In the 1880s photographers and sports enthusiasts confidently declared the end of dead heats in sporting competition. Reflecting a broader social belief in technology, proponents of the camera stressed that the device could provide definitive proof of who won and who lost. Yet despite this remedy for the inadequate human eye, competitive races between horses, boats, and bicycles ended too close to call a sole champion. More than a century later, when cameras can subdivide the second into ten-thousandths and beyond, athletes continue to cross the finish line in ties. In this fascinating journey through the history of the photo-finish in sports, Jonathan Finn shows how innovation was animated by a drive for ever more precise tools and a quest for perfect measurement. As he traces the technological developments inspired by this crusade - from the evolution of the still camera to movie cameras, ultimately leading to complex contemporary photo-finish systems - Finn uncovers the social implications of adopting and contesting the photograph as evidence in sport. At every turn empirical obsession intersects with the unpredictability of sports, creating a paradox wherein the precision offered by photo-finish technology far exceeds the realities of human performance and its measurement. Separating athletes by the hundredth, thousandth, or ten-thousandth of a second is often a fiction that comes with significant material and cultural implications. A lively biography of a critical technology, Beyond the Finish Line illuminates the cultural role of the photo-finish in win-at-all-costs culture and warn that in our pursuit for precision we may threaten the human element of sport that galvanizes mere spectators into fans.
"Beyond the Finish Line makes a compelling argument for how and why the art and practice of creating a photo-finish are socially meaningful and culturally relevant. Finn's thoughtful and provocative analyses open a new window to our collective understanding of sport, technology, and culture." Rayvon Fouché, Purdue University and author of Game Changer: The Technoscientific Revolution in Sports