The Practice of Light: A Genealogy of Visual Technologies from Prints to Pixels (Leonardo Book Series)

The Practice of Light: A Genealogy of Visual Technologies from Prints to Pixels (Leonardo Book Series)

Sean Cubitt

Language: English

Pages: 368

ISBN: 0262027658

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Light is the condition of all vision, and the visual media are our most important explorations of this condition. The history of visual technologies reveals a centuries-long project aimed at controlling light. In this book, Sean Cubitt traces a genealogy of the dominant visual media of the twenty-first century -- digital video, film, and photography -- through a history of materials and practices that begins with the inventions of intaglio printing and oil painting. Attending to the specificities of inks and pigments, cathode ray tubes, color film, lenses, screens, and chips, Cubitt argues that we have moved from a hierarchical visual culture focused on semantic values to a more democratic but value-free numerical commodity.

Cubitt begins with the invisibility of black, then builds from line to surface to volume and space. He describes Rembrandt's attempts to achieve pure black by tricking the viewer and the rise of geometry as a governing principle in visual technology, seen in Dürer, Hogarth, and Disney, among others. He finds the origins of central features of digital imaging in nineteenth-century printmaking; examines the clash between the physics and psychology of color; explores the representation of space in shadows, layers, and projection; discusses modes of temporal order in still photography, cinema, television, and digital video; and considers the implications of a political aesthetics of visual technology.

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address to the specific illumination filling space. Leonardo had been among those who noticed that shadows have their own colors. A particular example observed by von Guericke in the midseventeenth century and mentioned subsequently by others is the blue tint of shadows Space 173 cast at dawn or sunset, an observation that would pass through Buffon in the mideighteenth century to Edward Land, inventor of the Polaroid process. Here is Leonardo’s account of it from the Treatise: The shadows of

longer a uniform field but a line: the ray. During their lifetimes, the world population was less than six hundred million, a tenth of its present size. It had taken the whole of the previous fifteen hundred years since the birth of Christ to double from three hundred million (United Nations 1999, box 2). Compared with the three billion people who inhabited the world in 1950 or the six billion that inhabited it in 2000, their world was sparsely populated. Still reeling from the effects of the

Buchdahl (1969, 142) notes of the use of analogies in the Dioptrique, the deductive line is snapped and original restrictions are relaxed; the reasoning thereafter proceeds in accordance with a series of models. The models of the Dioptrics are in fact on Descartes’ own admission employed with the utmost abandon and disregard for mutual consistency. Consistency instead becomes the work of the illustrations, where the connection between mechanics and optics is vividly expressed: In both words and

similar to that addressed by Adams’s Zone system: how to correlate high-contrast subjects. Areas in deep shadow appear not as low density on the negative, as they do in traditional photography, but as noise: random deviations from the ideally inert state of a cell that has received no light. These stray fragments of charge, quantum effects in the chip, are the digital equivalent of fog in silver-based photography, and at present can be removed only in professional cameras’ advanced noise

variety of rim or limb effects is powerfully associated with Joseph von Sternberg’s cycle of films made with Marlene Dietrich, shot and lit by Lee Garmes (with publicity stills by Don English), in the 1930s: Morocco (1930), Dishonored (1931), Shanghai Express (1932), Blonde Venus (1932), The Scarlet Empress (1934), and The Devil Is a Woman (1936) (see figure 4.1). The precode Shanghai Express, for which Garmes took home the Oscar for best cinematography, places Dietrich’s character Madeleine (“It

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