[T]echniques of mechanical reproduction held out the promise of images uncontaminated by interpretation. . . . [T]he scientists' continuing claim to such judgement-free representation is testimony to the intensity of their longing for the perfect, "pure" image. In this context, the machine stood for authenticity; it was at once an observer and an artust, miraculously free from the inner temptation to theorize, anthromorphize, beautify, or otherwise interpret nature. What the human observer could achieve only by iron self-discipline, the machine achieved willy-nilly -- such, at least, was the hope, often expressed and just as often dashed. Here constitutive and symbolic functions of the machine blur, for the machine seemed at once a means to, and symbol of, mechanical objectivity. . . . . One type of mechanical image, the photograph, became the emblem for all aspects of noninterventionist objectivity. . . . This was not because the photograph was necessarily truer to nature than hand-made images -- many paintings bore a closer resemblance to their subject matter than early photographs, if only because they used color -- but rather because the camera apparently eliminated human agency. Nonintervention, not verisimilitude, lay at the heart of mechanical objectivity, and this is why mechanically produced images captured its message best.
Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, The Image of Objectivity
Last Modified: Tuesday, 26-Feb-2008 14:47:52 EST