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History of Photography ISSN: 0308-7298 (Print) 2150-7295 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/thph20 Documenting the World: Film, Photography, and the Scientific Record Nina Lager Vestberg To cite this article: Nina Lager Vestberg (2018) Documenting the World: Film, Photography, and the Scientific Record, History of Photography, 42:1, 102-104, DOI: 10.1080/03087298.2017.1419924 To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/03087298.2017.1419924 Published online: 23 May 2018. Submit your article to this journal Article views: 35 View related articles View Crossmark data Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?journalCode=thph20 Reviews material objects to network analysis – engaging with the field would have allowed for an even richer analysis. Yet the catalogue is concerned with Magnum’s images, its famous personalities, and especially its ontology. One of the last sections of the book offers free-form poetry, plucked from the archives, on the theme of ‘Magnum is’. Over the years, its members have completed the sentence with ‘a miracle’, ‘an ethics’, ‘a canon’, ‘an anachronism’, and ‘a continuous desire by a group of people to stay fresh in their work’. These snippets are employed to pay homage to the agency, but they also reveal decades of discussion about the business of photojournalism during a period of tremendous economic, political, cultural, and technological change. Ultimately, historians of photography will find that Magnum Manifesto does little more than evoke these histories (lowercase, plural) in passing. Like all manifestos, then, perhaps its greatest value lies in revealing just how much work remains to be done. Nadya Bair # 2018 Nadya Bair https://doi.org/10.1080/03087298.2017.1419921 Documenting the World: Film, Photography, and the Scientific Record Gregg Mitman and Kelley Wilder, eds. University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2016. 285 pages, with 27 colour plates and 40 hal; ftones. Hardcover $35.00, ISBN 978-0-22612911-2. Edited collections of essays get a hard press these days: as books they tend to be ineligible for assessment in evaluation exercises aimed at determining research excellence, and ambitious academics are consequently advised not to prioritise them as an outlet for publication. What is more, the task of editing essay collections is famously both taxing and thankless. Yet scholars persist in making them, and university presses in publishing them, which in turn must mean that readers, of one kind or another, keep on reading them. Documenting the World is one of those books that demonstrate why writers, publishers, and readers still bother. Providing nine distinct perspectives on the roles of still and moving photographic images in the construction of documents and evidence, the volume gathers established and emerging researchers from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds. Each chapter illuminates different manifestations of ‘the documentary impulse’ in the form of photographs and footage, of course, but also through a wealth of elements supporting the status of a given film or photograph as document – including, but not limited to, picture frames, colour filters, captions and mounts, expedition reports, narratives, shelving systems, catalogue entries, online search engines, and metadata. As the editors note in their introduction, the volume is organised according to a loose thematic structure, beginning with essays addressing the production of documentary evidence, followed by a clutch of chapters on the ways in which films and photographs circulate in the world and are interpreted through changing narrative frameworks, before the final three essays examine the organisational, classificatory, and distributive systems of archival photographic records and artefacts. Jennifer Tucker’s opening chapter on ‘the Tichborne affair’ is a fascinating account of a famous Victorian court case, centred on a disputed identity/inheritance claim, which testifies to the documentary power acquired by photography as both a technological and social practice by the mid-nineteenth century. This is followed by an interesting discussion of colour – or rather, the lack thereof – in historical film and photography, in which Peter Geimer argues against the current trends for digital ‘restoration’ of colour to monochrome footage. While noting that colours were detected in early photographic images as visual expressions of chemical properties inherent in different emulsions, Geimer details the traditionally strong association between the documentary and the monochrome, arguing for the importance of recognising the historicity of past formats as part of their documentary force. This historically oriented essay is followed by a contemporary ethnographic account of digital document-making by planetary scientists, where the artificial addition of colour filters to digital imagery captured by robots is a crucial part of the scientific work of remotely exploring the planet Mars. Janet Vertesi highlights how the very kinds of image data ‘manipulation’ that would be inadmissible as documentary practices within a journalistic discourse are in fact an essential component of the production of ‘trustworthy’ documentary evidence within a scientific one. Together, the three chapters by Tucker, Geimer, and Vertesi provide a compelling potted history of documentary and evidentiary practices enacted by means of photographic technologies from the nineteenth century, through the twentieth, and into the twenty-first. By their use of judicious case studies, all three authors succeed in relaying the complexities of the relationship between production, ‘post-production’, and circulation in consecrating the status of photo-technically derived images as documents. The next chapter, written by Elizabeth Edwards, consolidates this focus, while at the same time 102 Reviews providing a bridge to the thematic concerns that are explored in the two chapters which follow it. Extracting once again from the rich seam that is located at the conjunction of photography and anthropology, Edwards makes a detailed analysis of how the status of photographs as ‘scientific documents’ was deliberated and determined within British anthropology around the turn of the twentieth century. At this ‘transformative moment in anthropology and its visualizing practices’, established anthropometric methodologies were increasingly abandoned in favour of recording methods that might better document cultural and social behaviours, rather than culturally inscribed bodies. In place of scientifically observed bodies, the bodies of scientific observers (i.e. field anthropologists themselves) emerged as key sites of anthropological knowledge. One consequence of this change was that photographic records tended to be preserved among field notes and other paraphernalia in the personal work files and archives of individual anthropologists, rather than deposited in thematically organised institutional archives. While Edwards highlights the significance of this shift in practice for the history of anthropology as a discipline, its relevance to the historiographies of film and photography becomes explicit in the chapter by Gregg Mitman that immediately follows. This centres on ‘a private collection of expedition film’ from a Harvard University scientific mission to Liberia and Belgian Congo in the 1920s – footage that was, in Mitman’s words, ‘created for one purpose, archived for another, and resurrected yet again for quite different reasons’. Mitman reveals the complex entanglements of scientific research, capitalist production, and US geopolitical ambitions within such grandly conceived undertakings as the ‘Harvard African Expedition’, which sought to document and record specimens, views, and data of and on anything from tropical diseases and rubber plantations to local dress and labour practices. Acknowledging the ‘insurmountable’ problems ‘that haunt expeditionary footage – including questions of collaboration, power, exploitation, objectification, and racism’, Mitman’s chapter nevertheless also reports on the positive experience of repatriating, as it were, the Liberian films by bringing digital reproductions of the footage, now easily displayed on tablets and smartphones, back to the current-day descendants of the people and communities documented in the 1920s. Such restorative acts, which may enable source communities to reclaim and reinvest visual records of problematic origins with new meanings, and in the process ‘generate new stories and future imaginings’, are also at the heart of Faye Ginsburg’s contribution to the volume. Working with Ariella Azoulay’s concept of ‘the civil contract of photography’, Ginsburg explores two documentary films that engage with the atrocious legacy of Nazi experiments on vulnerable and disabled people. The ‘counternarratives’ constructed by the films she analyses provide a means of recasting visual material produced in aid of Nazi ‘science’ as evidence against it: as Ginsburg puts it, documents ‘that once undergirded the Nazi world are transformed into documents of that world’ (original emphasis). The final three chapters in Documenting the World turn their gaze somewhat away from documents circulating in the world, and onto what we might call worlds that circle around documents. In Stefanie Klamm’s case, this world is as small as a single room, located in the Winckelmann-Institut at Humboldt University in Berlin, which houses the department’s archives of photographic prints relating to classical archaeology. In the absence of a catalogue or index in the usual sense, this Fotothek requires students and researchers to navigate its collections in three dimensions, walking along its shelves to identify relevant topics from labels and rifling through boxes of prints in order to look for images of interest. Klamm emphasises how this arrangement confers ‘a certain “agency” of their own’ upon both the room and its contents, against which the users of the archive must pitch their own agendas and agencies. The archival collection discussed by Klamm is in many ways like an archaeological site in itself, awaiting each new excavator to uncover (and perhaps reorder) its sedimentations of documents. By contrast, the subject of Kelley Wilder’s penultimate chapter is the very thing that the Winkelmann-Institut collection lacks, namely a catalogue. Starting from a set of entries in an online catalogue describing items in the St Andrews Library Photographic Archive, Wilder explores the ways in which the catalogue points to the dual role of photographs as records and artefacts. The examples she discusses are framed both in terms of their originary context, as documents of anything from scientific specimens to artworks or archaeological finds, and as sources to a technical as well as cultural history of photography as a field of cataloguing practice. Finally, Wilder highlights how the very process of digitising catalogues containing photographic records can bring about a ‘heightened […] perception of the collection being photographic’. In a realisation reminiscent of Marshall McLuhan’s old adage that ‘the content of a medium is always another medium’, the St Andrews Library first really understood that its special collections held ‘significant photographic holdings’ when photographic records were remediated in digital formats for improved online access to the collections in general. In a process that reverses the archaeological metaphor of stripping back layers to reveal hidden artefacts, it is precisely the ‘adding [of] sedimentary layers of photographic practice’ that enables discovery of photographs, formerly perceived as records, as newly minted artefacts. The impact of digitisation on photographic collections is also the theme of the final chapter of the book, in which Estelle Blaschke discusses 103 Reviews Corbis; a pioneering commercial purveyor of online visual content. Noting that the company, originally founded by Microsoft’s Bill Gates, specifically targeted ‘historic collections of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century photography in an attempt to recycle visual history and exploit the vague notion of collective memory’, Blaschke argues that old photographic documents attained a new commercial value through digitisation. In other words, just as the St Andrews Library digitisation project had made catalogue records suddenly visible as historical works of photography, the Corbis treatment reconfigured historical photographic documents as marketable commodities in the visual economy of advertising and publishing. Through its case study, Blaschke’s wide-ranging chapter manages to cover virtually all of the key issues at stake in the digital provision of visual archives, from questions of ownership and funding models, via indexing problems and search engine optimisation, to the materialities and infrastructures supporting both analogue originals and digital surrogates. As such, it is a fitting conclusion to a volume that, over the course of nine individually authored chapters and an introduction coauthored by the editors, succeeds in documenting, if not the world, then a world of historically minded, archivally informed visual cultural scholarship. Unlike those edited collections that give the format a bad name, this book is clearly conceived with a distinct objective in mind, which is explored through a representative set of case studies and a suitable variety of methodological approaches. As the introduction makes clear, the project has been executed in collaboration among all contributors, and when reading the volume from cover to cover (which is an unusual way of reading an essay collection, but one I deeply recommend in this instance) the contributions by Edwards and Mitman work particularly well to weave the different strands of the project together in the middle, as it were. The publishers have secured an impressive set of endorsements for the back cover of the book, including a ringing one from Peter Galison: ‘We have needed a book like Documenting the World for many years’. I tend to agree, both as a researcher grappling with many of the issues illuminated across its chapters and as a lecturer constantly looking for succinct overviews of photographic ‘history’ that manage to relate its many phases and facets to events, phenomena, and objects outside the medium itself. As an example of how collaborative projects in the humanities can produce results that are more than the sums of their parts, this book should also inspire more of us to keep working – together. Nina Lager Vestberg # 2018 Nina Lager Vestberg https://doi.org/10.1080/03087298.2017.1419924 104