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  • by Janet St. John

Art & Soul Short #26

Two Young Men. Unknown (American) artist. ca. 1850. Daguerreotype. 10.8 x 8.3 cm.

Courtesty of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

They step out of the shadows, allow themselves to be seen, full view, for real. Two men at ease in an act of connection, thigh over thigh with lover, brother, or best friend. Unselfconscious, unfamiliar with the art of likenesses, because no one ever wanted to capture and save theirs. All of the anonymous ones—seamstresses, miners, even the recently deceased. Daguerreotype. Portraiture for the masses. Silver-colored copper images of naked women, seated families, stoic soldiers, rendered as-is, if not a little more somber in near-negative, no color. New questions for each new medium. Who is this made for? Who might see it? Will it last into the future? After oil paint, silver plate. After film, digital bytes and everyone selfie-aware. We strike a pose. We press a screen button and secure a moment, maybe no more real than the portraits infamous painters labored hours over, intervening and controlling composition. Move your arm a little left. Tilt your head toward me. Look away. There. Now hold still. Photographers, too, offered direction. Now we become subject and artist. Observer and observed. Before and behind a lens, considering how spontaneous to be, how much to manipulate, which self we want to represent.

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