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This chapter provides a close reading of Walter Benjamin’s essay “Little History of Photography” (1931). It studies the photographs and photographers Benjamin drew on as he developed his thoughts about the optical unconscious, especially the calotypes made by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson in the 1840s. The chapter traces Benjamin’s path through the history of photography and considers the studies that shaped his understanding, especially Heinrich Schwarz’s David Octavius Hill, Master of Photography. It contemplates the disruptive temporality of photography, which looks to both the past and the future, in relation to Hill’s monumental painting The Disruption, for which many of the calotype portraits were originally made. Finally, it explores the metaphorical links between the materiality of the calotype and the optical unconscious through a reading of Sigmund Freud’s “Note upon the ‘Mystic Writing Pad’” (1925).

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