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Working Paper No. 11/2013

UCL Anthropology Working Papers Series

UCL Anthropology
University College London
14 Taviton Street, London
WC1H 0BW, U.K.

ISSN 1759-6688
Editorial Board: Andrea Migliano, Charles Stewart

Working Paper No. 11/2013
Published online 14 May 2013
© Copyright rests with the authors



Dissertation submitted in 2011 for the MA Material and Visual Culture

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Based on research conducted with the Astrophysics Group at Imperial College London, this paper examines astronomical images to illuminate the practices and categories of the visual within astronomy. By identifying the origin of these images in an initial transformation of light, I frame astronomical image making as a technical process. This study is an initial attempt at a Latourian inspired ‘visual-symmetrical’ anthropology which gives equal weight to the roles of the human and non-human, and spheres of the visible and invisible, through a tentative anthropology of light.

The paper first gives an overview of the literature and theoretical approaches to the study of images. It then examines the techniques of visualisation through which photons are transformed into data, then images, then mediators which are made to refer back to the original celestial phenomenon. The study goes onto explore how astronomical images lie at the intersection of processes of mediation and mediality, and then perception and technology.

I conclude by considering the category of the visual in astronomy, which is shown to be constructed in tandem with these images. The images themselves emerge at the triadic confluence of techniques, reference and the visual. I propose the concept of a ‘spectrum of the visible’ to expose how the visible/invisible binary is collapsed within these images and to highlight how the visual, both within and without astronomy, is a fragmented, heterogeneous,
hybrid movement.

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