With a conductor’s gesture, a man poised at a brink once brought together two curves.
Angular flesh and rounded iron approached each other, light and shadow moved over them, and a moment was consummated and became past.
Borne above the shapes like a banner, the word Trimble meant nothing. It only said, as if say were an intransitive verb. It was an order of service: a separately published hymnal to be sung from while the two bodies approached, touched, and then fell away. During that limit instant, the word and the two bodies were united in a single imaged meaning, fully understood but not articulable. Thereafter, in separation, all that could be said in words took the form of a caption (“Davis lock, St, Mary’s Falls canal”) that sang of the watery bed but not of the coming together in light and shadow that had once filled it.
Source: Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2016800144/. The complete, pre-Photoshopped image is
The Library dates the image between 1913 and 1920. However, the mustached man with the pipe appears to be wearing a wristwatch — an accessory which didn’t come into wide use until after World War I.
Behind the glass we’re looking through is a winter day so dark that we can barely see into the wheelhouse of the tug W. A. Rooth. The steersman is apparent with effort, however. We can make him out as he navigates his craft through its dusk or dawn, sucking a cigar as he concentrates on the passage. Through billowing smoke and steam, he is bringing the ship J. T. Hutchinson up through a lock toward the glass.
According to a record in the Library of Congress, the man in the windowed cabin passed under the light of this day in about 1903. Some time after that instant entered the record, the record’s glass backing was cracked from top to bottom. The dark and the smoke still remain on their side of the glass, however. On either side of the crack are reassuring traces of repair, and we who see past the mend see from a vantage securely reserved, short term, for sight and life. But of course what we see is coming toward us through a glass fully permeable to dark.
Source: “[Steamer] J. T. Hutchinson leaving Sault St[e.] Marie.” Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/item/det1994020791/PP/. Photoshopped.
Steamer Sir William Siemens, Sault Ste. Marie, between 1900 and 1910. Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/det1994015095/PP/. Photoshopped.