Sunday, 26 December 2010

Bite 23: Unknown - Couple Holding Daguerreotype, c. 1850

Couple Holding Daguerreotype, c. 1850, daguerreotype
There are three subjects in this highly reflexive image: a man, a woman, and a photograph. From the couple's solemn expressions - one looking away, the other confidently apprehending the lens, fist clenched - it would appear the family in their precious daguerreotype (they clearly value this image, holding it tenderly on a pedestal; far more than today we would value a material image) it seems the people in the image must have past, or be physically distant from them, the couple grieving on time past just as it is 'present', in some frustrating form, with them here.

It being a work by an anonymous artist/photographer heightens the mystery and ambiguity already present in the image. We do not know these people or their names. This object - an object of an object - has been separated from its extended family, yet we are intensely interested in this couple and what they are feeling here. The interest lies also in that we are unsure what the very purpose of this image even is, the life it lived for these people.

Photographs, as icons of nostalgia, are objects which seem to grow in authenticity and interest as they age. It seems appropriate then, and even adds to the value of this object, when it is scratched, damaged or even smashed.

This image, a powerful statement on what photographs are and mean to us, has an entire new life of its own, fully divorced from the people it depicts and its intended purpose. Perhaps unintentionally Couple Holding Daguerreotype comments strongly on the simultaneous tangibility and ephemerality of photographs, and their subjects. This image is well deserving of long meditation.