The fashion print dates from 1897 Chicago and is at https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2018695709/. I post-processed it to restore contrast and color, and (because I lack a chemical analysis of the pigments in the original and a knowledge of clothing design in the 1890s) that involved guesswork about what Photoshop’s hue and saturation controls were meant to show me. The fourth man from the right in the front row, especially: in Chicago in 1897, would his suit really have been that shade?
Well, under their clothes all of the men in this image really had to be uncolored. Twenty-two years after 1897, Chicago’s Henry Blake Fuller had to self-publish his novel Bertram Cope’s Year because it hinted at gaiety. Even so, I suppose it may be that once upon a time in 1897 Chicago a fabric artist could at least have dreamed of a purple suit.
You can still make out a large Formica-and-aluminum shape, identify its function, and bring back to memory its 1956 word: dinette. But because another of the picture’s compositional elements was transparent in 1956, the photochemistry of time has now reduced it almost to invisibility. To bring the word ashtray back into active memory from within the image will require an active search originating in something learned outside the context of the image itself. Before you can even pick up your magnifying glass and begin looking at the picture, you’ll have had to learn from an archive that dinettes were accessorized with glass or ceramic things called ashtrays.
But for the immediate present, a trace of the collective 1956 idea of dinette and ashtray survives within the image, and there it is still accessible for resuscitation. The process will involve a translation of its spectrum of life from the chemical to the logical, mediated by (among other things) a computer program named AI Clear, where the letters AI indicate that use is to be made of a computer concept called artificial intelligence. If you let me help you think of Aunt Ida’s parrot artificially, says the computer, it will become a bird out of Yeats’s Byzantium:
Miracle, bird or handiwork,
More miracle than bird or handiwork
And see then:
The ashtray is replenished, Aunt Ida’s shining white cup is seen again to be charged with powdered coffee and condensed milk, the bird’s hard ceramic surface is again the green of soft feather, and Aunt Ida’s headcovering has been restored to its proper color for 1956, when pink was popular. Now time itself will be 1956 forever, and never again no longer pink.
The pinkness, we now see, mattered all along. It matters even more now than it did in 1956, because in 1956 it at least had an existence exterior to the image. Now the image is 1956 pink’s sole source. In the aftermath of 1956, to experience 1956 pink again is as if the color were one of the tints of God’s first rainbow, now being re-unfurled in revised final form.