Conference: Photographs from outer space. A female archaeology of image-data

December 11, 2023

“Photography is pure contingency and can be nothing else”, wrote Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida. If this famous definition has fueled debates around technical images for decades, research today seeks to rethink the photographic on a different basis, dissociating the link between the shot and the instant, between the experience in the present and its recording.

Advanced digital techniques presents us with “photographs of the future” crafted by algorithms, and photogrammetric images navigable from multiple viewpoints. Nonetheless, a vast scientific domain has always grappled with these paradoxes. From the moment cameras pointed skyward, the awareness of the insurmountable gulf between the mechanical eye and the celestial expanse challenged the notion that photography inherently embodies the simultaneous presence of the observer and the observed. Astrophotography perennially navigates the delicate boundary between recording and visualization, as well as between the human and the posthuman. It challenges the operator to decipher visual traces, which extend far beyond representation and yet provide indispensable clues to unravelling their astrophysical identities. The “cultivation”, measurement, and digitisation of these photo-signals from elsewhere historically became a female task. Women astronomers, often referred to as “computers”, were a flesh-and-blood version of the calculating machines that were to become established in the following decades — an archaeology incarnate of the digital. Rediscovering their role, re-locating their figures somewhere between that of the art curator and the engineer, also means to explore a female archaeology of the postphotographic image. This conference, characterized by its interdisciplinary approach, unites media archaeologists, image theorists, historians and philosophers of science, women’s studies scholars, and artists delving into the nexus of astrophotography and visual culture.

Curated by: Barbara Grespi and Luca Guzzardi (Department of Philosophy “Piero Martinetti”) Dates: 11-13 December 2023 Venue: Sala Napoleonica, Università degli Studi di Milano Full program: download here