The Advanced Research Team on History and Epistemology of Moving Image Studies
is pleased to present a lecture with
Center for Society and Genetics
and the Department of Sociology
The Life of Movement:
From Microcinematography to Live Cell Imaging
Live cell imaging is a rapidly expanding area of scientific visualization of living things. Fluorescent probes enable the visualization of the movement in vivo, over time, of a wide range of vital molecules, for example the movement of motor proteins along the cellular skeleton. Despite its prominence in the life sciences, these moving images have attracted little critical attention outside the scientific community. Comparison with microcinematography of the early 20th century, another time-based medium that also placed the capture of movement at the center of the technique, is used here to frame the emergence of live cell imaging in the late twentieth century and think through its theoretical significance and implications for visual culture more generally. Live cell imaging was at its origins an animation of a theory of life dominated by the gene. However, focused as it is on the life of proteins, the practice actually facilitated a move away from such dominance, with a rise of a kind of “molecular vitalism”: an interest in DNA, RNA, protein, and other small molecules as knitted together in a complex moving net in the time and space of the cell. As such, it echoes early twentieth century tensions between the study of structure and function in cellular anatomy versus physiology, and puts the focus on molecular movement just as cellular movement was central to earlier practices. Contemporary live-cell imaging does not depict a structure described in a unique moment that explains a life process, but rather visualizes a continuity of movement that constitutes life processes.
Hannah Landecker is an Associate Professor of Sociology at UCLA. Her research interests are the social and historical study of biotechnology and life science, from 1900 to the present, the intersections of biology and technology, with a particular focus on cells, and the in vitro conditions of life in research settings. Among many books and articles, she published Culturing Life: How Cells Became Technologies, Harvard University Press, 2007 ; “Seeing Things: From Microcinematography to Live Cell Imaging,” Nature Methods 6:707-709, 2009 ; “Microcinematography and the History of Science and Film,” Isis, 97:121-132, 2006 ; “Cellular Features: Microcinematography and Early Film Theory,” Critical Inquiry 31:903-937, 2005.