At first, Arabella’s face was unfamiliar to us. Only over time did we learn to how recognize her among nearly 100 photographs. Here, Dominique Horne reflects on her earliest encounter with two (nearly) identical images of Arabella. Dominique shows how close reading of images was a first step toward unraveling the album’s mysteries.
Who is she? As I stared into the eyes of this woman, I attempted to imagine what she could have been thinking as she sat in the portrait studio over a hundred years earlier.
I searched the photo for details, observing the birthmarks on her face and neck and the moles on her finger. I saw the bags under her eyes and wondered what the cause could be, was she a mother? A wife perhaps? I saw a blur on her left hand and decided to imagine it as a wedding ring.
Her figure stands out clear against the blurry background, and though the rose tint added to her cheeks in the photo caught my eye, it was her positioning and gaze that captivated my attention.
She was dressed very formally, and even in such an old photo the delicate detail of the lace in her dress was still apparent. The brooch and earrings she was wearing appear to reflect the light in the studio, and it is apparent she is not of modest status.
As I continued looking through the album’s images, I realized she appears twice in the first album. One photo is in slightly better condition than the other, but they are definitely the exact same photo. My interest triples.
With her hand resting upon her chin, she stares directly into the eyes of the viewer, observing, challenging even, and I stare back intrigued.
Who is this woman? As I again asked this question, I examined both images and vainly searched for a clue to her identity that I knew was not there. The photo was a tintype, and there is no photography studio engraving or stamp on the back of the image. There is also no caption. She must be important for her to make multiple appearances in the albums that were so carefully constructed and cherished. She is a mystery to us: leaving a piece of a story that we have not yet found a way of uncovering.
— Dominique Horne