Visualities of strategic vision: Lookout Mountain Laboratory and the deterrent state from nuclear tests to Vietnam

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This article considers two visual cultures of America’s deterrent state in the Cold War, the cinematic and cybernetic, by following the history of the 600th Photographic Squadron of the United States (US) Air Force in Vietnam and its 1950s progenitor, the 1352nd Motion Picture Squadron, or Lookout Mountain Laboratory. We argue that cinematic and cybernetic visual cultures were at the heart of a Cold War visual alliance that was also a Cold War visual contest, and cameras were situated at the centre of the contest. Specifically, the cinematic and the cybernetic represent two distinct visualities of vision, as the Cold War cameras of the Air Force assumed either transcendental or transcendent positions. The former, in keeping with a cinematic visuality, was oriented towards casting America as a sight to see in the context of its war on communism, with cameras operating as a condition of possibility for the construction of the ‘image’, whereas the latter, in keeping with a cybernetic visuality, was oriented towards the American appetite to see, to monitor and survey the world over, with cameras operating as processors of ‘information’. The history of the 600th Photographic Squadron and its progenitor, Lookout Mountain Laboratory, suggests that the transition from cinematic to cybernetic visualities of vision was part of a broader transformation in the US Cold War state from a nuclear deterrent state to a supra-nuclear deterrent state.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-208
Number of pages14
JournalVisual Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 4 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Anthropology


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