When Ferdinand Magellan set out to circumnavigate the globe in 1519, he wasn’t able to take a digital camera or a smartphone with him. Yet, as the eagerly awaited images from the Mars Rover prove, modern exploration is inconceivable without photography. Since its invention in 1839, photography was integral to exploration and used by explorers, sponsors and publishers alike, and in the early twentieth century, advances in technology – and photography’s newfound cultural currency as a truthful witness to the world – made the camera an indispensable tool. In Photography and Exploration, James R. Ryan uses a variety of examples from polar journeys to space missions to show how exploration photographs have been created, circulated and consumed as objects of both scientific research and art.
Examining a wide range of photographs and expeditions, Ryan considers how nations have often employed images as a means to scientific advancement or territorial conquest. He argues that, because exploration has long been bound up with the construction of national and imperial identity, expeditionary photographs have often been used to promote claims to power – especially by the West. These images also challenge the way audiences perceive the world and their place within it. Richly illustrated, Photography and Exploration shines new light on how photography has shaped the image of explorers, expeditions and the worlds they discovered.
‘a very rich and detailed account of how exploration has been visualised, that nonetheless offers a synoptic view of the pictorial practices from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, and raises some key themes for the analysis of photography generallly.’ – Source Magazine
‘In this engaging and beautifully illustrated book, James Ryan delves into a wide range of photographs and geographical expeditions from the mid-nineteenth century to the present as a way of bringing new interpretations to the visual history of exploration. The result is an insightful discussion of the historical complexity of the ways in which photography shaped the image of explorers, expeditions, and the worlds they represented . . . a book full of gems. Fitting well within the brief of Reaktion’s Exposures series, it offers intriguing insights into the world of expeditionary photography’ – Journal of Historical Geography
‘James R. Ryan takes a look at the symbiotic relationship between exploration and photography, and the way in which photography helped to create the myth of the explorer . . . Ryan’s book does more than chronicle explorers’ achievements through surviving imagery. It also examines the role of exploration photography in changing our view of the worid . . . The advent of exploration photography helped to change the way that we, as a society, look at the world, and this book is a fitting, and beautifully illustrated, reminder of the role it has played in our collective consciousness.’ – Geographical Magazine
‘offers an authoritative, effortlessly synoptic account of these related disciplinary fields. Its subject is the relationship between photography and exploration from the announcement of photography in 1839 to the present day, and Ryan’s approach is sensitive to questions of time, place and power, while also richly informed by theoretical developments in the field . . . Ryan’s historical and theoretical mastery of the field is compelling, while there is an extremely effective relationship between his clear narrative text and the illustrations – at least one per page – which are exceptionally well integrated into the discussion both conceptually and editorially, through a clear referencing system.’ – History of Photography
‘This is a book which is both enjoyable and highy illuminating.’ – African Research and Documentation
James R. Ryan is Associate Professor of Historical and Cultural Geography at the University of Exeter. His previous books include Picturing Empire: Photography and the Visualization of the British Empire (Reaktion, 1997) and he is the co-editor of New Spaces of Exploration: Geographies of Discovery in the Twentieth Century (2010).