Curio

Author’s response to panic and confusion of certain readers: THIS IS FICTION. I MADE IT UP. Thankyou.

The Edwardian gentleman could often be found perusing curious photographic oddities that came about with the developments in the artistic and jovial uses of the aforementioned craft when it was in its infancy. Alongside the earliest examples of pornography (which, for some generally unknown reason involved geese instead of the women who followed them) were the miracles of the magic lantern, fantasmagorias of photography which fooled the eye into seeing an image which disguised another beneath it. Famous examples included the Diabelerie D’Argent, an image which at first glance showed nothing more than a mountainous pile of money overrun with rats, and yet upon blinking, the viewer would immediately realise what they mistook for the shadow cast by the largest rodent was, in fact, an ornate headpiece, and the glinting of the silver made up for the eyes, nose and mouth of a beautiful woman. Once the face was seen, it became impossible for the viewer to regain sight of the original, fleeting image that had first confronted them, and no matter how they returned to the image with fresh eyes, the money had been lost, the rats evaporated.

The most legendary, and indeed, most complex of these circus images is widely known as the ‘Man Eater’ photograph. Currently part of a private collection in Vermont, it shows a young girl in a bustle, sitting astride a bicycle and looking demurely at the photographer. To her left is a hanging basket containing a wide variety of blooming autumn flowers, and from the position of the shadows, the viewer can deduce that it is approximately quarter past four on a September afternoon. Other details include such stalwarts of the early 20th century photographer’s reportoire; a cup, placed at the young lady’s feet, and a humunculus-like figure, the printer’s devil, if you may, peering from a corner.

What becomes apparant within a matter of seconds is that, of course, the bicycle and the maiden are mere phantoms, shadows and edges of what was believed to be the true picture, that being a portrait of the late hunter Kenneth Anderson, posing with his most celebrated prey, a dead tigress whose mouth is agape and whose ear has been removed. The tigress is none other than the Maneater of Jowlagiri, the famed and bloodthirsty slayer of twenty human victims, and what we had originally seen as a wheel on the bicycle could now be viewed with no mistake as being part of the striped pelt; the girl’s back makes up for the left side of Anderson’s rifle, and so on. The viewer feels as a fool for missing such obvious details, for failing to recognise such an iconic image immediately, and despite yearning to catch glimpse of his original mistake, cannot begin to scrabble for a handhold on which to do so; all that remains is a memory of another scene, and an agreed blindness which obliterates all but the new one.

A photocopy showing the third plate in Anderson's autobiography

What is truly astonishing about the Man Eater photograph is that when it was viewed by the third son of the Viscount Jensom, a certain famed and charismatic man by the name of Patrick Ellois, he managed to see yet another image composed of the curved sides of Anderson’s hunting hat and what he claimed was the optical illusion of the victor’s hands placed in the crook of his knee juxtaposed against the heavy foliage to his left. Mr. Ellois was quick to note down what the photograph revealed to him, and later to all others who were shown where, and how to look at the image. What Mr. Ellois saw were words, a page in a book which took up most of the frame, and blinded those who recognised it to the aforementioned image of the man and dead beast which, as we now understand, were merely an illusion and a testament to the photographer’s skill. The fact that it took several decades for viewers to recognise the photograph for what it is – a simple lithographic copy of a text (albeit a smudged and greatly foxmarked one), almost beggars belief.

The words were as follows:

“The dreaded killer of Jowlagiri had come to a tame and ignominious end, unworthy of her career, and although she had been a murderer, silent, savage and cruel, a pang of conscience troubled me as to my unsporting ruse in encompassing her end.”

The accompanying curio seekers who were with Patrick Ellois on the day included several members of a certain society, and a young man who was quick to point out that these words could be found in the autobiography of Mr. Anderson, a recently published book by the name of Nine Man-Eaters and One Rogue, Kenneth Anderson, Allen & Unwin, 1954, a book which had been read by few following the more sophisticated British public’s falling out with the former grandeurs of the empire and its white-suited heroes, and was thus subsequently pulped. The following passage concerning this confession was written by the young witness at a much later date.

The inept romanticism verbalised by the great white hunters of the dying 19th century can be demonstrated in no plainer terms than in the case of the killing of the famed Man Eater of Jowlagiri, a tigress responsible for the death of at least fifteen people on the borders of Mysore. The ‘unsporting ruse’ undertaken by Anderson which led to lost photographic phenomenon was that of the unspoken treachery that taunts heroes through history; that of the blow to the back, the bullet that kills from behind. Anderson, through his late and deathbed bound confession of cowardice demonstrates an unsporting anti-grace which has long since died (indeed, if it ever truly existed), that of the aim for martyrdom. Indeed, this autobiographical eulogy carries the weight of a delusional mind, a hollywood-tinted false grandeur that is telling of the madness and heat of the Englishman in the colonies, heaving with the jungle scent of anthropomorphisis and forced through sepia film. Other such examples of an unstoppable rush towards death and the martyr’s tomb can be found in ***** **** ********, unfortunately, this, as with all things, depends entirely on the firm will of the audience to remember what it is they see first.”

It has been the subject of considerable scrutiny by many to ascertain what examples the young witness was hiding beneath his row of asterisks. The most popular theories are, at present, the later life meloncholic paintings of Rauschenberg, the Gospel of Mark, and the famous last words of the poet Dylan Thomas. So far, no consensus has been agreed upon.

The “Man Eater” photograph of the Vermont collection can be viewed for a five minute period by recommendation of character only.

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About Benjamin Norris

Published writer of short stories, long stories, poems. Well received art critic and cultural commentator for Berlin magazines. Collaborator with operatic societies. Co-writer of fictional historic psycholinguistic journals. Lecturer of architecture and art history at a Budapest University. View all posts by Benjamin Norris

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