A to Z

This section explores an A-Z of the themes that reoccur throughout the images that we gathered for this project. 

V is for Vision

Optical technologies fascinated Victorians, such that ‘[t]hrough the mediation of the lens, nineteenth century modernism encountered new pleasures and new crises’, as Isobel Armstrong puts it (2008, 257).

In the year 2000, these instruments would afford scientists the means to hunt germs and study the stars, and for popular stargazing via ‘street telescopes’ in the twenty-fifth century, as in Nicolas Camille Flammarion’s 1894 Omega: The last days of the world. Meanwhile, French artist Jean-Marc Côté speculated that Röntgen’s ‘improved X-rays’ might allow police officers close surveillance of their quarry and catch criminals in the act. Artists, as in Albert Robida’s 1890 La vie électrique, might even use cameras to copy artworks at the Louvre in 1955. Artists imagined these optical technologies as a means to enhance human relationships, particularly in the home. Allowing for face to face, visual communication, these new technologies would enable travellers to overcome the physical distance between themselves and their families. In the year 2012, for instance, French parents at home could see their son working in a distant land, as they greeted him with ‘Bonjour mon enfant’. Meanwhile, a separated couple in the year 2000 could be reunited, thanks to the ‘radio at home’, which projected the remote partner onto a screen. These technologies also promised new ways of consuming entertainment and leisure. Song and dance performances on stage could now be enjoyed ‘live’ from the comfort of the home, either in company or alone, in the year 2000. American cartoonist Harry Dart similarly envisioned in 1911 the technologies that would ensure ‘we’ll all be happy then’, among them, the the ‘Observiscope’. Thanks to this device, the operator could select from options such as the office, theatre, golf, the family, or even ‘Son Willie’ to view from home.

Jean-Marc Côté, ‘En L’An 2000: La Chasse aux Microbes’, c.1899, Wikimedia Commons.