Record, encarmined

You may be able to see that the state of this image in the Library of Congress is a photographic print mounted on a paper backing, with the library’s acquisition stamp overlapping both sheets.

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Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/99401043/

But you also do see that the composite photograph has lost definition and contrast. On the record, it has been going lost. With the aid of a computer, sight can begin bringing it home again to history and making the record’s words as readable again as they were when they flowed from the pen of A. P. Yates in 1893. Over the image, however, a gray new computerized disfigurement has settled in and begun blemishing what you see of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad’s engine no. 999, claimed to be the first vehicle in history to have reached a speed of 100 miles an hour.

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In the library, a history of photography can help you understand what happened. In the 1890s, when negatives were large, photographers often retouched them with carmine paste. Painted over dark areas of the negative, this lightened the corresponding area of the print. Perhaps because May 10, 1893 was a cloudy day in Syracuse, or perhaps because the smoke from no. 999 was billowing too abundantly into the air, A. P. Yates encarmined a zone in front of and above no. 999’s boiler. On the print, that would have whitened the sky. But Mr. Yates didn’t want to risk whiting out any of no. 999’s beautiful metal, and so some of the original crud of 1893 remains in his artwork as a dark, angular halo.

With a computer under my hands, however, I can become Mr. Yates’s 21st-century continuator. Using a process that Photoshop calls cloning, I paint more carmine over the dark original of May 10, 1893.

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And see: I have replaced the last trace of history in the image with the truth of art.

Think of me as a Venetian barber in a time of cholera, doing a little cosmetic work on Gustav von Aschenbach to make him attractive to the teenage punk who happens to be the god of history.

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Dirk Bogarde in Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice (1971)

The night he finishes editing “Freaks,”

Tod Browning sleeps an undisturbed sleep. This night, however, hour by hour, his bed in the dark is becoming shared with another body. The body hasn’t yet awakened from the sleep in which it was created, but after it opens its eyes it will see Tod, the man whose camera penetrated the dark and forced it to dream body into being. In their bed in that first awakening, Tod and the body will open their mouths and say to each other:

“We accept you. One of us.”

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