Organized Session

SHOT Joint Session

Faithful Representations: Observation, Mediation, and the Visual Reproduction of Nature


Samantha M. Thompson

National Air and Space Museum


Elizabeth Kessler


Session Abstract

The ability to visually document the most ethereal phenomena in nature has challenged scientists across disciplines. Whether hindered by the observational apparatus or the phenomenon itself, recording the seemingly unrecordable has been a historically daunting task. This session proposes to examine four case studies in the twentieth century physical and astronomical sciences, focused on the interface between transient natural phenomena and those who aim to physically instantiate their observations. Rather than taking the relationship between observation and representation for granted, this session explores the physical challenges of mediation and aims to situate them in a broader social context. In each case study, there’s a gap between perception and recording, and trust in the final image requires a kind of faith in its objectivity. We explore “faithful representation” in both senses of the phrase—the dedicated, constant work required to produce an image, as well as the act of producing a trustworthy image. In each case, phenomena that are difficult to picture and record because they are fleeting, amorphous, or imperceptible to unaided, or even to technologically enhanced, vision are discussed. The affordances of the existing imaging technologies or methods of representation are deemed inadequate or unfaithful. As the actors in each case attempt to use imaging technologies to produce a more faithful image, they must rely on technologies from different fields, from different sources, or through other methods. The session is driven by a set of questions necessarily wrapped up in the history of technology; most pressingly, the necessary transfer of technologies across disciplines to better reproduce or visual represent information that is too distant or ethereal to be recorded by present methods.

Presenter 1

"So True to Nature": Illusion and Immersion in the Early Planetarium

Katie Boyce-Jacino

Arizona State University

Presenter 2

Transcribing the Lunar Environment: Art, Draughtsmanship, and the USGS Moon Maps of the 1960s

Lois Rosson

Presenter 3

Capturing the Northern Lights: The Use of Television Cameras to Measure and Study Aurora

Samantha M. Thompson

National Air and Space Museum

Presenter 4

Seeing the World with Super-sight: The Science Photography of Berenice Abbott

Talia Shabtay Filip