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

Photographing the Cosmos

Astronomers at the Lick used cameras to record and study the features of celestial objects in the solar system; but they were particularly preoccupied with using the camera to discover new kinds of distant celestial objects, such as nebulae, and to record and measure changes in their structure and their light. The images contained in this archive are certainly stunning; but they often do not necessarily represent what astronomers actually saw through the telescopes with the eye. In their writings and letters, we can see how astronomers had to sacrifice certain ideals of objectivity due to the material limitations of the camera, but we can also see how these ideals of objectivity are in themselves aesthetic ideals, perhaps inherited from the era of illustration. The beauty of these images also perhaps elides the laborious process that went into creating as well as reproducing them, and how the aesthetic expectations of astronomers impacted this labor. 

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