This portrait of Lewis Payne was shot in April 1865, three months before his execution.
This triptych is amazing for so many reasons. The expression on his face... so calm, haunting, almost transparent, almost not there. I can't help but imagine where his thoughts were. Did he care that he was facing death?
For some reason it reminds me of this part of a book I read on the subway this morning... maybe that's what was reeling through my mind when I sought the image out in a google search. It was from a chapter in The English Patient that goes as follows:
© Alexander Gardner
"There's a painting by Caravaggio, done late in his life. David with the Head of Goliath. In it, the young warrior holds at the end of his outstretched arm the head of Goliath, ravaged and old. But that is not the true sadness in the picture. It is assumed that the face of David is a portrait of the youthful Caravaggio and the head of Goliath is a portrait of him as an older man, how he looked when he did the painting. Youth judging age at the end of its outstretched hand. The judging of one's own mortality...."
"He had felt like a man in the darkness of a room imitating the calls of a bird. But here they were shedding skins. They could imitate nothing but what they were."
Can't help but wonder if Lewis Payne felt like a man in the darkness of a room... shedding skin.. imitating nothing... facing death.
Another piece that keeps echoing for me is this video by Bas Jan Ader. His work is amazing and has influenced many artists since. There used to be a full length documentary about him available online that has since disappeared. Bas Jan Ader: In Search of the Miraculous, Jan Verwoert, ISBN 1-84638-002-2, May 2006. Incredible what drives artists to make their work. Ader was in love with the idea of gravity, weight, limitations, the vast.
Bas Jan Ader wasn't facing death in this video... but was later lost at sea while attempting a single-handed west-east crossing of the Atlantic in a 13ft pocket cruiser, a modified Guppy 13 named "Ocean Wave". The passage was part of an art performance titled "In Search of the Miraculous". Radio contact broke off three weeks into the voyage, and Ader was presumed lost at sea. The boat was found after 10 months, floating partially submerged 150 miles West-Southwest of the coast of Ireland. His body was never found. The boat, after being recovered by the Spanish fishing vessel that found it, was taken to Coruña. The boat was later stolen.
© Bas Jan Ader - "I'm Too Sad To Tell You"