The Work of Intermediation from Pre-Photography to Post-Digitization
272 pp., 6 x 9 in, 12 color illus., 21 b&w illus.
- Published: June 6, 2023
- Publisher: The MIT Press
An intimate foray into the invisible work that made it possible for pictures to circulate in print and online from the 1830s to the 2010s.
Picture Research focuses on how pictures were saved, stored, and searched for in a time before scanners, servers, and search engines, and describes the dramatic difference it made when images became scannable, searchable, and distributable via the internet. While the camera, the darkroom, and the printed page are well-known sites of photographic production that have been replaced by cell phones, imaging software, and websites, the cultural intermediaries of mass-circulation photography—picture librarians and researchers, editors, and archivists—are less familiar. In this book, Nina Lager Vestberg artfully details the range of research skills, reproduction machinery, and communication infrastructures that was needed to make pictures available to a public before digitization.
Drawing on documents and representations across a range of cultural expressions, Picture Research reveals the intermediation that has been performed by skilled workers in a variety of roles, making use of pre-photographic, photographic, and digital machineries of capture, accumulation, extraction, and transmission. Tracing a history of the modern pictorial economy from the pre-photographic 1830s to the post-digitized 2010s, it makes visible and explicit the invisible labor that has built—and still sustains—the visual commodity culture of everyday life.
“Vestberg's book charts a changing landscape from a once-exclusive world to one in which we all have become daily picture researchers – key reading for everyone interested in the story of how loupes became long tails."
Claudy Op den Kamp, Principal Academic in Film, Centre for Intellectual Property Policy & Management, Bournemouth University; author of The Greatest Films Never Seen: The Film Archive and the Copyright Smokescreen
“In this highly original and refreshing study, Vestberg illuminates 'the mundane and culturally invisible' practices of picture research, revealing the uncredited librarians' and archivists' hands – often women's – who people the processes that make access to pictures possible."
Annebella Pollen, Professor of Visual and Material Culture, University of Brighton
“This fascinating and important book is a story about storage: the photograph as storehouse, and the changing ways in which the photographic itself has been and is stored. Vestberg has a keen eye for fleeting objects and marginal artefacts.”
Peter Buse, Dean of the School of the Arts, University of Liverpool; author of The Camera Does the Rest: How Polaroid Changed Photography