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Views from the window: nonhuman photography, human labour and COVID-19

Joanna Zylinska

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Nicéphore Niépce
Enhanced version of Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s View from the Window at Le Gras, 1826 or 1827. Public Domain

In Techniques of the Observer, art historian Jonathan Crary explains that the proto-photographic apparatus of the camera obscura is believed to have been “accidentally ‘discovered’ when bright sunlight would enter through a small aperture in shuttered windows” (1990, p. 35). The function of the window was subsequently incorporated into camera design, with the lens and the viewfinder offering window-like openings within the dollhouse structure of image-making apparatuses. In the history of photography windows haven’t just served as apertures that enable the arrival of light and, subsequently, mechanical image capture. They have also been spaces from which photographs could be taken. Indeed, a window can function as the photographer’s aid as it helps visualise a picture by narrowing the observer’s vision through its frame. Interestingly, an image considered to be the first photograph, taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, is known as View from the Window at Le Gras (1826 or 1827).…

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