I found this surreal and somber glass plate negative several months ago and immediately set it aside for digital scanning. I discuss some of the thoughts the image provoked below.
- The discovery of this image triggered a powerful reaction. I felt stunned. There is the illusion of motion in the photograph. The flash creates shadow beneath the body apparently lifting it up off the concrete steps, as if a backwards dive out of life, sleep and dreams has been made.
- The detectives and the attending crime scene photographer stand back from the victim whose striped pyjamas reveal a dark patch above the waistline – is this blood from a stabbing or gunshot wound? It struck me that the photographer could have stood on the steps, bent over, popped the flash, bathing everything in a luminous cone of light that would have allowed no vestige of evidence to escape.
- The cameraman has avoided this strategy. The photograph does not allow us to see marks on the body, or blood trails, or footprints or deposits left by the assailant. The decision not go for the ‘close up’ is baffling, because this image is the only one of the murder victim I’ve so far found.
- From a courtroom/evidence perspective the image makes clear three types of violation – life, nighttime security, and domestic sanctity, all have been shattered by the crime.
- It also strikes me as an emotional image … “we got out of the car, we came around the corner and we saw that body in these circumstances just there!”. Does the image also contain some of the adrenaline, dread and uncertainty of police work? I think so.
- The image illustrates – but refuses to explain – a terrible death. Later it will propel the search for motive, identity of the assailant, and the circumstances of the crime.
- The image reminded me of a still from a surrealist movie. It also recalled the work of night photographers Brandt, Weegee and Brassai. Surrealism’s obsession with bodily contortion, irrationality, violence, and nightmare, hovers as a putative presence. As does the black and white drama of film noir.
- Perhaps inexcusably I also thought about books and plays. Raymond Chandler called death, “The Big Sleep”. And in Hamlet we get: “… To die, to sleep: To end the thousand natural shocks flesh is heir to … To die, to sleep: perchance to dream:/ Ay, there’s the rub/For in that sleep of death what dreams may come?”