Wednesday, December 24, 2014

History and the Claims of Revelation: Joseph Smith and the Materialization of the Golden Plates

Ann Taves reviews the accounts of the golden plates that Joseph Smith discovered and interpreted. In spite of conflicting historical evidence regarding the actuality of the plates, Taves suggests a nuanced approach of skilled perception as a means to resolve the challenges of accepting their reality wholesale or denying their reality and inferring that Smith intentionally misled people. This excerpt reproduces the first two sections of the longer article cited below.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Stereoscope and the Stereograph

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. – the noted poet, essayist, and physician – offers a set of reflections on the emerging technology of photography in this 1859 essay. Apparent here is the intricate reliance on complex technology for rendering the 3-dimensional world into a 2-dimensional fixed representation of that world. With the novel ability to produce such accurate images easily, Holmes sees a transition occur: even though the photograph is a quintessential example of a material object, Holmes sees form “divorced from matter” in the photographic image. Undoubtedly, the complex relationships between people and photographic imagery has helped to shape subsequent attitudes about object, materiality, and information “divorced from matter.” 

This essay relays an intelligent observer's impressions at the advent of the technological age. Holmes's notions and language are enough like ours to be sensible, but just different enough so that his topicthe capturing of lightis refracted in uniquely creative way. It is worth considering how the digitization of imagesin their production, manipulation, and transmission – departs from this earlier era in which a different set of materials and procedures was necessary to accomplish these processes. Now, more than ever, visual imagery may be divorced from its material underpinnings, and exist as a flow of information connecting, for instance, a live camera feed, linked to a satellite, communicating with a station, broadcasting the imagery on a news channel, to the flickering screen of a television, and ultimately, to the eyes of the viewer all in real time.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Stuff of Everyday Religion

Alexandra Antohin offers a set of reflections on her training in visual and material culture at University College London and how that facilitated insights regarding her ethnographic study of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.