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History and Theory of Photography Research Centre

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Tuesday 26 March, 2019

Jennifer Tucker, History Department and Science in Society Program, Wesleyan University

Load, Point and Shoot:  Cameras, Gun cartridges, and the ‘Black Boxes’ of History

Laurie Simmons, Walking Gun (1991), gelatine silver print, Metropolitan Museum of Art

This paper explores what it might mean for historians to take seriously the shared history of firearms and cameras, two technologies that co-evolved in the 19th century and that have had a profound impact on society ever since. As David Campbell writes, “the technologies of the gun and camera…evolved in lockstep.” (Campbell 2012; Landau 2002; Virilio 1984). My paper extends this notion by analyzing further the many different and often unexpected aspects of the historical relationship between cameras and guns. Drawing on new archival research on 19th and early 20th century camera and firearm production and consumption in Britain and the U.S., my paper documents their complementarity at several levels (of structure, chemistry, industrial organization, research, and marketing), aiming to address how and why the technologies function, why they are interoperable, and how their study highlights new ways of thinking about technoscience and the ‘black boxes’ of history. Technologies such as cameras and guns, I suggest, pose certain shared methodological problems for historians and raise broader questions about the writing of history and the role of the historian in ethical discussions about their production and use.

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Jo Spence: The Feminist Photography of a Cultural Sniper

Jo Spence was a British writer, educator and photographer – although she was quite ambivalent about being termed an ‘artist’. In fact, she much preferred to call herself a ‘Cultural Sniper’. But instead of brandishing a gun, Spence used her camera to shoot and expose issues in culture.

One of the first woman photographers to confront the anxiety of seeing oneself in photographs, this HENI Talk explores how Spence targeted the media’s representation of women – always coded as young, plucked and perfectly made-up – by laying her own body on the line.

Learn more.