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The Shadow of EnlightenmentOptical and Political Transparency in France 1789-1848$
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Theresa Levitt

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199544707

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199544707.001.0001

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Light Paints Itself: The Conditions of Photographic Representation

Light Paints Itself: The Conditions of Photographic Representation

(p.129) 5 Light Paints Itself: The Conditions of Photographic Representation
The Shadow of Enlightenment

Theresa Levitt

Oxford University Press

Both Arago and Biot were central figures in the early history of photography in France. Each took up the side of one of the rival processes: Arago promoted Daguerre's silver plates and Biot Talbot's paper photographs. Wrapped up in this disagreement about technique was a disagreement about the relationship of the photograph to the world. For Arago, the daguerreotype's ability to represent was guaranteed by the striking resemblance between the image and the world. For Biot, his photographic papers did not represent at all, but registered an invisible world of chemical radiation inaccessible to the human eye. Further tied to the disagreement about technique was the question of inclusivity and exclusivity. For Arago, the daguerreotype's transparent visibility meant that anyone who looked at one knew what they were seeing. For Biot, the only way to understand a photograph was to know the complex chemical processes involved in its creation.

Keywords:   Arago, Biot, photography, Daguerre, daguerreotype, Talbot, chemical radiation, representation

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