Thesis ID: CBB624579459

The Astronomical Realists: The Social Mechanics of Visual Documentation, Art, and the American Space Age, 1944 – 1987 (2022)


Carson, Cathryn L. (Advisor)
Rosson, Lois (Author)

Carson, Cathryn L.
University of California, Berkeley
Publication date: 2022
Language: English

Publication Date: 2022
Physical Details: 205

This dissertation examines how the practice of astronomical illustration changed and expanded over the course of the twentieth century Space Age. In the United States, the post-war period transformed outer space into a geopolitically significant environment, reorienting the authoritative picturing of space from a practice housed primarily within European astronomical observatories to one with commercial viability in American science and popular culture. In the absence of cameras capable of rendering the space environment, individual illustrators filled in pictorial gaps by hand. Between the years of 1944 and 1987, illustrators developed an aesthetic of neutrality that visually signaled the scientific accuracy of their work. This aesthetic privileged a style of representation that mirrored the technical impartiality of cameras, collapsing distinctions between “most realistic” looking with “most photographic.” The visual clarity of photographic resolution became the standard for the most successful illustrations, even though most subjects depicted required a degree of artistic license to be made visible at all. This dissertation examines the visual techniques developed to reproduce photographic-looking illustrations of unphotographable places. The status of these images as utilitarian was negotiated via a complex web of group consensus and proximity to places like NASA, educational programming at planetariums, and public television. Examining midcentury astronomical illustration as a cultural product instead of neutral technical output offers a new entry point into the visual culture of the Space Age in the United States. This study underscores the way in which socially constructed expectations about the space environment were coded into objective-looking images.

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Authors & Contributors
Remmert, Volker R.
Ahrén, Eva
Attenborough, David
Baulu, Jean
Dance, Peter
Jorink, Eric
Archives of Natural History
Galilæana: Journal of Galilean Studies
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences
Nuncius: Annali di Storia della Scienza
Public Understanding of Science
Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture
Harrassowitz in Kommission
MIT Press
National Library of Australia
Visual representation; visual communication
Science and art
Scientific illustration
Natural history
Science and culture
Collectors and collecting
Cesi, Federico
Escher, Maurits Cornelis
Galilei, Galileo
Luminet, Jean-Pierre
Ramón y Cajal, Santiago
Retzius, Magnus Gustaf
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
17th century
18th century
16th century
21st century

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