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[Classical Head in Profile]
Salted paper print
5 13/16 × 3 3/8 in. (14.7 × 8.6 cm) (image) 13 1/16 × 10 13/16 in. (33.2 × 27.5 cm)
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of Hans P. Kraus Jr., in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary, 2019, Accession Number: 2019.310
This luminous head seems to materialize before our very eyes, as if we are observing the moment in which the latent photographic image becomes visible. Nineteenth-century eyewitnesses to Hippolyte Bayard’s earliest photographs (direct positives on paper) described a similarly enchanting effect, in which hazy outlines coalesced with light and tone to form charmingly faithful, if indistinct, images. These works, which Bayard referred to as essais (tests or trials), often included statues and busts, which he frequently arranged in elaborate tableaux. In this case, he photographed the lone subject (an idealized classical head) from the front and side, as if it were a scientific specimen. The singular object emerges as a relic from photography’s origins and now distant past.