Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Visual Arts


Wood, Kelly


The central aim of this dissertation is to provide insights into the ways in which documentary photography, in theory and practice, can be employed in the representation of evolving and difficult to visualize technologies. Examining technology via its relationship to scientific inquiry offers a framework for considering the production of knowledge through instruments and their inscriptions. This relationship is examined from diverse perspectives, such as the philosophy of technology, social constructivism, the philosophy of science, and media studies. Considering the relationship between the function of instruments within the scientific laboratory and the camera as used within the visual arts can provide unique insights into its utility as a tool of knowledge production. I propose that a diversity of perspectives is necessary in order to understand the utility of the camera as a tool for representing technology today. Due to the ways in which contemporary technologies are progressively hidden from vision via the unintelligible forms of techno-objects, the problematic of visualizing the functions and effects of technology via documentary photography are examined. I propose that a variety of documentary photographic strategies are necessary, varying in both their aesthetic and political coherence, to represent such a multifaceted and challenging to visualize phenomenon. Multiple approaches towards representing technology via documentary photography are classified into four distinct categories: ideological documentary, ethical documentary, poetic documentary, and radical documentary. Each of these categories offers a unique opportunity to construct new forms of visual knowledge regarding technology; however, I argue that they are most useful if employed collectively. In the final chapter, I present the production-based component of this dissertation, an artist’s book titled A Human Laboratory, along with an introduction that explores the relationship between the above theoretical discourses and the artistic practice of documentary photography.