Several years ago, in the flap of a portfolio, I came upon an x-ray of the left side of my torso, taken April 20, 1972, when I was seventeen. I stuck it onto the glass of the French window opposite my desk. The light passed through the bluish network of bony lines and blurry organs as through a piece of stained glass . . . I was displaying the most intimate image of myself.
In May 2000, a cabinet card sized paper copy of a daguerreotype taken in the mid-1850s of a woman resembling Emily Dickinson as she might have looked in her late twenties suddenly surfaced. It was brought to light by Dr. Philip Gura, a professor of American literature and culture at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and a collector of 19th-century daguerreotypes and photographs. He bought the photograph for $481 from Janos Novomeszky, a Hungarian collector advertising on the Internet auction site eBay. Now the new photograph flickers out at us from Gura's own website at http://www.unc.edu/~gura/ed/index.html, an eerily beautiful reminder that images have become thinner, lighter, and more transparent in the twentieth century with the evolution of electronics. The link from his site reads: "Newsflash: Newly Discovered Emily Dickinson Photograph?"
("Could you believe me without? I had no portrait now.")
The provenance of the photograph remains obscure: Novomeszky claimed that he acquired it in a job lot of photographs that were rejects from a dealer in Los Angeles. That dealer, Stephen White, however, had no clear recollection of ever possessing the image. Yet despite this uncertainty of origins--or perhaps because of it?--several features of the woman in the slightly-faded photograph--eyes, brows, forehead, and mouth, as well as the slope of her shoulders and the form of her hands--seem to bear a striking likeness to corresponding features in the 1847-48 image of Dickinson. (Mead 30-31).
"If I like a photograph," writes Roland Barthes, "if it disturbs me, I linger over it. . . . I want to enlarge this face in order to see it better, to understand it better, to know its truth (and sometimes, naively, I confide this task to a laboratory). . . . I believe that by enlarging the detail 'in series' (each shot engendering smaller details than at the preceding stage), I will finally reach [her] very being. . . . This is what happens when I judge a certain photograph 'a likeness'" (99).
(Series of flashes 1847/185-?: eyes, hands, mouth; )
After first comparing computer generated negatives of the 1847 image and the new image to confirm strong similarities in parallel features, Gura submitted the photographs to forensic scientists with the hope of proving the identity of the subject in the new image once and for all. After almost six months, on October 24, 2000, he posted the following report prepared by Dr. Richard Jantz, Director of the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee: "Based on our analysis, the photographs do exhibit a consistent pattern and relationship between cranial landmarks and gross morphological features. . . . Overall, the images are consistent, and we are unable to exclude the individual in the suspect photograph" (http://www.unc.edu/~gura/ed/index.html).
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