Dead and alive: Micro-cinematography between physics and biology

Jimena Canales

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


“Cinematography alone,” argued biologist Alexis Carrel in the 1930s, “is capable of recording” essential qualities of life. Why did film become a privileged means for recording life? Carrel’s microcinematographic studies, essential to the development of twentiethcentury cell biology, represented the culmination of decades of research into the movement of fluids, Brownian particles, and microscopic organisms. Researchers (Henri Bénard, Victor Henri, Lucienne Chevroton, and Jean Comandon) used cinematographic cameras to work at the intersection of physics and biology. While biological organisms had to be filmed “according to the activity of the culture,” physical entities were best captured by filming at predetermined, clockcontrolled intervals. From microbiology to fluid mechanics, film was used to determine the difference between living organisms and dead matter. A hermeneutical study of techniques to capture movement (used in scientific and feature films) reveals how cinematography emerged as a privileged technology of representation, together with a dominant notion of life. This essay studies film as the materia operandi of a certain form of biopolitics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)235-251
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Philosophy
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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