The Victoria and Albert Museum put on an exhibit in 1901, placing un-touched photographs next to re-touched versions. The Museum’s catalogue states, “Without this [re]touching, the process plates [images]… are apt to appear flat, for lines necessarily cover the whole plate unless taken out by hand.” I read this in relation to this photograph taken by Leslie W. Ford for an article by A. Nomad (Top Figure). This image almost falls victim to flatness with such a huge expanse of blackness, covering most of the plate. But composition resolves this problem prior to re-touching. Notice the buildings, they direct the eye towards the horizon, and converge outside the image’s frame, which creates an illusion of continuous depth (Middle Figure). So, the problem of flatness is largely resolved prior to re-touching. Yet still, there’s more re-touching: those too white roofs and bright sky. And that house, in the foreground – look, I’ve circled it, it’s unnaturally bright. What’s so special about it? For that I had to go beyond the frame of this image, into the article that surrounds it, A. Nomad’s “At the Front of War.”
I rushed through that story, and won’t give an answer to what I found, as I want to leave you, reader, in that moment in-between. That moment is what interests me in when engaging with the fin-de-siecle periodicals: the moment in-between. Modernity is often characterized by speed, but contemporary engagements with their texts, especially their actual, physical texts, may actually allow a slowing down, a lingering. In the digital, with the screen showing so much, I wonder if it offers an ease that allows us to forget the moment of the movement between pages, from book to book (especially those times we may be rushing to read things academically, that is, at the very least, for class). Fin-de-siecle books and magazines were often sold “uncut”, and readers would need to take a knife to their edges, as their pages were folded shut, and as if the reader were there to liberate them. Though “Liberate” may sound hyperbolic, the moment you may pick up an a fin-de-siecle magazine, feel its textures, its delicacy, and know you cannot rush through them but must actually read slowly, then liberate may then make sense.