And furthermore ...

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Sunday, 24 January 2010


Let’s dispense with the technical information first. These nine photographs come from a small, rectangular olive green album. The prints measure 5x4 inches and are probably contacts, the glass plate negative placed directly on the printing paper. They were made in the very last years of the 19th century or the first of the 20th. The quality of the prints, their depth of field, the careful use of natural light, the tonal range, suggest they are the work of a professional or a highly skilled amateur. They were bought from the USA.

One Man’s Treasure could devote thousands of words to a description of these photographs but recommends you go to the gallery, zoom in and explore them for yourselves. Pay attention to the background details; the pictures on the walls, the fittings, the lamps and crockery on the sideboards. Among the several photographs on display, none appear to be of children. There are other details a sharp eyed expert could use to precisely date the photographs; the model of telephone behind the woman at the desk, the style of wallpaper and the lampshades for example. The house has electricity yet the inhabitants still rely on candles. The picture of the elk looks like one of those images that enjoyed a spectacular fashion for a few years before being consigned to the attic.

The man is a professional, a doctor or lawyer, of no small means anyway. In the photograph captioned ‘Up Stairs Living Room’ he appears to be reading the New York Times. The woman is looking at a picture, an album by her elbow. The pages in this album are black, hers appear to be white, which regrettably rules out the possibility she and you are looking at the same. The paperweight could be a fossil.

Go to the kitchen. A caption cropped from the image reads ‘Our Kate’. The ‘Home Sweet Home’ decoration looks out of place compared to the pictures in the other room. Maybe it is Kate’s and the kitchen is her domain. The range still gleams as though brand new. (Another detail about this house; the abundance of chairs. They are everywhere.)

This post has been titled ‘A Ghost Story’, in part because the photographs without people are so compelling. The rooms are alive with an invisible presence. In a small way, the photographs bring to mind Eugene Atget, who could photograph a deserted Paris street yet impart a sense of bustling activity. The old chestnut that Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes pondered, that we photograph the passage of time, hence death itself, seems resonant here in a way it isn’t always with very old photographs. The intimacy of these photographs, the neatness of the rooms and the studied quietude of the people, will be broken, and lost.

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