Photogenic Venus: The "Cinematographic Turn" and Its Alternatives in Nineteenth-Century France
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CitationCanales, Jimena. 2002. Photogenic Venus: The "cinematographic turn" and its alternatives in nineteenth-century France. Isis 93, no. 4: 585-613.
AbstractDuring the late nineteenth century, scientists around the world disagreed as to the types of instruments and methods that should be used for determining the most important constant of celestial mechanics: the solar parallax. Venus's 1874 transit across the sun was seen as the best opportunity for ending decades of debate. However, a mysterious "black drop" that appeared between Venus and the sun and individual differences in observations of the phenomenon brought traditional methods into disrepute. To combat these difficulties, the astronomer Jules Janssen devised a controversial new instrument, the "photographic revolver," that photographed Venus at regular intervals. Another solution came from physicists, who rivaled the astronomers' dominance in precision measurements by deducing the solar parallax from physical measurements of the speed of light. Yet other astronomers relied on drawings and well-trained observers. The new space emerging from this debate was characterized by a decline in faith in (nonstandardized, nonreproducible) photography and in (pure) geometry and by the growing realization of the importance of alternative elements needed for establishing scientific truths: power and authority, skill and discipline, standardization, mechanical reproducibility, and theatricality. By examining the "cinematographic turn" in science and its alternatives, this essay brings to light unexplored multi-disciplinary connections that contribute to the histories of psychology, philosophy, physics, and film studies.
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