To conceal short fingers, wear a cape (requires red-and-blue stereo viewer)

Every summer between 1894 and 1914, with the exception of 1906, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II made a cruise to Norway on the imperial yacht Hohenzollern II. In this image from the collection of the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, cruise passengers on (probably) the German liner Viktoria Luise view the yacht in the setting of a Nordic mountainscape.

And here, with Hohenzollern in the background, the emperor approaches to receive Viktoria Luise’s salute and manifest himself before his people. Precious image of the nation that he is, he comes lavishly gift-wrapped.

His Majesty favored wrap-around capes partly because they were military and partly because he was self-conscious about letting people see his paralyzed left arm, which was about 15 cm shorter than his right arm.

As I write this post on June 13, 2017, some media controversy is being generated by a New York production of Julius Caesar featuring a Caesar accessorized, like the United States’ current President, with a too-big suit, a too-big tie, an elaborate blond wig, and a Slavic-accented Calpurnia. One problem with that à clef association, as reviewers have pointed out, is that Shakespeare’s Caesar actually was a great man. Another problem is that the military couturiers of early Imperial Rome practiced their art under the guidance of a Stoic sense that there is such a thing as too much.

But perhaps the styles and etiquettes of Wilhelmine Germany have something more historically precise to contribute to a twenty-first-century allegory of the Caesarian.

Source of the images:

http://www.europeana.eu/portal/en/record/2048429/item_3MGYCHXPAXIEQ3G24TJNBG5KE23A4AT2.html

and

http://www.europeana.eu/portal/en/record/2048429/item_GRAO2T5ZQJZ3QNBPZPZZLA26MJLNJCZC.html

Photoshopped and converted to anaglyphs.

Prewar incident: from the last moments of visage

In the far distance, seen from the American side of the Atlantic Ocean, the squabble seems almost comical. Little, of course, did the New York Times know what was about to start happening in the neighborhood of the zeppelin hangars, and so the Times’s editors saw no need to drive home their point any further by illustrating it.

But the image of what was to come was already in place and already signifying as hard as it could. See, in the image, the forms hovering impatiently on the ceiling of their barn, already fledged in streamline and about to slip free and feral.

Translation: "The arrest of M. Clément in Germany. The hangar before which M. Clément was found at the time of his arrest."
Translation: “The arrest of M. Clément in Germany. The hangar before which M. Clément was standing at the time of his arrest.”

In the image, all but a few of the men who do see have their backs to the camera. They are looking up toward those ridged cylinders as if they’re waiting for them to emerge, cast off, and mount. They understand the cylinders’ purport. They may even have been taught that they’ll love what is about to happen to them.

But the man they have sent away from the bed of ascension is understanding in a different way: actively. His traveling cap is ready to don, he is holding a writing tool in each hand, and his eyes are in the act of piercing.

Translation: "A scandalous arrest. M. Clément, the great industrialist, who has just been arrested in Germany for having stopped in front of a dirigible hangar."
Translation: “A scandalous arrest. M. Clément, the great industrialist, who has just been arrested in Germany for having stopped in front of a dirigible hangar.”

Without the beard that grows beneath, they would be only eyes in a face — say, a face fronting one of the derbied Germans who have so deeply failed to interest the camera in themselves. With the beard, M. Clément’s face becomes an emblem of the time before the dirigible and the Freudian reinterpretation of will. During that long but abruptly vanished prehistory, men didn’t just face the camera when they posed; they faced the camera down. With their sensitive mouths covered deep under layers of masculine muff, some men of the last moments before the Great War seem actually to have believed that the momentarily living self they showed to the finder could be a visage, hard and glittering as a face self-sculpted in stone.

Source: Université de Caen Basse-Normandie, https://www.flickr.com/photos/universite_caen/15232404609 and https://www.flickr.com/photos/universite_caen/15232404839. Photoshopped.

Don’t read. Look in the mirror.

The historic photograph seems to display no published provenance, and its online caption is obviously a late addition. “German fraternity mirror selfie, 1912,” say the caption’s words. There are only five of them, and they offer no more reward for reading than that. No other names inhabit the caption: names of the boys, names of their corps or their university, locations of their future battlefield graves. At that, three words of the caption’s five aren’t even interesting. Online — for instance, at

http://www.reddit.com/r/HistoryPorn/comments/3bqiwg/german_fraternity_mirror_selfie_1912_1024x683/ ,

where I encountered the image on July 3, 2015 — the comment stream spawns dutiful ironies about the proximity of the phrase “German fraternity” to the date “1912,” and those you don’t have to read because you already know. Oh yes: just two years after 1912 will come 1914, and little do they know, these tragic boys in their lead-soldier uniforms. The commenters in their stream find this thought exciting, but perhaps it has previously occurred.

And whether you were among the excited or the unexcited, the idea’s bedazzling undergraduate words might almost convince you not to bother looking at the image they refer to. Nevertheless, the image still does cling to the caption’s border. Pathetically, it even tries to reach a little mirror up from the page and tempt us to look in, as if it had something to show us about ourselves. Look, it pleads; look with my help at the caption’s word no. 3 of 5, the one you’re skimmed past. In the mirror, look for an idea of mirror.

If you humor the request and do look, you’ll discover that during the instant when it made itself seen between two surfaces of a mirrored space, the camera in the picture began showing you an image and then didn’t stop. What the mirrored camera began bringing to light in 1912 is an image not only of the dead fraternity boys but of you who look at them now, you who are said to be alive.

I’ve photoshopped the faded original of this image for contrast, but I haven’t reversed its mirror property. Having been made a part of the image’s settings by the boy with the camera, that wasn’t in my prerogative to change. So the boys with their historical apparatus dated 1912 — the rifle, the bugle, the drinking horn, the scar-inflicting sword — continue looking now the way Alice looked at the moment she exited from our world. The world she entered then has grown more familiar by the day since its discovery by Lewis Carroll, but the world of this photograph is now unfamiliar henceforth. Somewhere in Germany, one day in 1912, a boy with a camera sealed himself and four of his friends behind glass and pumped out the time.

Out of time behind his glass, the boy is now holding the camera’s cable release clear of the imaging apparatus. It’s a long one; he has passed its plunger button all the way behind his back from his left hand to his right, which one day in 1912 held it up to the mirror while a last instant of pre-image history was changed with a click to something else. Something else has been among us ever since. It is the other half of our mirror image: the half that does not change and will not die.

And within its glass, bounded at the front by our world and at the back by the surface that reflects us back to ourselves, is the reaction zone where the two halves of the image, the mortal and the immortal, face each other. Looking at images every day, we cross the zone hour by hour in both directions. We’re as blasé about the daily trip as commuters, and maybe that’s why we turn away from the windows and look around our transport for something to read. If we’re beyond being moved to a sense of the real by a silent image, we may still be movable to excitement by a caption shouting at us like a CNN talker with time to kill. But perhaps there is a route across the zone that lets the traveler disembark for a moment, look around, and become alive to the zone’s interesting dangers. After all, Alice once took the route, and told us how. The secret of her itinerary seems to be a simple one, at least in principle. It may be this: just stop when the signs change to transparent.

“Snap shots of an event that may become historic”

The microfilm readers in the University of Hawaii’s Hamilton Library are now linked to computers running Irfanview. Scholarly readers no longer have to work with a copy machine’s blurry approximations of the film; now they can scan an image from the film, save the scan to a thumb drive, and then Photoshop that digital copy. Here’s an example of what that labor can make available: visible again after decades of deterioration, three photographs taken in Honolulu harbor just after the United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany on February 3, 1917.

Click to enlarge.

With the United States poised to end its neutrality and enter World War I, the crew of the interned German gunboat Geier had tried but failed to destroy their ship, and a photographer was there, recording. His editor called the results “snap shots of an event that may become historic.” And yes, an independent historiographic record of the event does exist. You can read about it at, for instance,

http://navalwarfare.blogspot.com/2010/05/sms-geieruss-schurz.html

But that record may not quite be history. Readers mark the distinction with a cliché. We don’t quite say the stern word “history” after we close a book about SMS Geier; instead, we tend to Disney-fy our newly read text by calling it something like “a footnote to history.” If it’s the short story of a little warship at the edge of the Great War, beached in a backwater that didn’t become canonical in the history of war until the war that followed this one, then of course (we think) it doesn’t belong in historiography’s large print. Fine-print footnotes like the anecdote about the gunboat Geier are detachable.

Here in Hamilton Library, both the thick books of history and the reels of microfilm testify that the anecdote named Geier was detached a long time ago. The newspaper from 1917 is gone, its microfilm archive is deteriorating, and these images are unlikely ever to be seen again where thick books about the Great War are written. As to the white-suited civilian that Photoshop has now brought back as if he had never left his spot on a pier in Honolulu, he can never again be more than a white footnote to the anonymous anecdote of Geier’s white sailors. The civilian’s hat is still on his head and the wrinkles in his clothes still say that he has a hand in his pocket, but his face has gone under permanent shadow and his body has come under the striped mark of the printing from 1917 that has now obliterated his name. Without Photoshop, he wouldn’t be visible in 2012. But even with Photoshop, he’s now one of the unreadable parts of his own history.

Illusive immortality, then; merely anecdotal monument and memory. Photoshop drills itself into a slip of microfilm, penetrates and reshapes the images there, and then rises with them, glowing, to the surface of a monitor. There, the newly illumined images will endure for the single moment before vision’s format changes again.

Update, June 6, 2014: the unphotoshopped original of this picture of Geier in Honolulu is image 000104 in the Al Menasco photo album in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive,

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sdasmarchives/14359722802/in/photostream/

It must have been taken in March 1916, when Menasco and his partner Art Smith stopped in Honolulu en route to a series of exhibition flights in Asia. (“Art Smith Has Ten Little Red Racers With Him,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin 8 March 1916: 6. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014682/1916-03-08/ed-1/seq-6/)