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Verso: Looking Behind the Picture


Today we most often encounter a photograph as a digital image — its only physical presence is the screen from which it shines: a television, computer, or mobile device. Disembodied, the digital image can exist in infinite places at once, with no physical characteristics of its own.

Not so — the photographic print. While multiple prints can be made from a negative, each photograph is a finite, unique thing: it has a physical size and a surface texture; it can be folded, mailed, written upon, and touched (but please don’t touch the surface!); and it can fade away or turn so brittle as to disintegrate. Of course, we focus on a photograph’s face — its image — but a photographic print has two surfaces. The back side, or verso, can reveal just as much of a photograph’s life story. One may find handwritten descriptions of the photo’s subject, printed advertisements of the photographer’s studio, ownership stamps, crop marks or printer’s notations, an artist’s signature or title, the faint trace of another image, or even another photograph. Sometimes the verso can be as accidentally beautiful as a drawing. And other times, almost perversely, it can give little or no hint of the photographic image.

The following are a small selection of photographs’ versos from The New York Public Library’s Photography Collection.

This piece was originally published in The Huffington Post. View more >>


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How to be included

David, Are all the New York Foundation for the Arts Photography Fellows included? Mine is from 1988, and would like to have my work included here. John

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