Jane Hutchinson

Two young women posed in front of studio backdrop, light reflector at side, ca. 1890, unidentified American Tintype
Eastman Collection – http://licensing.eastmanhouse.org/

Transtechnology Research,
Room B312 Portland Square,
University of Plymouth,
Drake Circus,
PL4 8AA.

A Media Archaeology of Technologies of Enchantment.

I am an MPhil/PhD candidate with interests encompassing a wide range of phenomena and enabling or mediating technologies, which facilitate the presentation, re-presentation, and performance of self.

My project aims to determine the extent to which enchanting image-object forms are contingent to the mechanisms and technologies of their making. It is developing within a framework of the anthropology of image, performance and ritual, and through an archaeological investigation of media forms. Its focus is now upon the special case of the technical, cognitive and cultural aspects of having ones photograph taken in a nineteenth century photographic studio.

My research was prompted by observation of a colleague’s enchantment with his virtual ‘second life’. I wanted to understand his desire to live life online and his fascination with his avatar ‘other’ self. I began to notice what seemed to be a similar behaviour in nineteenth century studio portrait photographs, where the subject was apparently willing to stand in front of a painted backdrop and share the photographic space with incongruous props. My curiosity about the nature of the experience of being photographed in these circumstances has become a focus of this project. So in order to situate the research within its cultural, artifactual, environmental and technological context I am reviewing the history of photography and the moving image.

This project includes exploration of the motivation for collecting and ‘keeping safe’ in archives and private collections, photographic portraits of unknown and unknowable people. I became aware of these hundreds of thousands of images being ‘kept safe’, while working in museums in mid-Wales and Cornwall. I began to wonder about what seemed to be a particular quality contained within and experienced through the photographs and also the digital avatars. This quality appears to be greater than the sum of its parts as through its production objects are invested with meaning and value beyond their material worth. So my research includes an exploration of the circumstances of their being and the experience of engagement with them. I now have my own small collection of enchanting images bought from charity shops and flea markets.

The philosophical enquiry includes consideration of the anthropology of performance, and I am especially influenced by Richard Schechner’s description of the Yaqui Indian Deer Dancer’s state of being ‘Not me – not not me’. A strong thread running through the research is a fascination with the mechanisms and technologies that mediate this experience, from Magic Lanterns and the paraphernalia of the Victorian and Edwardian photographer’s studio, to the rituals surrounding transcendental experiences, shamanism and manifestations of the spirit in the broadest sense.

Recent research includes a project begun in January 2015 with Martha Blassnigg for The Temporal Image Research Open Laboratory (TTIROL). This project is a media-archaeological investigation of an experimental apparatus devised by the psychologist Hugo Munsterberg of the Harvard Psychological Laboratory in 1912 to test the aptitude of the motormen of The Boston Elevated Railway Company for their work. This is situated in the context of my wider exploration of devices that provide a stimulus for the experience of an imaginary reality.

Current research for TTIROL includes an investigation of a selection of British, American and French illustrated periodicals drawn from the second half of the nineteenth century. The project is broadly concerned to examine the portrayal of technology in these publications.

Hutchinson, J. (2014). ‘Not Me…Not Not Me’: A Restoration of Behaviour in Media Practices. In: M. Punt and M. Blassnigg, ed., Media Archaeology and Cognition – Transtechnology Reader 2014/15, Plymouth: Transtechnology Research, pp. 272-279.

Hutchinson, J. (2015). Sara Angelucci: Provenance Unknown by Emelie Chhangur, Curator.
Leonardo Reviews, [online] October. Available at: http://leonardo.info/reviews/oct2015/chhangur-hutchinson.php


Seminar 18 November 2015

Ephemeral Affections: The Elusive Object: Imagination, Abstraction and Dreams of Utopia

The purpose of this seminar is to explore the extent to which a re-creation or re-presentation of an object or event is able to ‘stand-in’ for the original, whether it was fully realised at the time of its conception or remained in an imaginary form.

It will do this by considering the provisional (re)-construction of Hugo Munsterberg’s [1] apparatus for testing the ”mental constitution” of motormen in order to determine their suitability for the job. The experiment took place at the Harvard Psychological Laboratory during the spring of 1912. The experimental subjects were employees of The Boston Elevated Railway Company. In his initial report [2] Munsterberg provided a detailed account of his design of the experimental process, and the apparatus. He claimed its success was in part at least due to its evoking for his subjects the reality of their working lives.

The seminar is presented in the context of a wider exploration of the value of reconstruction in a media-archaeological research process. Drawings, images and a maquette model that were created during the research process will be presented. These are informed by Munsterberg’s description (see text below).
Participants will be invited to engage with these items in order to explore the extent of their adequacy as ‘stand-ins’ for the apparatus, even if its original form was an imaginary constituent of a thought experiment.

As soon as this principle for the experiment was recognized as satisfactory, it was necessary to find a technical device by which a movement over this artificial track could be produced in such a way that the rapidity could be controlled by the subject of the experiment and at the same time measured. Again we had to try various forms of apparatus. Finally we found the following form most satisfactory. Twelve such cards, each provided with a handle, lie one above another under a glass plate through which the upper card can be seen. If this highest card is withdrawn, the second is exposed, and from below springs press the remaining cards against the glass plate. The glass plate with the la cards below lies in a black wooden box and is completely covered by a belt 8 inches broad made of heavy black velvet. This velvet belt moves over two cylinders at the front and the rear ends of the apparatus. In the centre of the belt is a window 4½ inches wide and 2½ inches high. If the front cylinder is turned by a metal crank, the velvet belt passes over the glass plate and the little window opening moves over the card with its track and figures. The whole breadth of the card, with its central track and its 4 units on either side, is visible through it over of 5 units in the length direction. If the man to be experimented on turns the crank with his right hand, the window slips over the whole length of the card, one part of the card after another becomes visible, and then he simply has to call the letters of those units in the track at which the red figures on either side would land, if they took the number of steps indicated by the digit. At the moment the window has reached Z on the card, the experimenter withdraws that card and the next becomes visible, as a second window in the belt appears at the lower end when the first disappears at the upper end. In this way the subject can turn his crank uninterruptedly until he has gone through the 12 cards. The experimenter notes down the numbers of the cards and the letters which the subject calls.

Munsterberg, H. (1913) Chapter VIII, ‘Experiments in the Interest of Electric Railway Service’, in Psychology and Industrial Efficiency. Boston and New York: Houghtan Mifflin Company, pp. 63-82.
(Also available online at http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Munster/Industrial/chap8.htm)

[1] Hugo Munsterberg (1863-1916) moved from Leipzig to Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1992 at the invitation of William James, to become the director of the Harvard Psychology Laboratory, a position he retained until his death. In 1898 he was elected the president of the American Psychological Association. In addition to fulfilling these responsibilities he was a lecturer and prolific writer of books and papers for specialist and general audiences. As an altruistic idealist he developed the academic discipline of experimental psychology to a psychology that could by its practical application solve the ‘problems’ of life.

[2] The American Association of Labor Legislation commissioned the experiment in March 1912. Munsterberg sent his initial report to them less than three months later.


Seminar November 2014 – co-presented with Jacqui Knight

Technologies of Rupture: Machines of Innocence and Oblivion and the Renewal of Reality

This seminar will look at techniques of rupture or ‘estrangement’ (Shklovskij 1991) and assimilation used as a device in artistic photographic practices. Ruptures produce effects such as temporal indeterminism (a ‘stepping outside’ of time), a disorientation before a re-orientation. As such a rupture can challenge expectations of what is normal, logical and causal, countering habituation and automatisation.

The seminar will present selected artworks, including the photographs of William H. Rau of the Pennsylvania Railroad, as examples of the assimilation of the machine into an Edenic ideal, a healing of the rupture. It will also present selected works of artists who re-appropriate or retool objects, materials or technologies, removing them from habitualised use and anatomizing them. By considering differing scales of rupture; such as jokes and magic tricks, accidents and the catastrophic, the seminar aims to reveal something about the underlying ideals, intentions and histories of these technologies or tools.

Barthes, R. (1964) Image Music Text. Translated by Stephen Heath. New York: Harper Collins, 1977.
Marx, L. (2000) The Machine in the Garden: Technology and The Pastoral Ideal in America. Thirty-Fifth Anniversary Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Shklovsky, V. (1991) Theory of Prose. Translated by Benjamin Sher. London: Dalkey Archive Press Campaign.
Van Horne, J. C. with Drelick, E. E. (eds.) (2002) Traveling The Pennsylvania Railroad: The Photographs of William H. Rau. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.


George Inness (1825-1894)
The Lackawanna Valley, 1855
Oil on canvas, 86 × 127 cm (33.9 × 50 in)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 

Seminar January 2014

Degrees of Lustre: An Experimental Taxonomy of Manifestations, Marvels and Mischwesen

The seminar will present a brief historiographical review of methods and processes of classification of so-called ‘avatars’. This will include manifestations of the idea as material entity or imagined embodiment; illusory vehicles for experiencing enchantment and the marvelous. The aim is to facilitate the development of an appropriate taxonomy or framework for further study, and through discussion to explore the question set out in the introduction to this seminar series – that is, whether the recognition now of what constitutes an avatar indicates a change or release of a dormant capacity in human cognition or, whether new media and technology simply allows us to experience this phenomenon in a new way.

Texts, images, artifacts and film drawn from the fields of anthropology, literature, theatre and religion, performance and ritual, puppetry and masks, the development of the photographic image and film, and new-media technologies will be presented. You are invited to contribute to the seminar by considering and sharing experiences of encounters with the avatar and how this phenomenon is manifest in your area of research.