Fotograf Magazine

Proof of Discoveries: Photographs in Science 1839-1939

Ondřej Durczak’s Proof of Discoveries. Photographs in Science 1839-1939 is an
extraordinary publication in the Czech Republic, and there is no other such book
available in Czech. It is based on the content of the author’s bachelor thesis, which
he defended at the Institute of Physics of the Faculty of Philosophy and Science
of the Silesian University in Opava in 2014 and has now has been published by
the same school’s Institute of Creative Photography. It focuses on a wide range
of scientific photography and its applications, particularly in astronomy, medicine
and criminology, but also in other fields such as meteorology, zoology, botany,
and speleology, as well as for such things as exploring pictures of motion and
aerial photography. It is especially worth noting that, in all the mentioned fields
and areas, the author devotes himself to research from the Czech lands, which
is a particularly special contribution. As far as his description of developments in
the world is concerned, his selective compilation is logical. Due to the scope of
the topic, he does not write about how photography is applied in other scientific
disciplines such as ethnology, anthropology, and archaeology. Particularly the
ethnological documentary was a very important part of nineteenth-century
photography and, as such, its scope would take up too much space. In this
respect, Martin Frouz’s dissertation, Documentation and Popularization of
Photography in the Service of Science,1 could be a valuable supplement.

Durczak’s book is complemented by a number of visual quotations,
appropriately printed in the margins of the main text. Photographic works selected
specifically for this book are rarely used. Also, in the margins of the main text, the
reader will find brief profiles of key figures associated with the use of photographs
in science in the specific areas mentioned. Of course, both the references and the
selected bibliography have been meticulously compiled. Another work that would
have been a nice addition is the two-volume Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century
(1,524 pages) edited by John Hannavy,2 which is extraordinary with regard to the
scope it covers and is considered a key publication in the field.

In the case of similar works that summarise topics from various
scientific disciplines, it is always difficult to explain the described
phenomena from physical and other points of view in a comprehensible way.
In this respect, specialists may find some unevenness in Durczak’s book,
as sometimes it presents relatively complicated detail, and elsewhere the
subject is outlined quite briefly. As a reviewer, however, I believe that the
bar of clarity has been set at a precise and appealingly readable level.
Generally, the extent of the author’s knowledge and his ability to popularise
(he was born in 1989) is admirable, and in that sense, they hold great
promise for the future. The book is targeted at the wider public – it is not
just for students and fans of the history of photography.

Pavel Scheufler

1 Frouz, Martin. Dokumentace a popularizace, fotografie ve službách vědy. Prague: Film
and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU), 2012.
2 Hannavy, John. Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography. New York:
Taylor & Francis Group, 2008. ISBN 978-0-415-97235-2.
DURCZAK, Ondřej. Důkazy objevů: fotografie ve vědě v letech 1839-1939. Ostrava:
Ondřej Durczak – Fotod, 2017. ISBN 978-80-906937-0-8.