Lens, Laboratory, Landscape

Observing Modern Spain

By Claudia Schaefer

Subjects: Hispanic Studies, History Of Science, Cultural Studies, European History, Literary Criticism
Series: SUNY series in Latin American and Iberian Thought and Culture
Paperback : 9781438452722, 254 pages, July 2015
Hardcover : 9781438452739, 254 pages, September 2014

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
1. The Creation of a New Scientific Persona: Santiago Ramón y Cajal and the Rise of Popular Photography in Spain
2. The Curtain Rises on the Magic Theater of Life: Cajal, Master of Light and Color
3. Matter, Time, and Landscape: Ways of Seeing in Cajal, Oretega, and Benjamin
4. Science as a Two-Way Street: Contradictory Traces of Modernity in Dalí and Terán
Conclusion: A Last Look at Observation
Works Cited

An interdisciplinary study of the rise of empirical observation in the Spanish arts and sciences as the principle vehicle for acquiring knowledge about the natural world.


Lens, Laboratory, Landscape focuses on competing views about the power of vision in Spain between the 1830s and the 1950s. The photographic lens, laboratory microscope, "retinal vision" of philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, and the topographical studies of Manuel de Terán are woven together in and around a European cultural milieu that gave observation primacy. For once, Spain—now bereft of its empire—was not on the outside of such debates. Whether in the laboratory, family home, darkroom, art gallery, or on the road, in Cuba or Zaragoza, Madrid or Massachusetts, Spanish artists and scientists were engaged with the social and economic power of observation at a time when the speed of modern life made observing a challenge. Claudia Schaefer brings the technologies of the eye—photograph, microscope, lens, tools for land surveying—to light as markers on the nation's touted path to modernity.

Claudia Schaefer is Rush Rhees Chair, Professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature, and Professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of Rochester. She is the author of several books, including Bored to Distraction: Cinema of Excess in End-of-the-Century Mexico and Spain, also published by SUNY Press.