Seeing Science

Seeing Science

On 22 April 2017, more than one million demonstrators gathered for Earth Day events in Washington, DC. Snapshots of protesting science workers went viral. Their urgent message addressed the fact that research and freedom of inquiry are politically contingent and need collective stewardship. Science is, and has always been, made possible by a range of factors. Tracing how photography has played a key role in communicating the relationship between science and society, Aperture’s new volume illustrates how images not only visualise, capture and prove findings, but also popularise ideas.

Historically, it has always been iconic, startling or controversial subjects that made it into the media: atomic bomb clouds, astronomical phenomena, our own anatomies. Marvin Heiferman’s book expands the definition of science photography beyond this by considering how far image-making is integral to new discoveries. At the same time, it considers how visual culture has responded to, challenged and drawn from inquiries to educate and inspire the world.

The publication juxtaposes images made by technicians, artists, photojournalists and the entertainment industry – traversing biomedicine, robotics and astrophysics. The result is a kind of witnessing of ideas as they develop in the lab. The book also reveals how, even as scientific photography is called upon for verification, its lines of inquiry have always been shaped by past social norms: from Victorian ethnographers’ documentation of “exotic” colonial subjects, to 1970s glamour shots of NASA’s female astronauts. This collection reveals to us that, as humans, we project our own biases onto what we see – but we are also capable of looking further afield.

Sarah Jilani

Find out more here.

Lead image: Eagle Nebula’s ‘Pillars of Creation’, 2015. Photograph: NASA / ESA / Hubble/The Hubble Heritage Team