I was doing some mindless searching of the web today at lunch and I met someone that I never expected to encounter. This person was Constanze nee Weber (1762-1842), the wife of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791). Wait a minute, you say, how is this possible? Well take a look at Figure 1 which shows Constanze Mozart at age 78 years two years before her death. She is in the front left and dressed in black. Bavarian composer Max Keller is seated center front, and to his left is his wife Josefa. From left to right in rear: family cook, Philip Lattner (Keller’s brother in law), and Keller’s daughters Luise and Josefa. The print is a 19th century copy of the original daguerreotype photograph taken October 1840, at Keller’s home. This image was discovered in 2004 in the Altötting state archive in 2004. So amazing, right? You’ve got to love the way Lattner leans forward, the expression on Keller’s face, and the touching way that Josefa leans against Luise.
We have spoken a lot about this, but the words “I met” still ring very true. Somehow seeing someone’s photograph is meeting them, somehow you feel closer to them than with a painted portrait, no matter how finely done. They become kindred in a way – fellow occupants of modern times. You cannot help but stare into their faces in a way that doesn’t work with a painting. It’s not after all, an artists conception, it is a real instant lived. You create a little story in your mind. In this case the story is of the first encounter with some new fangled gadget – maybe the first time you saw a digital camera – or maybe the first time you saw a Polaroid Instamatic (if you ever did). You can relate to the moment captured. The party on the lawn stops and everyone gathers round as the magician photographer does his sorcery. And finally, and in a way that once more contrasts ever so deeply with the experience of a painting, you feel a twinge of remorse that this person or persons passed away. You met them, knew them, and shared a moment with them. Perhaps there is truth to the view that the camera captures your soul.