Aberrant perspective

One jacket too big, and the associated head too small.

One jacket too small, and the associated legs too big.

A bodiless hand associated with someone else’s shoulder.

Aquarium: a mouth-breather behind glass.

In the bowl a white backdrop hanging crooked in front of another layer, this one black.

Liljenquist Collection of Civil War Photographs, Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2016652803/. Post-processed to restore contrast and color.

To make Freaks, Tod Browning didn’t need freaks. All he needed was the human: that which is aberrantly normal.

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.”


We spectators

The Tumblr is hiply nostalgic, with a layout mimicking Windows 95. Under “About me” its editor says he is nineteen years old.

Street photo blog

Keeping the antiquarianism consistent, he has inserted a video framed to look like a Notepad window from 1995, long before he himself was born. In spirit, however, his video is older still. The great recent artisan of its affect is probably Diane Arbus. For sixty years now, it has been she who gives us permission to look at the human in the way this image looks: in conqueror mode, taking dominion everywhere.

And now you too have looked and conquered. Arbus took her pictures, packed her gear, and departed from the field, but the great trophy of her oeuvre remains. In memory of its jealous spirit, let us leave the nineteen-year-old’s lesser name out of the coming together that has just occurred between this other image and your self. It is a consummation, after all, from which the priest who could have named its parentage has long since slipped away. Spectators now at the bedside, we laugh in the happy knowledge that our laughter can’t matter because we ourselves are neither the priest nor the groom nor the bride. Having heroically absconded, Priestess Diane’s spirit has bequeathed us the enormous reassurance of being able to think, “It’s only a movie.” We have been enabled by the spirit’s absence to believe that an image is a protective wall inscribed Memento mori on the side that faces away from us. On our side of the wall there is nothing to read and nothing to fear because there is nothing.

But to enter into consummation with the seen is to demolish the wall. The instant he becomes seen, this man who keeps his head together with a cat is vested with the power to command us to shut down Windows, step over off the wall’s no longer visible ruins, and come into his image.


The second video clip is from Tod Browning’s Freaks. “It took dominion everywhere” is a line from Wallace Stevens’s “Anecdote of the Jar.”