Paula Amad

"F.W. Brinton and Model Airship," c. late 1880s. Special Collections, University of Iowa Main Library.


“Cin-aereal attractions: F.W. Brinton and the Technical and Fantastical Correspondences between Early Aviation and Cinema”

Thursday, November 18, 2021
4:00 PM CST

Zoom Webinar Link:


“‘Shadow Sites’: Clouded Vision in the Archives of Aerial Photography”

Friday, November 19, 2021
12:00 PM CST
Zoom Meeting

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All are welcome!


Cin-aereal attractions: F.W. Brinton and the Technical and Fantastical Correspondences between Early Aviation and Cinema”

In a 1913 essay that explores the multiple functions of cinema, Louis Haugmard mentions the important legacy of cinema’s usefulness to science by citing the benefit in the late nineteenth century of chronophotography to aviation: “Instantaneous photography has allowed scientists to verify the accuracy of certain equestrian poses on the frieze of the Parthenon. The chronophotographs of Monsieur Marey concerning the flight of birds have produced precious pieces of information for the warping of airplane wings.” Six years later, Jean Cocteau resumes discussion of the connections between aviation and cinema when he states that “From the time of its discovery the cinema was made to serve old ideas…But America made films in which theater and photography slowly gave way to a new form because they were better equipped than we were and they acted like engineers who instead of stripping the airplane completely of its wings simply reduced them slightly.”  This talk returns to the origins of these intriguing technological and industrial correspondences between aviation and cinema by exploring the unique case study of F.W. Brinton, one of Iowa’s first film exhibitors who also happened to be a passionate airship inventor.  The talk begins with an overview of the affinities between the sciences of aerodynamics and chronophotography as demonstrated by figures such as Nadar, Marey and the Wright brothers, before illuminating the cinematic outcome of this cin-aerial crossover in the craftmanship and showmanship of the inventions and exhibition formats that characterized Brinton’s Entertainment Company. I ultimately argue that early aviation forms a crucial missing link in the “cinema of attractions” model that frames our understanding of the broader cultural landscape from which films emerged, and that the nexus between these two iconic machines of modernity has consequences for a diverse range of popular and avant-garde embodiments of what I call “cin-aereality.”


“‘Shadow Sites’: Clouded Vision in the Archives of Aerial Photography”

Emerging from one of the first post-war application of aerial photography in the new domain of aerial archaeology, the term “shadow sites” refers to evidence from the past that only becomes visible from the air and under certain conditions of light. Taking inspiration from the photographic and archival suggestiveness of that term, this workshop explores the conceptual and methodological questions for visual studies raised from the research I have conducted in diverse aerial photography archives in France, Britain, Germany, Australia and the US for my book Cin-aereality: Aviation, Cinema, and Modernity. I will draw upon Alan Sekula’s seminal essay from 1975 “The Instrumental Image” in which he critiqued the archive-denying celebration of abstraction in the aerial photographs ‘authored’ by Edward Steichen, while also interrogating Sekula’s own blind-spots.  In order to do so, the workshop turns to a group of “shadow sites” that I have discovered in diverse military aerial archives in the form of “cloud” photographs shot by pilots during their reconnaissance missions.  I will seek to give voice to the “mute” context behind these archival apparitions in order to generate further discussion of interest to research across media, visual and art history regarding the multiple “shadow sites” within visual-based archives.


Paula Amad is an Associate Professor of Film Studies and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Cinematic Arts, University of Iowa. She is the author of Counter-Archive: Film, the Everyday and Albert Kahn’s Archives de la Planète (Columbia University Press, 2010) and numerous articles, in, amongst other journals, Feminist Media HistoriesModernism/ModernityRepresentationsCamera ObscuraHistory of PhotographyCinema JournalFilm History, and Framework. Her research has been supported by awards including a J. Paul Getty Postdoctoral Research Fellowship (2006-7), and an International Grant for Philosophy and Photography Research, from The Shpilman Institute for Photography (2011), and she is also the recipient of the 2014 Katherine Singer Kovács Award for Outstanding Essay by the Society for Cinema and Media Studies for her article in Cinema Journal titled “Visual Riposte: Looking Back at the Return of the Gaze as Postcolonial Theory’s Gift to Film Studies.” She is currently completing a second book focused on the airplane and camera as the twin vision and dream machines of early twentieth-century modernity. Her essays have been translated into French, Italian, German, and most recently Chinese.


Both events are free and open to the public. They are possible thanks to the generous financial support of the Anonymous Fund. The Center for Visual Cultures would also like to thank the Departments of Art History, Communication Arts, English, French and Italian, and the Institute for Research in the Humanities.

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Topic: Lecture by Paula Amad

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