Monday 2 November 2020

Picture Post #59 Proscenium

'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t what they seemed to be neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Posted by Martin Cohen


To me, this image has a theatrical quality, almost a grotesque aspect. Look at the man's hand, on his leg, like a dead thing… the awkward tilt of his head. And how thin and sickly the whole body, in this seedy room with the dirty backdrop. 

Yet, at the time, this was modernity, and sophistication. This image represented new technology: think 'Steve Jobs' and iPhones.

The photo was taken exactly 127 years ago, that man could be my great great grandfather, which is to say not so incredibly a remote relation. Yet something has changed, and a certain innocence has been lost even in our celebration of sophistication.

Oh, and why did I call this post ‘Proscenium’? I came across the term reading about the new, trendy visual presentations. It's a term describing the part of a theatre stage in front of the curtain.  The two figures are thus playing out a very ancient routine - that also points to a very different future.


Keith said...

To me, the ‘awkwardness’ of the seated man’s posture that you refer to gives him the look of a marionette. As if strings are controlling his stiff, not-quite-natural position. Maybe that’s the outcome of the unfamiliarity with what, as you say, is the then-new technology. Think about how society has gone from what’s shown here to the ubiquity, familiarity, acceptance, and ease of taking sharp digital photographs through smart phones that fit into one’s pocket. And think about the impact that has had on society, with ‘everyman’ and ‘everywoman’ able to record impromptu the good and the bad, the aesthetic and the ugly, and the interesting and the disturbing. With profound social consequences that daily crop up from the ready, drop-of-the-hat recording, by today’s tiny phone cameras, of injustices by governments and police. A far-reaching role of the camera’s equalizer capacity that the two men in this photo undoubtedly did not imagine.

Tessa den Uyl said...

Thinking of the most recent request for passport pictures, they are not that different in stiffness though!
So it has been a closer time towards movement that can be captured which has changed photography, the swift possibility to freeze a moment. Our habits move along with the options available to document something. Probably why people preferably fashionably smile on pictures today. Although... those smiles are rarely truly spontaneous...

What I like about the picture is it's time that it carries within, there is a sense of (available) time.

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

Many things are lost lost in our celebration of sophistication. As we subject our lives to every greater control, we lose the wind in our hair, the smell of the rain, the chill of the evening, the soil under our feet, or the rising of the sun.

Proscenium now joins our list of very impressive words (I keep a list for amusement), not all of which finally made it into print: abstruse, adumbration, bloviation, eschewing, integument, paradiastole, sesquipedalian, and venality.

Martin Cohen said...

I agree with Keith about that hand - definitely looks like something held by a string, and indeed it might have been! In those days the exposure indoors especially might have been several minutes, I think. And, re. Tessa and smiles, I see celeb videos on the Daily Mail website - okay, I know `I house not be looking but…! and the one thing I can't bear is the 'smile to camera'. I literally have to look away… and it is the insincerity fo the smile - to an unknown audience from someone who is 'famous' but yet still rather a nobody.

And Thomas' list of words! Yes, it reminds me of those intelligence tests.We are impressed by "long words" - but should we be? We are not impressed by (say) people who can remember the names of World Cup scorers. The mental achievement is only similar!

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