Soon after the discovery of photography in the 1830s, mundane objects captured by the lens—a hairbrush, say, or a china cup—acquired a curious frisson when reproduced on photographic plates. People seeing photographs for the first time wouldn’t regard them as a single integrated view, but rather as details—marvelling at the way, for example, a mason had applied the mortar between the bricks of the house opposite their own. Wolfgang Schivelbusch, the great contemporary theorist of 19th-century mechanisation, puts it thus: “the intensive experience of the sensuous world, terminated by the industrial revolution, underwent a resurrection in the new institution of photography.”
Photography was soon also compensating its enthusiasts for the close-up immediacy annihilated by mechanised transport systems. The train window’s transparency metamorphosed into a magical immateriality, as the passenger ceased to be visually aware of his surroundings, but rather began to view the landscape the train passed through…
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