Monday, March 29, 2010
Eva Doing A Handstand
This photograph, Eva Doing A Handstand, by Fritz Paneth has meant a lot to me since I saw it on the cover of the Exact Change edition of Aurelia and Other Writings by Gerard de Nerval.
The overall image is arresting, certainly, and when I first took in its glossy, borderless appearance on Aurelia (which is an unforgettable work), it almost literally drew me into its world.
I think what makes Eva Doing A Handstand such a strong picture is the subtle tension between granularity and smoothness in the image combined with its depiction of physical grace and delicate balance achieved through quiet, intense effort. Seeing the beautiful 1920s girl doing a handstand on the French Riviera beach is both real and unreal: i.e., it’s surreal. It’s a perfect cover illustration for Aurelia and great in its own right.
Paneth was an Austrian-born radiochemist who fled to England following Hitler’s Machtergreifung in early 1933, becoming a British citizen in 1939. He returned to Germany in 1953 as Director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz. He made an early contribution to the study of cold fusion (he thought an experiment of his resulted in a cold fusion event, but later retracted the finding when he discovered flaws in his procedures) and the mineral Panethite and lunar crater Paneth are named for him. Eva was his daughter and the photograph is an autochrome, an early color photography process. Paneth was a lifelong amateur photographer, one of those visual and mechanical explorers with visual and scientific flair and acuity who photographed out of curiosity and for joy and produced and left us so many unforgettable images.
Eva Doing A Handstand is in the collection of the Royal Photographic Society in Bath, England. Last fall, I was able to acquire a high quality digital reproduction of the picture. What I’d really like is an original print or a new print produced from the original autochrome plate. Perhaps that not possible. On the other hand, perhaps I haven’t tried hard enough yet.