January 29, 2021
Chatting the Pictures

Chatting the Pictures: Stunning Factory Photos in the Race to Beat Covid

Welcome to Chatting the Pictures. Every two weeks, we present a short, lively video discussion between Michael Shaw, publisher of Reading the Pictures, and writer, professor, and historian, Cara Finnegan, examining a significant picture in the news.
By Staff
About the Video

Science and technology have played a major role in the fight against COVID-19 and Christopher Payne’s exquisite photos from a Corning plant in upstate New York showcase both. They show machines, including robots, running around the clock to turn out vials for the vaccine. In the video, we discuss the craft and the politics of three of the photos featured in The New Yorker. People may distrust medical science, but the scale of the pandemic, the lifesaving power of the vaccine, and the beauty of the images lend the technology a sense of awe. Unfortunately, what the pictures also do is contrast how the political and organizational effort to distribute the vaccine has fallen far short of the scientific achievement. In other words, the machines have been awesome, the humans, less so.

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The Full Edit

Take a closer look at some of the images from our larger photo edit.

Photo: Christopher Payne/The New Yorker

Caption: In a seventy-year-old building upstate, Corning is rushing to produce vials for vaccines. Machines called converters cut and shape tubes of proprietary Valor Glass.

Photo: Christopher Payne/The New Yorker

Caption: At the Sullivan Park lab, engineers pour molten glass onto a stainless-steel tabletop to cool, so that it can be cut into pieces for tests. Glass used to store vaccines must prove highly stable and chemically inert.

Photo: Christopher Payne/The New Yorker

Caption: Robotic arms transfer the vials—twelve at a time—onto plastic tracks, which convey them through a chamber where they are further cleaned. Then they are air-dried and spray-coated. The facility is producing millions of vials a month.

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Michael Shaw

An analyst of news photos and visual journalism, and a frequent lecturer and writer on visual politics, photojournalism and media literacy, Michael is the founder and publisher of Reading the Pictures.

Cara Finnegan

Cara Finnegan is a writer, photo historian, and professor of Communication at the University of Illinois. She has been affiliated with Reading The Pictures for nearly 15 years, most recently as co-host of Chatting The Pictures. Her most recent book is Photographic Presidents: Making History from Daguerreotype to Digital.


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