Eder & Valenta: A Portfolio of X-ray Photogravures (1896)

X-rays were shocking to their first and 19th century viewers. “I have seen my own death,” Anna Bertha Röntgen is said to have exclaimed in 1895 when her husband, Dutch-born physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, showed her an eerie X-ray image of her hand. Five years later, Röntgen would be awarded a Nobel Prize for “the discovery of the remarkable rays subsequently named after him”. But the impact of X-rays was so sensational and immediate that just a month after Röntgen’s discovery the Austrian photo-chemists Josef Maria Eder (1855–1944) and Eduard Valenta (1857–1937) published an elegant volume of photogravures that reproduced X-rays depicting the skeletal structure of animals, humans body parts, the materiality of everyday objects, and silhouetting the shapes of natural materials. Late 19th century popular culture was saturated with fuzzy photographs purporting to capture the existence of fairies, people’s spiritual auras, and ghosts of the deceased. But the public was mesmerized anew by hauntingly clinical, beautiful, and truly revolutionary images that revealed what had been