Article ID: CBB001320020

Magic Mirrors: Formalist Realism in Victorian Physics and Photography (2012)


This essay argues that British photography of the 1850s and '60s wedded realism---understood as a commitment to descriptive truthfulness---with formalism, or a belief in the defining power of structural relationships. Photographers at midcentury understood the realistic character of photography to be grounded in more than fidelity to detail; the technical properties of the medium accorded perfectly with the claims of contemporary physicists that reality itself was constituted by spatial arrangements and polar forces rather than essential categorical distinctions. The photographs of Clementina, Lady Hawarden exemplify this formalist realism, dramatizing the power of the formal logic of photography not only to represent the real but to reveal its fundamentally formal nature.

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Authors & Contributors
Hentschel, Klaus
Hoffmann, Christoph
Mach, Ernst
Berz, Peter
Salcher, Peter
Wilholt, Torsten
Foundations of Chemistry
Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
Wallstein Verlag
University of Chicago Press
Northeastern University
Pavia University Press
Visual representation; visual communication
Salcher, Peter
Mach, Ernst
Becquerel, Henri
Draper, John William
Rowland, Henry Augustus
Prandtl, Ludwig
Great Britain
New Zealand
19th century
20th century, early
20th century, late
20th century

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