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Image and Imagination: an Exploration of Online Nano-image Galleries

26 Mar 2011

This presentation is based on an ongoing project with Kathryn de Ridder-Vignone (also of Cornell University) that explores online image galleries. These galleries present collections of digital images associated with nanoscience/nanotechnology (nano-images for short). Image galleries present work from a growing number of scientific fields, but in no other research area are they as closely bound to the promotion and public interface of the field as they are in nano. Unlike many scientific images that are of interest to art historians and historians of science, images in nano galleries are selected, and often produced, explicitly as art. They are seldom valued as ‘high’ art, and appreciating them as art requires at least a minimal understanding of the scale of the source objects and fields. The images collected in these galleries are quite diverse, and as an initial step in coming to terms with them, we present a rough typology of their formal and functional characteristics. These include ’empirical renderings’, ‘displays of technical virtuosity’, ‘self-assembled objects and landscapes’, ‘idealized images/models’, and ‘fantastic voyages’. Particular images differently display technique through form, draw out structural details, and merge imaginary features with material forms. Interestingly, compared with other types of nano-image, the most fantastic images place the least amount of burden on the viewer’s imagination.