The other day I was called upon to make a negative of a corpse. The day happened to be a bright one, and I overcame the above-mentioned difficulty in the following manner: I selected a room where the sunlight could be admitted and placed the subject near a window, and a white reflecting screen on the shade side of the face. As usual, the reflection from the screen was insufficient to equalize the light upon the subject, so I caused a pretty strong light to be thrown against the screen with a mirror, which caused an equal play of light on the face, and an excellent negative was obtained without flatness.
The photograph belongs to the afterlife of the photographed: "The imprint, the negative trace, already selective and reactive in what it retains and preserves of refracted light, determines a point of departure for a potentially endless propagation of images" (Sedofsky 295). At the same time, the possibility of the image's reproduction-the pervasiveness of modes of reproduction within the field of photography-contributes to the degradation of the aura of the "original" image. Sound of a rapid camera shutter.
After Dickinson's death on 15 May 1886, the daguerreotype she had concealed during her lifetime reappeared and began to circulate. Or, rather, since daguerreotypes are direct positive images that have no negatives, another image of the 1847 plate of the sixteen-year-old Dickinson was obtained and became the prototype-medium-for a series of facsimiles repeatedly estranged from their original referent. Copied, blown up or reduced, retouched or tricked out, double exposed or over exposed, these "snap shots" offer images not found in life. As Bernhard notes, in 1893, for example, a "cabinet photograph" of Dickinson entered the economy of exchange. It was a mounted image of approximately 4 x 6" taken from the original daguerreotype, but enlarged and retouched to emphasize the target's head and shoulders against a light background. Another image derived from the original daguerreotype appeared in 1897, this one transformed by the Boston miniaturist Laura Hills who gave Dickinson a softer hairline and a ruffled collar. Later, this same image appears to have been altered again, though when and under what circumstances is not known (see Bernhard 595-ff).
"With the daguerreotype," Kierkegaard observed as early as 1854, "everyone will be able to have their portrait taken . . . and at the same time everything is being done to make us all look exactly the same" (qtd. Sontag 208). The multiple, corrupted images of Dickinson constitute a blur in the direction of a homogenous image. It should not surprise us, then, that the demand for an image of Dickinson arose at the very moment when the texts of her handwritten letters, those mysterious mirrors of ink and pencil, were about to appear in print--profoundly altered--for the first time. The tactics she had successfully deployed during her life to resist the imposition of an image-identity by a commodity culture and the still more dangerous recuperation of her writings for public consumption failed her after her death. Out of the late 19th-century culture of sentiment came an image of Dickinson redressed for the photographer; out of the late 19th-century culture of sentiment came a series of volumes of poetry and letters resembling Victorian photo albums.
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