Jean-Martin Charcot – Capturing the Mind.


Régnard, “Lethargy. Contraction of the stern-mastoidian frontal muscles,” Iconographie, vol. III.

There were approximately four thousand women patients hospitalised at The Salpetriere when Jean-Martin Charcot began working there in 1863. The patients were, “female paupers, vagabonds, beggars, ‘decrepit women,’ ‘old maids,’ epileptics, ‘women in second childhood,’ ‘mishappen and malformed innocents,’ incorrigible women-madwomen.” (1)

francis-galton-2Composites Male Portraits of Criminals Convicted of Murder, Manslaughter or Crimes of Violence.

During the late Nineteenth century, photography was synomonous with authenticity. The body was institutionalized by Francis Galton in 1882, who produced composites of criminal and ethnic types. Alphonse Bertillion also devised a scheme in 1879 of measuring and auditing the body. Charcot was the leading neurologist of the time and Freud’s mentor. (2) He described The Salpetriere as, “a living museum of pathology.” (3)

iii_c_138Alphonse Bertillion, Poster of Physical Features, Musée des Collections Historiques de la Préfecture de Police

Charcot desired to capture what cannot be seen; the inner workings of the mind. Charcot systematically employed photography to capture the experience of hysteria, “thus demiystify it- for science, for fame, and for the “hysterics” themselves.” (4) He “used photography to visually represent a disease that defied anatomy and, thus, physical examination.” (5)

Charcot’s standardized images of the women are, “like phosphorescent specimens pinned in velvet boxes.” (6) The women are subjected, made subject and alienated through visual representation. They are forced to participate in constructing the image. Didi writes of the contrived staging and repetition of certain poses that represented different psychological illnesses. Charcot and his assistants were accused of coaching patients to perform, so he began focusing on symptoms that couldn’t be rehearsed. When a new symptom was discovered it was reproduced in the hospital’s photo studio for the scrutiny of Charcot’s gaze. (7)

In Lethargy, the woman is in the lethargic phase where the phenomenon of neuromuscular hyper-excitability is at its peak. (8) She is being touched by an instrument in order to trigger a response from the muscle; the muscle basically contracts. The reaching into the “dark chamber,” (9) the supposed “hand of God,” is reminiscent of Chris Marker’s imagery in La Jatee, where scientists perform experiments upon the male protagonist which will either result in insanity or death.


La Jetee Film Still, Directed by Chris Maker.


1. G Didi-Huberman, Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2003, p. 13.

2. U Baer, Spectral Evidence: The Photography of Trauma, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2002, p. 26.

3. Didi-Huberman, op.cit., p. 13.

4. U Baer, op.cit., p. 14.

5. ibid., p. 30.

6.  ibid., p. 16.

7.  ibid., p. 31.

8. Didi-Huberman, op.cit., p. 96.

9. U Baer, op.cit., p. 35.


Lethargy G Didi-Huberman, Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2003, p. 201.

Francis Galton

La Jetee film still

C19th Mortuary Photography – The Illusion of Sleep.

Postmortem Photograph of a Child

Postmortem photograph of unidentified child. Harrison, Lock Heaven, Pa., ca. 1890-1910. Tinted gelatin silver print on cardboard mount, carte de visite. Courtesy, Center for Visual Communication, Mifflintown, Pa.

The enduring tradition of painted mortuary portraits precedes Nineteenth century mortuary photography. Jay Ruby writes, “The association of death and sleep is as old as Western culture itself. In classical Greece, the sons of the night were Hypnos, god of sleep, and his twin, Thanatos, god of death.” (1)

The denial of death was a pictorial convention that prevailed during the Nineteenth century. “People did not die. They went to sleep.” (2) The “last sleep” was a popular theme in mortuary photography because it beautified death by creating the illusion of sleep. With the high infant mortality rates during this time, mourning was a normal part of life. Memorialising the deceased was common and mortuary photographs were often displayed in the home.

A photograph retained the memory of the deceased and was also a lasting reminder that we have no power over death, a memento mori. The young boy (pictured above) is dressed in his Sunday best and it was probably the first and last time he was photographed. The photographer has adhered to the prevailing ideology of the day, and the boy appears to be sleeping. The photograph is a carte de visite, a small photograph that was relatively inexpensive to produce. The carte de visite was hugely popular and people would collect, trade or send them to loved ones. I cannot help asking whether his mother still carried him, even after his death, in her pocket.


1. J Ruby, Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America, Twelvetrees Press, 1990, p. 63.

2. ibid.


J Ruby, Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America, Twelvetrees Press, 1990, p. 66.

Eadweard Muybridge – Inventor, Photographer, Traveller, Murderer..

The Magic Image describes Eadweard Muybridge as an, “Inventor, traveller, photographer, murderer…” he shot and killed his wife’s lover. (1)


Jean Louis Théodore Géricault, The Epsom Derby, 1821, Oil on canvas, 92cm X 122cm

A former governor of California, Leland Stanford, commissioned Muybridge to settle the dispute over whether a trotting horse, ever had all four of its feet off the ground. The artist at the time believed it was an impossible task. (2) With the support of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Muybridge produced over 100,000 images of humans and animals in motion. Muybridge arranged twelve cameras beside the track, “Strings attached to electric switches were stretched across the track; the horse, rushing past, breasted the strings and broke them, one after the other; the shutters were released by an electromagnetic control, and a series of negatives made.” (3)


Eadweard Muybridge, First published in Animal Locomotion in 1887. Collotype.


Horse galloping animated.


Eadweard Muybridge, Plate 766, First published in Animal Locomotion in 1887. Collotype.

The results were astounding and proved that a galloping horse did at some point have all four feet off the ground. But not in the way that Jean Louis Théodore Géricault’s, The Epsom Derby had depicted. Muybridge had captured what the eye alone could not distinguish. The compilations of his studies greatly influenced artists and the advancement of industrial and scientific photography.

His inventiveness “nearly led to the invention, not just of the ‘movies’, but of the ‘talking picture’ itself. (4) The pictures in strips could be viewed in a zoetrope, which twirled the images, merging them so quickly that it produced the illusion of motion. In 1880 he projected his pictures onto a screen at the California School of Fine Arts, using a device he invented called a zoogyroscope. 


Zoetrope advertisement.


1. C Beaton, G Buckland, The Magic Image, Little, Brown & Company, 1975, p. 76.

2. B Newhall, The History of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1982, p. 119.

3. ibid.

4. A Scharf, Pioneers of Photography, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1975, p. 141.


Vultures flying

Jean Louis Théodore Géricault file:///Users/skontos/Desktop/File:Théodore%20Géricault%20-%20The%20Epsom%20Derby%20-%20WGA08637.jpg%20-%20Wikipedia,%20the%20free%20encyclopedia.webarchive

Horse jumping

Horse galloping animated

Zoetrope advertisement



Fredrick Holland Day – Seven Words in Seven Days in Seven Photographs.

Fredrick Holland Day

Fredrick Holland Day, The Seven Words, 1898Platinum print, each image 13.3 X 10.8 cm.

Born in Massachusetts, Fredrick Holland Day, was considered an eccentric of wealthy means. He was the first to recognize the work of John Keats. Before he died in 1933, Day donated his immense “collection of Keat’s letters, manuscripts and first editions that [was] the finest harvest of Keatsiana in existence,” to the poet’s museum in Hampstead. (1)

Day recognized the efforts of Alfred Stieglitz and the Photo-Secession group in its fight for photography to be recognized as an art form. In order to prove that photography could compete with painting, Day decided to portray the last seven days of Christ’s life.

Fredrick Holland Day  Fredrick Holland Day

Every detail was taken into consideration. Clothing and sandals were meticulously made. Day starved himself for a year and let his hair and beard grow so that he could pose as Christ. He photographed for three months during the summer and made hundreds of platinum negatives.

“When the results- printed on terracotta-coloured paper… were secretly shown to a few privileged friends, the response was enthusiastic. Steichen even wrote: ‘Few paintings contain as much that is spiritual and sacred in them.'” (2)  Day was also concerned with the presentation of the work and designed the frame for The Seven Words. (3)

Bernini  teresa ecstasy bernini saint st theresa  Bernini

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1647–1652, Marble, 150 cm.

The images are haunting. This was partially achieved by the uncorrected lens Day used which was made by the Boston firm, Pinkham and Smith. It “produced a sharp image with a halo around the highlights.” (4)  Day’s expression is reminiscent of Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa, (1647-52). It is a dichotomous awe-inspiring agony and painful ecstasy. Scholars now see the work as a coupling of religious subject matter with an eroticism of the male body. This sexualization of the body of Christ is also imbued with homoerotic themes.

In 1904 a fire destroyed Day’s great collection of negatives and prints. After the fire Day ceased making photographs. In 1917, he retreated to his bed, remaining there until his death some sixteen years later.


1. C Beaton, G Buckland, The Magic Image, Little, Brown & Company, 1975, p. 97.

2. ibid., p. 96.

3. R Marshall, Robert Mapplethorpe, Secker & Warburg, London, 1988, p. 12.

4. Beaton, Buckland, op.cit., p. 93.


Fredrick Holland Day



Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (detail)

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (detail)

William Henry Fox Talbot – Lace Imprinting its own Picture.

Lace, Plate XX

William Henry Fox Talbot, Lace, Plate XX, First published in The Pencil of Nature, 1844.

Scientific innovation and the knowledge of William Henry Fox Talbot’s fastidious photographic inventory of his possessions qualifies his place as one of my favourite photographers. His photographs in The Pencil of Nature, not only establish his ability to compose a picture but also chronicle the scope of what the camera was capable of. (1)

In The Magic Image, Fox Talbot is described as “a man blessed with an unusual imagination, uncommon knowledge and a wide range of interests.” (2) Fox Talbot’s technique produced a paper negative; at first, although mottled and not as defined as the Daguerreotype, it was a superior process because copies could be made. Aaron Scharf describes the poetic elements of the paper negative process, the “… fibrous structure of the negative… softening all contours of the image, diffusing the light, and imbuing all forms with a suggestive power.” (3) Later Fox Talbot refined his technique by replacing the paper supporting the negative emulsion with glass plates coated with collodion, he named it “the calotype process.” In 1840 by rendering silver chloride crystals to silver by chemical means, Fox Talbot further revolutionized photography with reduced exposure times.

“He called the hidden, invisible images “latent.” (4) Suggesting that the images existed but lay dormant until revealed by the chemical process. Geoffery Batchen writes of Talbot’s uncertain statements regarding photography’s “generative power.” (5) Talbot questions whether a photograph was the combination of camera and chemistry or “nature drawing its own picture.” (6)

The Pencil of Nature, was the first book illustrated with photographs and the first mass produced book. Beaumont Newhall describes the operation of the “Talbotype Establishment” which printed over 2000 paper negatives for the series in the sun, thus making it “the first mass production photofinishing laboratory in the world.” (7)

Lace, plate XX in The Pencil of Nature, is an example of a negative image. The lace was placed upon sensitized paper allowing an image to be “directly taken from the lace itself.” (8) It is this “touching” that appeals and the intricate detailed patterning of the lace. Charles Babbage, the English philosopher and mathematician, believed that Talbot’s lacework photograms were “mathematics made visible.” (9) Today we liken the patterns to the structure of cells & the pixelation of digital images.


1. C Beaton, G Buckland, The Magic Image, Little, Brown & Company, 1975, p. 35.

2. ibid., p.10.

3. A Scharf, Pioneers of Photography, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1975, p. 12.

4. W Talbot, The Pencil of Nature, Da Capo Press, New York, 1969, p. 4.

5. G Batchen, Each Wild Idea, Cambridge Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2001, p. 166.

6. ibid.

7. Talbot, op.cit., p. 5.

8. ibid., Plate XX.

9. Batchen, op.cit., p. 169.


William Henry Fox Talbot

Jeff Wall – Painting and Cinematography Collide in “Near Documentary” Photography.


Jeff Wall, After ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue 1999-2000. Transparency in lightbox 1740 X 2505 mm. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Jeff Wall’s After ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue 1999-2000, is a remarkable photograph and a fine example of Wall’s intelligent considerations on picture making. Two major energies that are of great influence to the artist are the grand traditions of Western painting and cinematography.

Wall’s image is not an accurate transcription of reality, it is a deliberately constructed realm. He aptly calls the type of photography he practices as “near documentary.” His picture making process intersects the realm between documentary photography and cinematography, and is an example of the way directorial photography functions today. After ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue 1999-2000, recreates a scene from Ralph Ellison’s renowned 1952 novel, “Invisible Man.” The level of detail in the photograph is astounding. Wall meticulously recreated the scene in his studio: 1,369 light bulbs, the blankets covering the walls and doorways, the furniture, papers and hundreds of small items.

Initially, the viewer may presume that the photograph of the man in this curious setting is actually homeless. Photography is imbued with a certain level of reality and truth because of its documentary and archival qualities. The viewer is tantalized by the precise placement of objects that creates depth within the pictorial space of the image. By placing the man in the back of the room, Wall creates a feeling in the viewer that they are interrupting or peering in on the subject’s private life. The seated man with his hunched back produces empathy in the viewer. Coleman writes, “People believe photographs.” (1) Photographs are credible in a way that sculptures, etchings and oil paintings are not. Coleman writes this believability is based on photography’s ability to regulate Renaissance perspective and represent a particular moment of reality, even though it sits flat on a piece of paper. (2)

Wall is interested in creating “hermetic world’s of fantasy and strangeness.” (3)  A deep sense of desperation and psychological tension prevails in Wall’s depiction of a solitary man in an airless and claustrophobic interior. By directing and making images and simply not just taking photographs, Wall engages with the notion of photography as truth. Wall achieved this natural quality by photographing the man for a long period of time. This encouraged his subject to become comfortable in the scene. Wall developed this process from studying filmmaking. Wall waits with his camera, until the things he’s waiting for, even though he doesn’t quite know what it is occurs. (4)  Interestingly, in many ways, Wall is also waiting, like Henri Cartier-Bresson, for his “decisive moment.”


Diego Velazquez, Les Meninas (The Maids of Honour), 1656.

From an early age, Wall was interested in painting and drawing. Unable to denounce his love for the Western traditions of 19th century painting, Wall began to realize that photography could be more than what the medium was inherently rooted and understood to be. Photographs were usually viewed in books or albums and were small compared to the grand paintings of the Western tradition. During a trip to Europe in the 1970s, Wall recognized that a lot of important paintings were done near life size. In the following passage, Wall recounts his experience of viewing paintings by Francisco Goya and Diego Velazquez;

A painting is a certain sized image related to your body that looks and makes you feel something when you stand in front of it in a room… It’s large enough and has amplitude that makes you feel like you are still in the same place and yet there is another place that is presenting itself to you… That’s painting. (5)


A Stereograph.


A Stereoscope.

Coleman states that within the history of photography there is a tradition of directorial images and cites the staged tableau’s and narrative scenes of stereographic images from the 1850s as examples. Oliver Wendall Holmes writes of his experience of viewing a stereograph, “… so heightened as to produce an appearance of reality which cheats the senses with its seeming truth.” (6)  The all-encompassing scale of Wall’s photograph with its sumptuous detail is likened to a film still, but a connection can also be drawn to the stereograph. The film reference is obviously informed by the luminosity of the picture’s display method. The large-scale transparency is housed in a backlit light box and because of the proportion the viewer’s experience is likened to being in a cinema viewing a single frame of film.


1. A D Coleman, ‘The Directorial Mode: Notes towards a definition,’ in Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the Present, ed. Vicki Goldberg, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981, p. 482.

2. ibid.




6. O Wendeall Holmes, (1859) ‘The Stereoscope and the Stereograph,’ in Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the Present, ed. Vicki Goldberg, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981, p. 104.


Jeff Wall

Diego Velazquez

A stereograph

A stereoscope,r:0,s:0,i:82

A photograph reveals more than what is remembered.


This photograph from my childhood is one that I have intimately studied on many occasions. Drawing from Benjamin’s notion of ‘unconscious optics,’ the lens captures a significant moment in this photograph, it is somewhat discernible to the eye. It is this element that raises questions relating to photography’s ability to capture truth, reality and the self.

The photograph from my childhood, was taken in 1979 by the seaside in Greece. It was taken with a film camera, so it is grainy and coupled with the texture of the paper, the fuzziness of memory seems amplified. The photograph enables me to distinctly remember the seaside town and it was December so there was a slight chill in the air. I wore a cream cardigan that my mother had knitted for me. I always wanted her to change the buttons to weaved leather ones that resembled the buttons on my father’s tweed jackets. I sit with my back to the seaside with a pot of pink geraniums on a wall behind me at my shoulder. But this photograph reveals more than is actually remembered because from here I have accumulated many years of memories related to this nine year old child. I see that I feel a little uncomfortable, shy even, I have never liked my picture being taken. My eyes staring straight at the lens, the look on my face and my posture reveal a modest uneasiness as my shoulder is ever so slightly raised.

I am drawn to this photograph because it captured that precise moment of me lifting my shoulder. Benjamin writes, “the invisible inside the visible, those bodily movements that are too minute to be discerned by the human eye and too automatic to impinge on human consciousness.” The cameras revelation, these “unconscious optics,” are crucial if a photograph is to resonate. Hirsch writes, “evidently a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens to the naked eye.”

I often look at this photograph because of this unease. I was a nine year old girl and from where I stand now, I know it was before my sexuality had revealed itself. So why this unease? I know more about this girl from here than what the photograph is actually presenting to me. Cadava writes, “Rather than reproducing, faithfully and perfectly, the photographed as such, the photographic image conjures up its death.” I comprehend that my experience by the seaside, because it was photographed, becomes estranged from the actuality of my memory of it. But is it the death of that young girl? Perhaps that is something I cannot bear. One question continues to interests me to no end, where is that young girl?


Benjamin, W, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in J Curran et. al. (eds.), Mass Communication and Society, Edward Arnold, London, 1977.

Cadava, E, ‘Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History’, Diacritics, vol. 22, no. 3-4, Fall / Winter 1992, pp. 87-93.

Hirsch, M, Family Frames Photography Narrative and Postmemory, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1997.

Julia Margaret Cameron – The Directorial Mode of C19th Photography.


Julia Margaret Cameron, Sadness, 1864. Albumen print, 22.1 X 17.5 cm.

I have chosen Sadness over other more obvious directorial examples in Julia Margaret Cameron’s oeuvre because it combines many interesting elements. Cameron was known as a great casting director and sought to reveal the internal qualities of her sitters. In Sadness, the viewer ponders whether Ellen Terry, the great Shakespearean actress was collaborating with or performing for Cameron.

For A. D. Coleman, directorial photography is when, “the photographer consciously and intentionally creates events for the express purpose of making images…” (1)  During the 1850s, the directorial approach was an alternative to realism in photography. Anne Marsh writes of this era as producing, “… photographic works which explore the performative and theatrical aspects of photography. The early photographers… provide the opportunity to look at self-consciously created oeuvres which aspired to the unreal, the made-up and, at times, attempted to represent the unrepresentable.” (2)

The photograph of Terry aged sixteen, was taken at Freshwater Bay (Cameron’s home) while she was on her honeymoon. The portrait reveals Cameron’s ability to draw out Terry’s character. Terry was an actress and a young bride of a mismatched marriage with the painter George Frederick Watts, a man twenty one years her senior. The couple separated less than a year later.

An interesting reading can be made of this work when firstly, Cameron’s personality is taken into account. Secondly, when the questions posed by her technique and directorial style are considered. And thirdly, from a fascinating essay on patriarchal society and sexuality during the Victorian era by Anne Marsh.

In The Magic Image, Cameron is described as “… outspoken, candid… iron-willed… hypnotic [and] determined to express herself…” (3)  When Cameron moved to England from her birthplace of Calcutta after marrying the philosopher Charles Hay Cameron (who was twice her age) she “… did not attempt to hide her contempt for the ways of conventional society.” (4)  It was when they moved to the Isle of Wright that Cameron found the “intellectual stimulus she craved.” (5)  The illustrious crowd that visited her home included Alfred Lord Tennyson, Longfellow and Thomas Carlyle, and many became the subjects of her photographs. Inspired by the allegorical paintings of her friend George Frederic Watts, Cameron began composing her photographs in a similar style.

(c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

George Fredrick Watts, Arion Saved by the Dolphin, 1896. Oil on canvas, 28.5 X 41.5 cm.

There are differing opinions on Cameron’s “sloppy” technique and soft focus. Some historians are of the opinion that it was Cameron’s inexperience and enthusiasm “to show the greatness of the inner and give likeness of the outer man.” (6)  Other’s suspect a “subconscious unwillingness to submit to any technical principle… [an] obscure desire to subvert technique.” (7)  In ‘Annals of my Glass House,’ 1874, Cameron wrote, “… when focusing and coming to something which, to my eye, was very beautiful, I stopped there instead of screwing on the lens to the more definite focus which all other photographers insist upon.” (8)  Photography and its relationship to reality and truth are at work in Cameron’s image. Coleman writes, “The issue here is not whether the photographer manipulated the print but the subject.” (9)

The collodion tear on the image surface evokes a peeling of layers revealing what is hidden beneath. Anne Marsh refers to Steven Marcus’ book The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England, which documents the dualistic interpretation of sexuality. A way of enforcing the construct of women as being controlled within a patriarchal society was achieved by confining women to the home, where women carried out the duties of “chaste mother and caring wife.” (10)  Cameron photographs Terry in her house, leaning into the shadow against regency wallpaper, tugging at her necklace nervously, her wedding ring subdued.

This dualistic quality is further evidenced in the eroticism achieved by photographing Terry in her petticoat. The fabric, with its Pre-Raphaelite folds and lacework falls slightly off her shoulders and highlights a sensual curve to her hair upswept behind her shoulder. Weston Naef remarks, “There is a very skilful use of light that reinforces the sensual element of the content. The light comes off of her cheek and models the lower part of her jaw…” (11)  Her long neck exposed is quite provocative. Marcus’ double coding of women and sexuality brings into question the nature of Cameron’s directorial gaze. The devout Anglican, mother and wife, and the sexualised image she created subvert Nineteenth century conventions.


1. A D Coleman, ‘The Directorial Mode: Notes toward a definition,’ in Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the present, ed. Vicki Goldberg, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981, p. 484.

2. A Marsh, ‘Ghostly Performances: The Aura of Early Art Photography,’ in The Darkroom: Photography and the Theatre of Desire, Melbourne: Macmillan, 2003, p. 116.

3. C Beaton, G Buckland, The Magic Image, Little, Brown & Company, 1975, p. 62.

4. ibid.

5. ibid.

6. ibid., p. 65.

7. A Scharf, Pioneers of Photography, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1975, p. 78.

8. ibid., p. 76.

9. Coleman, op. cit., p. 480.

10. Marsh, op. cit., p. 122.

11. N Weston, (ed.) In Focus Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs from The J. Paul Getty Museum, Christopher Hudson, 1996, p. 108.


Julia Margaret Cameron

George Fredrick Watts

Adam Fuss – The Mirrored Surface; Daguerreotypes in the Digital Age.


Adam Fuss, My Ghost, 2001. Daguerreotype, 27.9 x 35.6 cm.

Sekula’s claim, that the history of photography is haunted by “two chattering ghosts,” seems a perfect statement when discussing My Ghost by Adam Fuss, 2001. Fuss liberally and literally draws on the pictorial and technological history of photography in this series of images. The image in the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ collection, is a sumptuous and ephemeral milky blue daguerreotype of a wing spanned white swan. The polished plate creates a mesmerizing otherworldly image coupled with the fact that symbolically, “The swan can be read historically as a mythical creature alluding to love and death…”  (1)

Even today, a daguerreotype holds the viewer, it is a magical experience to see one up close. I now comprehend how powerful these images would have originally been to a Victorian audience. Immediately I think to myself, is this Zeus, disguised as a swan descending from the heavens to seduce Leda? No, it is Fuss, captivating his audience, creating a little yelp in the minds and hearts of those of us obsessed with the history of photography and alternative analogue printing processes.

According to Sekula, every photograph is sending a message. So what message is Fuss sending the viewer? In 1840, Edgar Allen Poe described the daguerreotype thus, “In truth the daguerreotype plate is infinitely more accurate than any painting by human hands… the photographic drawing discloses only a more absolute truth, more perfect identity of aspect with the thing represented.” (2)  This is one of the ghosts that Sekula speaks of, the ghost of objectivity. Sekula writes of photographic discourse and the authoritative voice of photography as evidence, truth and of affirmation. (3)  For Sekula photographic meaning is linked to context. Fuss draws on these definitions inherent in photography’s history in My Ghost.


William Henry Talbot, Articles of China, c. 1844. Salt print from a Calotype paper negative printed image, 13.4 X 18 cm.

Fuss documents the swan in a scientific way. Similarly, in ‘The Pencil of Nature,’ William Henry Talbot employed the objective photographic eye to compile an inventory of the china and glass cabinets in his home at Lacock Abbey. Yet at the same time, Talbot recognized the capabilities this new technology had upon representation and art. This is Sekula’s opposing ghost, the ghost of aestheticism.

In this age of digital imaging, to come across images produced in this labour intensive process is so very rare and even more exciting. Grundberg writes, “It’s easy to see Fuss’s cameraless photograms and latter-day daguerreotypes as reactions to our digital era, in which photography’s ring of truth has a hollow sound.” (4)  A daguerreotype is a “unique-and-precious-object” that cannot be reproduced unlike proceeding photographic processes.  (5)

Fuss titles the series, My Ghost, effectively alluding to the history of mortuary photography and the photograph as a memento mori. In a singular image, Fuss has captured both these ghosts. The clinical pose of the dead swan is set free, imbued with a spiritual quality as it floats hauntingly in a milky blue sky. Grundberg writes, “Fuss’s photographs might be said to superimpose the presence of absence on the absence of presence.”  (6)

V&A Channel. Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography. Adam Fuss – This is a revealing and evocative look at Adam’s Fuss’s working environment and an insight into his creative ideas.


1. Art Gallery of New South Wales, 20 December 2012, <;

2. A. Sekula, ‘On the Invention of Photographic Meaning’ in Thinking Photography, ed. Victor Burgin, London: Macmillan, 1982, p. 87.

3. ibid., p. 85.

4. A. Grundberg, ‘Adam Fuss’. Artforum, Vol. 41, Issue 1, September 2002, viewed 20 December 2012, <;

5. Sekula, op.cit., p. 95.

6. A. Grundberg, ‘My Ghost’. Artforum, Vol. 9, Issue 2, Summer 2002, viewed on 20 December 2012, <;


Adam Fuss

William Henry Talbot

Alfred Stieglitz – Why I Photography Clouds.


Alfred Stieglitz, Equivalent, 1929. Gelatin Silver Print, 4 3/4 x 3 3/4 in.

Stieglitz repeatedly used a number of motifs in his work. In New York, the symbols of modernity such as skyscrapers, snow covered streets, views of city buildings from his window, trains & railways, ferries & ocean liners, depict a changing, bustling world. In his Lake George years, Stieglitz photographed friends that visited, the farmhouse, sheds, fields, grassy knolls, clouds and dying poplar trees. Perhaps, his most famous works are the 300 or so photographs of his wife and muse, the artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

Stieglitz first photographed clouds in 1922 when he was 58 years old. It began with a simple statement from the artist, “I wanted to photograph clouds to find out what I had learned in forty years about photography.” (1)  Inspired by the work of O’Keeffe, “whose paintings were deeply expressive of her visual, emotional and psychological experiences,” (2)  Stieglitz developed his theory of clouds being the equivalent of his life experience.

Further investigation into Stieglitz’s photographs of clouds reveals a complex range of influences and readings of these fascinating images. In his early years in Europe he greatly appreciated the composers and painters of the German Romantic period. (3)  In 1912, he published an excerpt in Camera Work from Wassily Kandinsky’s book Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Kandinsky wrote of Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso: “These are the seekers of the inner spirit in outer things.” (4)  He greatly admired the transcendental writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson that elevated the spiritual above the empirical. And lastly, he was undoubtedly well-acquainted with Symbolist theories of the picture as a metaphor. (5)

His early experiments with clouds, Music – A Sequence of Ten Cloud Photographs No III, 1922 & Equivalent 1924, are both anchored to the ground by small hills and trees. But, in the Equivalents of 1929, no such connection or narrative exists. The photograph depicts the clouds on an angle which disorientates the viewer. Krauss writes that photography, “offers a direct, transparent relationship to experience.” (6)  Krauss describes the significant feature of these works is what Stieglitz chose to reject and present with only the gesture of a cut. (7)  Stieglitz relinquished control over his subject which Krauss interestingly compares to Marcel Duchamp’s readymades.


Alfred Stieglitz, Equivalent, 1930. Gelatin Silver Print, 4 5/8 x 3 5/8 in.

The world became a vehicle for Stieglitz to express the profound feelings he was experiencing. “There seemed to be something closely related to my deepest feeling in what I saw, and I decided to photograph what was within me.” (8)  Stieglitz wanted to transmit meaning using clouds as a metaphor. He said, “My cloud photographs are equivalents of my most profound life experiences, my basic philosophy of life.” (9) Therefore, his thoughts, emotions and experiences could correspond to abstract forms, lines and colours. Stieglitz wanted his photographs to look like photographs and to embody the medium’s inherent qualities. Sekula writes of photography’s dual nature; symbolic and realistic, art against documentary photography, “photographer as seer vs photographer as witness.” (10)  With Stieglitz’s Equivalents, Sekula believes a quintessential aspect of the medium as evidence has been renounced in favour of a metaphorical romanticism.


1. D. Norman, Alfred Stieglitz: An American Seer, Aperture, New York, 1960, p. 143.

2. S. Greenough, ‘Alfred Stieglitz and the Idea of Photography’, in Alfred Stieglitz the Lake George Years, Art Gallery of New South Wales Exhibition Catalogue, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2010, p. 32.

3. J. Annear, ‘An Introduction’, in Alfred Stieglitz the Lake George Years, Art Gallery of New South Wales Exhibition Catalogue, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2010, p. 18.

4. ibid.

5. ibid.

6. R. Krauss, ‘Stieglitz/”Equivalents”’, in October. Vol. 11, Essays in Honor of Jau Leyda (Winter, 1979), p. 129, viewed 14 December 2012, <>

7. ibid., p. 134.

8. D. Norman, The History of Photography Series; Alfred Stieglitz, Aperture, New York, 1976, p. 6.

9. D. Norman, Alfred Stieglitz: An American Seer, p. 144.

10. A. Sekula, ‘On the Invention of Photographic Meaning’, in Thinking Photography, ed. Victor Burgin, Macmillan, London, 1982, p. 108.


Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred Stieglitz