can no longer speak of these new images’ “existence” in traditional terms any more than we can take our own for granted.

Conclusion: from invisible, inexistent, and apocalyptic

Images of the world without us present a vision of what prehistorical eras might have looked like in an idyllic past (associated with the biblical imagery of the Garden of Eden) and what post-apocalyptic eras might look like in a world devoid of humans. As such, these new images are central to contemporary environmental movements, framing utopian desires and dystopian fears.

Stock images of nature, such as those in World Wildlife Fund (WWF) advertisements, are prime exemplars of how “nature” is commonly featured in photobooks, postcards, and notecards and used to promote environmentalism and denounce climate change. A recent image promoting the WWF, as part of its “Let’s keep offshore oil and gas drilling out of the Arctic’s most pristine spots” (March 15, 2016) initiative, contrasts a polar bear in the Arctic (on the left) against an offshore oil rig (on the right), describing the two as “polar opposites” (playing on the double meaning of the word “polar”) (Figure 14.9). The sense of contrast between the two photographs, both taken by Arctic photographers and one of them for National Geographic, can only be maintained by forgetting what they have in common: they are both produced by techniques and devices that depend on the same underlying infrastructures and technological assemblages. It is only through the disappearance of the recording apparatus and the larger infrastructure on which they depend (involving the telecommunications and the transportation industry, public utilities, and private commodities) that these images of nature appear pristine and precarious. The kind



Let's keep offshore oil and gas drilling out of the Arctic's most pristine spots


VWO 1120:4

The Arctic serves as the proverbial carury In a coal mine far climate change, warming at twice the rate as the rest of the world. These rising temperatures impact both the wkllfe and people who nely on the region for food and shelter. It's drmng a new told rush."

i race to daim Arctic resource* that are becoming accessible for the first time in tons of

thousands of years.

Right row. there Is ittle offshore ol and gas production in the US Arctic and recent

eigborotion efforts demonstrated the high risk of operations going awry in the region's


Steven Kazlowski, polar bear, Stadsklev, oil rig, National Geographic Creative. Source

Figure 14.9 Steven Kazlowski, polar bear, Stadsklev, oil rig, National Geographic Creative. Source: WWF website, March 15, 2016, and in other promotional media. © WWF ( Some rights reserved.

of environmentalism they promote remains complicit in the process of effacing the media transformations that give rise to it.

A common tendency behind the hermeneutics of modern visual culture involves the setting aside of the apparatus as belonging to neither nature nor culture—with consequences. Images that portray the universe as free from the recording instruments and the related infrastructure on which they depend promote the conception of a universe that exists independently of any consciousnesses. But these kinds of images are a distinctly recent—modern—creation, one connected to a common understanding of technology as operating within an environmental framework that ignores its deeper connection to the production of existence. Despite our desire to get at nothing but pure nature, and although images of nature have come to stand as a pure representation of the world without us, they continue to be marked by traces of ourselves. By forgetting these aspects of our techno-visual culture, theorists risk being consumed by the mediatic spectacle on the screen and its related spectatorship practices, yet the most revelatory characteristics of our culture of spectacle are those which are hidden and undisclosed.


Mary Meeker, “2014 Internet Trends”, accessed January 21, 2018, blog/2014-internet-trends.

Science writer Rose Eveleth calculates 657 billion photographs taken per year. Rose Eveleth, “How Many Photographs of You Are Out There in the World?”, The Atlantic, November 2, 2015, accessed January 21, 2018, archive/2015/ll/how-many-photographs-of-you-are-out-there-in-the-world/413389/.

Jimena Canales, “Recording Devices”, Companion to the History of Science, ed. Bernard Lightman (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015), 500-514.

For the problematic distinction between nature and its “other”, see William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature”, in Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature ed. William Cronon (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1995), 69-90.

Thomas Hobbes, Elements of Philosophy, Part 2, “Of Place and Time”, Works I, 91. René Descartes, Meditationes de Prima Philosophia (Paris: Michaelem Soly, 1641), 15. Cited in Peter Galassi, Before Photography: Painting and the Invention of Photography (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1981), 20-21.

Roseline Bacou, “Introduction”, in French Landscape Drawings and Sketches of the Eighteenth Century, ed. Roseline Bacou, Lise Duclaux and Jean-François Méjanès (London: British Museum Publications, 1977), 9.


Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity (New York: Zone Books, 2007).

Jean Piaget, Judgment and Reasoning in the Child, International Library of Psychology, Philosophy, and Scientific Method (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1928), 71.

Albert Einstein, “Maxwell’s Influence on the Evolution of the Idea of Physical Reality”, in Ideas and Opinions, ed. Carl Seelig (New York: Crown Publishers, 1982), 266. Originally published in 1931.

Robert K. Merton, “Science and the Social Order”, Philosophy of Science 5, no. 3 (1938): 327. Merton wrote as well about “experiments in the field of psychology [that] have found a difference between the individual’s estimate of duration and the actual duration of astronomical time elapsed”, mentioning the “experimental analyses by Lotze, Miinsterberg, Helmholtz, Bolton, Woodworth, etc.” Pitirim A. Sorokin and Robert K. Merton, “Social Time: A Methodological and Functional Analysis”, The American Journal of Sociology 62, no. 5 (1937): 617.

Feminist epistemologists have amply criticized this understanding of objectivity, arguing rather that forms of situated knowledge should be acknowledged.

Bernhard J. Dotzler, “Landschaften, menschenleer. Zur Kritik der rezeptionsästhetischen Urteilskraft”, in Phänomene der Derealisierung, eds. Stephan Porombka and Susanne Scharnowski (Vienna: Passagen, 1999), 247-267.

Ibid., 249.

Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992).

Robert Richards, “Objectivity and the Theory of the Archetype”, in What Reason Promises: Essays on Reason, Nature and History, eds. Susan Neiman, Peter Galison and Wendy Doniger (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016), 26-37.

Reprinted in Jerrold Ziff, “‘Backgrounds, Introduction of Architecture and Landscape’: A Lecture by J.M.W. Turner”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 26, no. 1/2 (1963): 124-147, 134.

Ibid., 144.

Ibid., 146.

Ibid., 133.

Ibid., 146.

Ibid., 139.

Ladv Elizabeth Eastlake, “Photography”, Quarterly Review (London) 1, no. 101 (April 1857): 442-468.

While mirrors have been analyzed to explain the formation of identity and individual subjectivity (e.g., Jacques Lacan’s concept of the “mirror stage” in psychoanalytical theory), the related concept of “mirroring devices” can serve as a uniting category to understand a diverse set of modern recording devices that hide themselves in the process of producing images for us. These “mirroring devices” are technologies by which humanity recognizes itself as separate from the rest of nature. Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience”, in Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: Tavistock, 1977), 1-8, originally delivered as a lecture at the 16th International Congress of Psychoanalysis, in Zurich, July 17,1949.

Peter Galassi, Before Photography: Painting and the Invention of Photography (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1981), 20.

Robin Kelsey, “Is Landscape Photography?”, in Is Landscape...?: Essays on the Identity of Landscape, eds. Gareth Doherty and Charles Waldheim (London: Routledge, 2016), 22. Greg Garrard, “Worlds without Us: Some Types of Disanthropy”, SubStance 41, no. 1 (2012): 45.

Derek Bousé, Wildlife Films (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), 195, 222.

Ernst Haeckel, The Riddle of the Universe At the Close of the Nineteenth Century, trans. Joseph McCabe (New York, Harper and Brothers: 1900), 343.


Thomas E. Kucera and Reginald H. Barrett, “A History of Camera Trapping”, in Camera Traps in Animal Ecology: Methods and Analyses, eds. A. F. O’Connell, J. D. Nichols and U. K. Karanth (Tokyo: Springer Inc., 2011), 9-26.

A. J. Ezickson, “Wired Photos”, The Complete Photographer, vol. 9, no. 54 (1943): 3518. For an account of his work see Frank B. Jewett, “Biographical Mémoire of John Joseph Carty, 1861-1932”, National Academy of Biographical Memoirs, vol. XVIII (Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 1938), 69-94.

“Science: Seven-League Camera”, Time Magazine, June 2, 1924, vol. 3, no. 22, 26-27, here 26.

Ezickson, “Wired Photos”, 3518.

Paul Valéry, “La Conquête de l’ubiquité”, in De la musique avant toute chose, eds. Paul Valéry, Henri Massis and Camille Bellaigue (Paris: Editions du Tambourinaire, 1928). Reprinted in Paul Valéry, Oeuvres, vol. 2 (Paris: Gallimard, 1960), pp. 1284-1287. Bertrand Russell, The ABC of Relativity (New York: Harper, 1925), 138.

Philipp Frank, “Logical Empiricism I: The Problem of Physical Reality”, Synthèse 7, no. 6-B (1948/1949): 458-465.

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken, 1968), 220-221. Ibid., 221.

Ibid., 233.

Ibid., 234.

Pierre Lecomte du Noüy, L’homme devant la science (Paris: Flammarion, 1946), 22-23.

Ibid., 34.

Ibid., 51.

“In the early twentieth century, though, for the first time, writers began to imagine a world completely and finally without people”. Garrard, “Worlds without Us”, 44.

Robin Kelsey traces the origin of the nature calendar to the late 1950s. “When the Board decided to begin producing photographic calendars in the fall of 1967, it was pursuing an idea that had been around for years. In 1957, Club photographer Philip Hyde had suggested in a memorandum that the Club should issue ‘a Conservation Calendar, made up of a fine reproduction for each month, of simple and dignified layout, with a short conservation message’”. Robin Kelsey, “Sierra Club Photography and the Exclusive Property of Vision”, in Eco-Images: Historical Views and Political Strategies, ed. Gisela Parak, Rachel Carson Center Perspectives (Munich: Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, 2013), 11-26; here 25.

Michael Brune, foreword to Paul Martineau, Eliot Porter: In the Realm of Nature (Los Angeles, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2012), 9.

“Excerpts from a proposal by Michael Snow to the Canadian Film Development Corporation, March 1969”, published in About 30 Works by Michael Snow (Center for Inter-American Relations: New York, 1972), p. 35.

Annette Michelson, “About Snow”, October 8 (Spring 1979), 120.

Garrard, “Worlds Without Us”, 45-46 (italics added).

Michelson, “About Snow”, 120.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 131.


Jacques Lacan, “A Materialist Definition of the Phenomenon of Consciousness”, in The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954-1955, trans. Sylvana Tomaselli (London: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 46-47.

Rebecca Kesby, “How the World’s First Webcam Made a Coffee Pot Famous”, BBC News, November 22, 2012,

Aleks Krotoski, “Jennicam: The First Woman to Stream Her Life on the Internet”, BBC News, October 18, 2016,

See the section on webcams in John Dvorak, Chris Pirillo, and Wendy Taylor, Online! The Book (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2004), 569-573.

Greg Allen, “Man with a Pano Camera”, The Making of, June 11, 2013, http://

Rose Eveleth, “How Many Photographs of You Are Out There in the World?” The Atlantic, November 2, 2015, accessed January 21, 2018, archive/2015/ll/how-many-photographs-of-you-are-out-there-in-the-world/413389/.


Related topics