Michelle Smiley

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History of Art, Bryn Mawr

Wyeth Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art

2018 to 2019
Fellow in Residence

Becoming Photography: The American Development of a Medium

This dissertation theorizes the medium of photography as a material and epistemological practice as it emerged within early nineteenth-century America. Through an analysis of the scientific, technological, and photographic works of American scientists and artisans such as Robert Hare, Joseph Saxton, Paul Beck Goddard, Robert Cornelius, and Eadweard Muybridge, I narrate an American origin story for the medium, one that confounds both the traditional understanding of the history of the photograph's invention as well as the understanding of the photograph as a fine art object. I argue that it is through the work of pioneering artisans and scientists in the United States that photography only gradually becomes what we largely recognize it as today--an automatic and instantaneous image. This project shows the inextricability of a history of science with the history of photography, demonstrating the importance of American artisans and scientists in the development of the medium.