In the eye of the (dead) beholder

Christopher Pinney’s article provides an interesting point of connection between the idea of “essence” in portrait photography, and the typology of the multiple frames.  In the former there seems to be a certain redemption from the perils of the latter in that it is set adrift from a project; it is free to wander the boundaries of the individual: whether the individual is thought in the multiple of happenstance narrative, or the singular of the appearance of what Benjamin calls the now time.  So, I just wanted to pick up something specific from this project, which fascinated me.  Pinney mentions the case of optographic experiments in criminological projects in the nineteenth century.  It was popularly thought, it seems, that a photograph might be able to capture the reflection of the murderer in the eye of the victim.  I like the correspondence then, between the photograph as freezing time, and death as distilling the outside of the body for all time.  So we might want to think about how the limits of photography were being negotiated in the early period, and what it might be possible to capture.


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