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Photomechanical printing in Europe in the mid-19th century: History, theory, visual culture, science and the international network in the 1840s-1860s

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PHOTOMECHANICS (Photomechanical printing in Europe in the mid-19th century: History, theory, visual culture, science and the international network in the 1840s-1860s)

Reporting period: 2019-09-16 to 2020-09-15

There are three long-standing tendencies most apparent in existing scholarship: Firstly, contrary to the large interest in developing fine photomechanical printing processes in the 1840s–60s, the historiography concentrated only on a small number of figures. Secondly, most of the existing publications, no matter how insightful they are, centre on specific figures with regard to the national or regional context, and/or do not exceed the extent of an article or a book chapter. Finally, many interpretations often proceed from period assessments, which were not without prejudice, and try to draw up a hierarchy as a decisive feature to serve as an axis around which to turn the subject. The project argues that the whole process of early photomechanical printing development was in fact quite effective, complex, utterly international, spatially conditioned and collaborative and as such should be interpreted in terms of international scientific and visual culture network.
The project’s overall objectives were:
1/ to survey relevant collections and archives with an aim to identify, study, analyse, compare, and interpret a critical mass of preserved incunabula and other relevant visual and written documents as a necessary base to achieve further research objectives;
2/ to explore history and development of photomechanical pre-industrial printing culture. It comprised analysis and interpretation of primary visual and written material, period theoretical discussions on development of photomechanical technologies, their application, potential, as well as motivation and approaches of their inventors and users;
3/ to research and analyse use of early photomechanical prints in the arts and science. This focus of research helped to understand what factors were involved in the delay of the photomechanical printing dissemination and to disclose how photomechanical prints affected the work of scientists, artists and art historians, in both the theory and practice;
4/ to contribute to better understanding of an important chapter of modern visual culture history;
5/ to draw attention to preservation and appropriate care of little known and therefore neglected cultural heritage.
Through close collaboration with the supervisor and partner institutions, the fellow was able to follow most of her research objectives, extend her research and expertise in history of science and photography, and to enhance her complex research capacities. She was able to reach higher visibility in the international academic network, establish new international contacts, improve her international publication record, as well as her managerial and publication skills.
The work was divided into eight work packages, of which three followed research strategies and five focused on training, project management and dissemination and communication of research results.
WP1 – Archives and collections survey: The aim was to research, identify, analyse, compare, and interpret early photomechanical prints and matrices and other relevant visual and written sources from selected collections of prints and photographs. Collected data resulted into an open-access on-line database and were used for research into two specific topics.
WP2 – The earliest era of photomechanical printing culture (research topic # 1): Comprising the most extensive part of the research, it aimed to analyse and interpret primary visual and written sources, as well as period theoretical discussions on the earliest development and application of photomechanical technologies. It resulted into an extensive article submitted to a top journal in the field of history of science (currently under review) and a proposal of a special issue of the History of Photography journal.
WP3 – Photomechanical reproductions and illustrations (research topic # 2): The aim was to research and analyse applications of early photomechanical printing technologies in scientific and artistic illustration. This research topic was meant to form the main focus of interest in the second half of the fellowship, however, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which made travel and field-research impossible, it could not have been looked into in the necessary extent. In an effort to take advantage of the fellowship in the most effective way despite the given circumstances, more time and effort has gone to perfecting the WP2.
WP4 – Secondments: Two secondments were intended. The first one, carried out at the NSMM in Bradford, comprised collection research and training in preventive conservation and handling of photographic objects. The second one, arranged with the Science Museum in London had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 restrictions and the museum closure lasting throughout the remaining period.
WP5 – Integration and training: The fellow took part in numerous courses and training sessions. In line with the PCDP she was able to familiarize herself with teaching, training, supervising and supporting students strategies at DMU. She also learned about Social Network Analysis research methods and practiced her English presentation skills.
WP6 – Dissemination of research and project results: The fellow completed an extensive article and submitted it to an internationally recognized peer-reviewed journal, participated at two international conferences and presented her research project at the PHRC Research Day colloquium. She also shared her research with academic community through a project website and social networks. Due to Covid-19 restriction a one-day workshop planned in collaboration with the CFPR, University of the West of England, Bristol had to be postponed until 2021 (i.e. after the fellowship period).
WP7 – Communication and public engagement strategies: The project aims and results were communicated through numerous channels, including an invited talk, an on-line exhibition, an interview, an article in a mainstream art-journal, and a blog. A one-day printing workshop for children had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
WP8 – Research, budget and risk management: In line with the proposal, the project implementation was monitored and discussed with the supervisor periodically and the PCDP was kept up to date. The fellow also received regular feedback from the supervisor.
The greatest progress which is to be seen is of four kinds: Firstly, the aforementioned article dealing with roles played by electricity and daguerreotypes at the outset of photomechanical printing, quite innovatively articulates and demonstrates electricity and the daguerreotype as joint elements and driving forces in electrical science, photography and visual culture. It reveals a thoroughly new subject area. Secondly, the open-access database as the first of its kind provides a large amount of visual and textual data about relevant objects identified in dozens of collections and can be used by other researchers to deepen our knowledge of various aspects of photomechanical printing. Thirdly, the project helped to make this underresearched area more visible, bolstered other researchers’ interest and helped to reinforce the PHRC’s focus on photomechanical printing history. Last but not least, the first steps have been taken towards close collaboration with the Technical University in Vienna and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and, what’s more, the fellow will continue to co-operate closely with the PHRC as a Visiting Research Fellow, starting in September 2020.