class="csc-frame csc-frame-default"Do definite bodies of knowledge turn out to be temporary?

Zentrum Geschichte des Wissens

Universität Zürich

Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

Zentrum Geschichte des Wissens

Universität Zürich

Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

STEPHAN GRAF

The Photographic Process as Object of Research: Technoscience between Photographic Industry and University, 1928–1979


The turn towards technical images in the humanities since the 1990s has been accompanied by numerous historical analyses of scientific applications of photography. Yet, studies concerning the history of scientific research on photography itself are rare. Particularly regarding the 20th century, it has largely been left unexplored how a growing scientific community gathered around the experimental and theoretical investigation of the 'photographic process' in industrial and university labs. For my dissertation project, I examine the forms of knowledge produced by this research community in relation to the growing industrialization and popularization of photographic materials during the 20th century and I also show how this knowledge circulated between industry and academia. Using Jon Agar's concept of 'working worlds', I therefore explore how the photographic industry – as an important 20th century 'working world' – structured scientific practices.

To this end, I will focus on three historical sites of photographic research in Europe: the research labs of the German photographic company Agfa in Wolfen, the British Kodak subsidiary in Harrow and the Photographic Institute of ETH Zurich. Thus, I concentrate on two industrial research environments of the world's largest manufacturers of photographic recording materials at that time as well as on a photographic teaching and research institute of a state-​run technical university (or Technische Hochschule). Since after the Second World War the direction of the Photographic Institute in Zurich was taken over first by the head of research at Agfa and subsequently by an industrial researcher of British Kodak, these three research facilities allow for an exemplary investigation of how a hitherto little-​noticed 20th century technoscience developed and changed through transnational exchange between industry and academia.