Reading Nature, Observing Science: Examining Material Practices in the Lick Observatory Archives and Kenneth S. Norris Papers

Case 4: The Importance of Framing

These four images of the Schaeberle camera point to the importance that framing can play in a photograph and the story that it tells.

In the first image, the camera, constructed with what looks like banana leaves, stands alone. In the second image, we can see boats on the nile and we can see three Egyptian men standing next to the remaining equipment. The second image situates us on the banks of Elephantine Island but also makes visible the local laborers on whom this scientific operation depended.

Unlike the photos from Egypt, it seems that the two images of the camera constructed at Padang may show the camera at slightly different locations, but they nonetheless tell different stories. In the first, the camera tower of bamboo and palm thatch is shown among a collection of shelters made with the same materials as the camera tower. A simple fence separates the scientific site from a backdrop of trees. In the second image, the camera tower is embedded among what look like brick houses with tiled roofs. The fenced enclosure circles both the scientific shelters and the other buildings. This image, rather than suggesting a remote location, suggests that the activity was conducted within and reliant upon the colonial structures. This second impression is supported by a report published in 1901 by Charles Perrine, one of the Lick astronomers. He thanks the Dutch Governor of Padang for his assistance and for providing "a body of twenty special policemen" to form a barrier around the camp on the night of the eclipse.

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