Expressive Bacteria: the Art of Photomicroscopy
In 1877 Robert
Koch published the very first photomicrographs of bacteria. The quality
of these photograms is, for the most part, outstanding. They are not printed
in halftone, as are used today, but individually prepared prints. Nevertheless,
when Koch invented the bacteriological method, photography was still in
its evolving phase. To obtain photosensitive plates was a delicate process.
Koch placed pre-eminent importance on the visualization of pathological
agents. Considering his rival, Louis Pasteur, this was not self-evident.
However, I do neither intend to examine the functional role of photomicrographic
pictures in the process of the production of bacteriological facts nor
to reconstruct their evidental value in the history of microscopy and
objectivity. Instead, I aim to make use of the methodological apparatus
of art history to stain the aesthetic, non-intentional and non-utilitaristic
patterns and configurations of photomicrographs. As a whole, my contribution
undertakes to include Robert Koch's non-art, technological and scientific
images in the history of new media. The paper will conclude with an outlook
for current machine-assisted imaging technologies in microbiology like
microarrays, ratiometric fluorescence microscopy or enhanced membrane
visualization to address contemporary developments of a history which
has started in Koch's time.