Photographic Continuities

Presentation by Brooke Beslile (UC Berkeley).

Contemporary theorists tend to describe globalized media culture as subtended by contemporary technologies such as digital networks and satellite communications. Globalization itself is often historicized alongside the rise of computing and the ‘information age.’ Many media archeologists have challenged this narrow view by tracing how earlier media technologies, such as the telegraph, structured the ‘networked’ conditions of other historical moments. My paper extends this effort to ask how global forms of circulation that seem to characterize visual culture today emerged alongside the new medium of photography in the nineteenth century. As photography became industrialized, its mobility and reproducibility reflected and enabled a culture increasingly defined by mass production and international trade.

I argue that the capture, printing, distribution, and collection of photographs in the second half of the nineteenth century articulated existing trajectories of political, commercial, and social influence while also forging new networks that would subtend an emergent, international, visual culture. To explore the networks created by early photography I consider several series of photographs that were commissioned by political and commercial interests: narrative sets of images that document British colonial campaigns, the laying of railroad tracks in the American West, hemp and coffee being harvested and shipped from Central American plantations. Drawing out relationships between the continuities these sets of images pictorially articulate and the trajectories they materially trace through their production and circulation, I show how the actual and ideological connections these photographs effected resonate with elisions now worked through new media and imagined in terms of globalization.

Brooke Belisle is a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley in Rhetoric, Film, and New Media and holds a master’s degree in Interactive Telecommunications from New York University. Her dissertation, “The Bigger Picture: Panoramic and Stereoscopic Views of the Global” explores contemporary media artists whose work reactivates nineteenth century visual formats. Her new work focuses on the history of visualizing astronomical space. She has published in Film Quarterly and Photography and Culture and will chair upcoming conference panels on media temporalities and on satellite aesthetics.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Sorting Network Artifacts, Part 2 | Words in Space

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