Thursday, 17 February 2011

Bite 62: J. W. Black - Walt Whitman, c. 1860

"Whitman late in his life identified the date of this photo as between 1845 and 1850, but no one has agreed with him; Dr. Bucke guessed 1856, but most estimates have been a later date. Seeing this photo late in his life, Whitman exclaimed, "How shaggy! looks like a returned Californian, out of the mines, or Coloradoan," but he was fascinated with "the expression of benignity" that shone through, though he felt "such benignity, such sweetness, such satisfiedness - ” it does not belong. I know it often appears - ” but that's the trick of the camera, the photographer." Whitman called it his "young man" picture ("when did I not look old? At twenty-five or twenty-six they used already to remark it"), and claimed "it is me, me, un formed, undeveloped - ”hits off phases not common in my photos." He described his physique at the time: "I was very much slenderer then: weighed from one hundred and fifty-five to one hundred and sixty-five pounds: had kept that weight for about thirty years: then got heavier." Whitman was amused by the clothing - "how natural the clothes! . . . the suit was a beautiful misfit, as usual, eh?" - and he was impressed with "its calm don't-care-a-damnativeness - ”its go-to-hell-and-find-outativeness: it has that air strong, yet is not impertinent: defiant: yet it is genial." Whitman was mystified by this portrait - ”he began calling it "the mysterious photograph" - ”when he first saw it in 1889: "When it could have been taken - ”by whom - ”where - ”I cannot even guess. . . . it's a devilish, tantalizing mystery. . . .""
                                                                        -  The Walt Whitman Archive