“What the hell is this,” he snarled, “a Tom show?”

— Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust, chapter 11

When the posters for this Tom show came out of their lithograph press in 1898 they were stacked face to face. The damage to this surviving example has been permanent. It is still marked with the ghost of another face, in reverse. So far, however, damage has made this piece of printed matter more readable, not less. The ghostly countertext makes us work more productively at seeing the survivor, and as the paper has turned brown it has contributed shading after shading of new complexity to the survivor’s spectral record. The parade is more intelligent now.

In 1898, on the street, it was some horses, some mules, some dogs, and a model house made portable on a wagon. In the mind, it was a communication from a text off-poster — a text whose full title was Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly. There, off-poster, the on-poster word “sumptuous” seemed not to refer to anything. But in 2017, with all sense of what “sumptuous” might have meant in 1898 obliterated by what’s called progress, the palace cars can be seen as such, only as elements within a picture. And there, now, solely within the picture, at last! the palace cars have become one with the classical architecture of their mounting: in an ideal approximation of color, their shading completed by the passage of time, no longer on a mere overpass but on a plinth, no longer cramped smelly boring as they would have been in 1898 but, as the poster’s words promise, regal. In 1898 the pageant was a crudely literal play within a play and Al. W. Martin’s employees with their mule-propelled cabin were only rude mechanicals like Bottom and the boys in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In 2017, surviving through time as a provisionally immortal snapshot, the pageant is seen at last as snapshot sees: mules and dogs and little black actress, stilled in transit toward us, passing just now and forever beneath a palace in the air.

Having become a fossil, the mammoth production invites us to enter its matrix and see it within lithograph stone.

Source: Library of Congress, Photoshopped.



Estampe XIII: Mineral Water, Pears and Peaches

The text:

The event, that which the text can’t speak of:
arrival at a source

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Click to enlarge. Photograph by L. M. Bosworth, 1908, in the Library of Congress, Photoshopped. The first two words of the caption are “Interurban Car.”

3a19099uB3 8 bitAs from a voyage, rich with merchandise

Identities unhidden

1. A record of a life, partially erased

2. Some news, some weather, and some poetry, brought together in time and preserved sans rature on a page in an archive. Click to enlarge.

3. “S.S. Lucania, July 28, 1894.” Photograph by John S. Johnston

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Source:  Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Library of Congress, Photoshopped.

When John S. Johnston squeezed a rubber bulb which actuated the shutter release on his 8-by-10-inch view camera, his closing hand juxtaposed into existence an array of detail in time and space. It isn’t a permanent array; it won’t last forever in the way the diagrams in Euclid will. It is merely historical. A part of its beauty is owed to the humorous operation of mere coincidence in space and time. On the hottest day in thirteen years, with the sky the color of copper, brush your teeth with the white hand of Beauty and fill your mouth with the taste of hay. For the moment, you might as well. Good hay, sweet hay, as Nick Bottom reminded us one night when the weather report was different, hath no fellow.

But before a backdrop of coppery sky with sun-ball suspended, John S. Johnston’s hand once did close around something that admitted to memory, for a while, a lacework of davits and railings, a haze of coal smoke, and a flag on thick damp cloth flopping in the steady breeze of a passage across time.

As from a voyage, rich with merchandise

Nestled in words, a tiny bicycle waits for you to approach it with a brush and deliver it into its color.

A translation would say:

Trade SK Mark
Established 1884

Bicycle Paint

Manufacturer of English Lacquers and Paints

S. King

12 Ekaterinoslavskaya Ulitsa
Store, 92 Nevsky Prospect
St. Petersburg

Branch in Moscow

The words are a Fabergé grass nestling an Easter egg. They are the velvet lining of a jewelbox. They are a chorion. They hold a realized desire now taking form as a loved body. The swashes and flourishes with which the words shape the air enclosing the incipient bicycle are a pavane danced for the mating season now nearing its end. The pavements of St. Petersburg will soon be littered with proto-bicycle exuviae, molted shells of what will have become frames and fenders. As the consummated form prepares to roll free of S. King’s words and be seen for itself, the memory of S. King wraps it in receiving color.

Source: Green Type blog via,