Tim Daly
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Accident and Invention: The Wright Brothers’ photography (Daly 2010)


The discipline of photography unlike painting, has largely remained confined within the technological limitations of its complex production processes. Indeed, it could be argued that its innate reproducibility through digital data, mechanical print and mass-published photobooks, has now elevated the opposite: the unique print, the artists’ book, the signs of hand, the vernacular oddity, the modern day naive. Does our increasing interaction with the virtual world heighten our nostalgia for finite physical artefacts? Is it only the materiality of analogue reproduction that delivers these ‘lost’ visual and tactile nuances?

Lurking on a virtual shelf at the US Library of Congress is an intriguing set of images presented for conventional documentary purposes. Of the 303 surviving photographs taken by Orvill and Wilbur Wright during the design and field-testing of their experimental aircraft, most are remarkable chronicles of their inventions, but as images they are crude and unsophisticated.


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(above image: Wright Brothers/ Library of Congress)