Vaucanson’s Defecating Duck

Automata are mechanically engineered self-sufficient ‘robots’ produce, the most part, for the wealthy with cleaning and other domestic purposes in mind. Soon this luxury turned into a spectacle. The creators of such automata went onto produce these works for public show, a fine example of this is Vaucanson’s famous defecating duck, an automaton that was said to replicate the digestive system, something that hadn’t even been reproduced in models. Of course this famous feathered mock-up was but a practical joke, at the general public’s expense.

An obvious question at this point is how does this relate to photography? For that answer we have to look at the unintentional purpose of the duck. Tickets to go and see the duck were very popular indeed so much so that the complexity of the automaton and its popularity with the public saw it as one of the first examples of technology and art combining.

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