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«a building could be reconstructed» photogrammetrically—i.e. by taking advantage of the mathematical laws of the central perspective—«in all the details of its ground and vertical plans a hundred years after it had disappeared from the earth.» [10] Even before Meydenbauer, this triumph of the photographically archived form over invalid matter was programmatically formulated in a text by Sir Oliver Wendell Holmes, «The Stereoscope and the Stereograph» (1859), frequently cited even today. He writes: «Form is henceforth divorced from matter. In fact, matter as a visible object is of no great use any longer, except as the mould on which form is shaped. Give us a few negatives of a thing worth seeing, taken from different points of view, and that is all we want of it. Pull it down or burn it up, if you please.» [11] Indeed: Between 1858 and 1978, Charles Marville documented the complete redevelopment of Paris, that is, the demolition of large parts of old Paris, initiated by Haussmann. In this documentation, photography served as a means for the preservation of the vanishing (a contemporary artistic practice related to this is the work by Bernd and Hilla Becher).


For Holmes, the photographically (or more precisely: stereographically) [12] divorced forms can only seemingly replace the object itself: «The time will come when a man who wishes to see any object, natural or artificial, will go to the Imperial, National, or City Stereographic Library and call for its skin or form, as he would for a book at any common library.» [13] Consequently, Holmes' enthusiasm for form, which makes even the palpable original dispensable, speaks in favor of an implicit trust in matter, as he apparently insinuates that the ‹banknotes› of the ‹great Bank of Nature› (as he so aptly formulates), that is, the photographs on photographic paper, will even survive throughout all time—like Meydenbauer, too, whose archive was intended to be amassed «without exception for all time.» [14] For today's archivists, this assumption is unfortunately in no way so self-evident. [15]

The archive of art—The imaginary museum

From the very beginning, the reproduction of works of art was regarded as one of photography's spheres of activity. Some of the earliest attempts by Nicephore

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