1. “Mr. Greenwood in the office of the Knox Woolen Company, August 1900”
Mr. Greenwood is at his work in a little museum of calendars — by my approximate count, six of them. On the wall behind him is the public one, the calendar that’s to be read by us. It tells us its story in its official capacity: day by numbered day, only. But what Mr. Greenwood will see when he raises his head from his work is his private gallery, and what that gallery holds for him is images. The images exist in museum mode, the mode of capital that is enumerable in the phrase “a wealth of”: calendar after calendar made splendid by illustration, plus flags, plus pictures in independent textless splendor. Tied off beside Mr. Greenwood’s head is a light bulb, but the sun of a long New England summer day seems to be what illuminates his pleasure chamber. See how the sun throws his shadow onto the wall below the glassily reflecting lithograph of an Inman Line steamer.* See how the light carves his left shoe with its heel counter and its lace into bas-relief.
But in the weak sun of New England the photograph required a long exposure. Mr. Greenwood was alive and breathing during that summer interval, and as his breath warmed the air in his room and made it thermally turbulent, it blurred the image of his face. His life had been ongoing through the turbulence during the instant of time when a shutter was opened to it, but for us museumgoers it is no longer on display.
2. “Margaret & Augusta Talbot, March 1899 in back of the Congregational Church”
The named coordinates (“in back of the Congregational Church”) alter what we see of Margaret & Augusta. Without those data, we could see only their image and their names. They existed as a picture of Margaret & Augusta: two bodies loosely linked by a rope in white space. But add the church’s name to the names of Margaret & Augusta and their picture becomes a picture about Margaret & Augusta. Their zone of space has become populated. Margaret & Augusta and their snow now constitute a society.
In that society, Margaret & Augusta are the foreground. Photographed there, captioned in black on white with names that can be recalled from an archive in a library, they have acquired the traits of characters acting a tale through time. In that tale, the unseen congregation is still singing because it will always sing. In Margaret & Augusta’s white space there is no death.**
Photographs by Theresa Parker Babb in the Camden (Maine) Public Library, https://www.flickr.com/photos/cplmaine/24633201459/in/photostream/ and https://www.flickr.com/photos/cplmaine/25415271492/in/photostream/. Contrast and detail restored.
** Outside the image, in text, Margaret & Augusta’s society had a name, and it happened to be not Camden, Maine, but Milton, Massachusetts. Anonymously supplied to us by the social force of archive, that is the place name that appears on an envelope in the Theresa Parker Babb collection at https://www.flickr.com/photos/cplmaine/28337649171/in/photostream/ and in the Boston Globe article “Talbot-McElwain” (October 1, 1916, page 19) about the wedding where Augusta was a bridesmaid and the groom was her brother.
And then the genius of the archive adds that the church in Margaret & Augusta’s image doesn’t resemble the Congregational church in Camden,
but does resemble the one in Milton:
Snowplowing through the archive this way, its genius can abundantly create a comparative history of the words Milton and Camden. That can be enclosed in the dark between covers, where it will be — has been, hereby — printed in black and white. You have just finished reading it under those black-and-white conditions. But the traces in the snow that remain of Margaret & Augusta are not black and white but white on white. They are not a history written in text but a map of Margaret & Augusta’s passage across a tract of time. In the main body of this text, above this footnote, that daylighted tract is where you were when you saw them.