The Photographic Turn: Architecture, Truth, and Modern Vision in France 1840-1900
AbstractUsing the case of photography, my dissertation explores truth as a malleable practice that attempts to reconcile architecture’s growing interest in subjective qualities (especially space, movement, and the fragmentation of the architectural object) with its desire to be grounded in objective, evidentiary discourse. Using a survey of French architectural publications, I have charted photography’s rise to pre-eminence in architecture’s shifting representational landscape. Mediations of the photographic image—especially through engraving—and analogous relationships with other media such as plaster casting and iron construction provide key focal points, as do changing attitudes towards perspectival representation and the emergence of a “photo-scopic” form of modern vision.
Together, my five thematic chapters reveal the practitioner’s apparently conflicted desire, on the one hand, to underscore the quality of truthfulness in the architectural photograph, and, on the other, to allow for the creative deployment of the subjective architectural imaginary. The first two chapters explore the construction—in multiple media—of a new photographically inflected expectation of what a truthful, accurate and useful image should be. While the first charts the deployment of photography’s supposed indexical guarantee across a wide range of architectural practices, the second details the multiple remediations needed for photographs to live up to their ontological promise. The third chapter considers the relationship between early architectural photography and existing codes of architectural representation, documenting the French appetite for images combining mensural accuracy with spatial sensibility. The penultimate chapter relates the emergence of a radical series of spatialized images in the French architectural press around 1870. Belonging to an era in which theorists had begun to interpret architecture dynamically, these “photo-scopic” images dissolve buildings into fragmentary fields of visual experience to be grasped by a moving subject. The final chapter refocuses the analogy between iron architecture and photography upon the fraught question of materiality, for both media were seen as overly industrial and frighteningly immaterial.
While architectural practice may strive for ideals, it is supported by carefully calibrated mediations, accepted license, and productive fictions furnished by representations. While the ideal of truth remains elusive, the spectacle of its assertion in practice is not only possible but also profoundly powerful.
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- FAS Theses and Dissertations