Brian Jacobson, “Pipeline Media”

Tuesday, October 17, 2023 at 5:00pm

Building E14: Media Lab, 633
75 AMHERST ST, Cambridge, MA 02142

In 1958, the French national gas and electric companies, hoping to secure access to newly discovered natural gas reserves in Algeria, set out to build the first trans-Mediterranean undersea pipeline. Focusing on the advanced imaging technologies used behind the scenes and the films and photographs that gave the project a public face, this talk examines the varying roles visual media played in the science, engineering, and public discourse of France’s emerging petroleum age. In the engineering work, French oil and gas companies needed new forms of technological vision, including cameras and sonar devices developed by MIT’s Harold “Doc” Edgerton and deployed by French undersea explorer and film director Jacques-Yves Cousteau. To convince French powerbrokers and the public about the project’s value and likely success, especially at the height of the decolonization struggle, they needed the persuasive power of advertising and publicity. Together, these needs illuminate the epistemological and discursive means through which visual media helped not simply to document or represent but also to create and define France’s midcentury energy transition and the enduring neocolonial forms of its new oil-powered world.

Brian Jacobson is Professor of Visual Culture at the California Institute of Technology and director of the Caltech-Huntington Program in Visual Culture. He is the author of Studios Before the System: Architecture, Technology, and the Emergence of Cinematic Space (Columbia University Press, 2015) and The Cinema of Extractions (under contract with Columbia UP) and editor of In the Studio: Visual Creation and Its Material Environments (University of California Press, 2020), winner of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies award for Best Edited Collection and the Limina Prize for Best International Cinema Studies Book.

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