From after to before: an image is returned to latency


This gray visual field is an afterimage. Like its three subjects, it has undergone the process of vanishment from sight. Unlike the subjects, however, the imaged vision is reparable. But when I admit the image to my computer and begin the process of reparation, something startling happens: the area of change begins expanding from the image itself to the caption below it. As the words of its history begin losing their after significance, the image is returned to a state in which both words and images meant something we can no longer think we understand. 

In history, in the state of After where we think we do understand, this image has an archival place and a pair of archival names. In the Provincial Archives of Alberta, it is known alternatively as catalog number PR2009.0499/60 and as “Alan, Mary, and Robert Brebner, Spruce Grove, Alberta, ca. 1900.” But the effect of photoreparation is to break the collective name “Alan, Mary, and Robert” back into three names, attached to three faces as they were in the era when there lived three Brebner children. Now, says the optical illusion generated by Photoshop, the single name and collective idea of these children have been returned to latency in the image. Their collective history has not yet occurred. We have been vouchsafed a vision of the children one by one, as they stood in front of a tent one summer day circa 1900. It is the illusion of Before.