Dead Silence, a show of 1930s morgue photography
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Our October show features a selection of 16 vintage morgue photographs taken by one R. Magnus, a photographer working in Hoboken, New Jersey in the 1930s. Adopted as a general term in 1880s America, morgue replaced the coarser, though perhaps more direct, dead house, to describe the location where bodies of unidentified persons or those that died of violence were kept before being released for burial. Etymologically, morgue is a nuanced word, deriving its meaning from the French morguer, denoting a place where new prisoners were held so that jailers could become familiar with their looks for future identification. At its most basic, morguer means haughtiness, to look at solemnly, to defy. It's this idea of haughtiness, of posing & posturing, of declaring your existence, of placing yourself in front of an onlooker, whether that be a prison guard or a portrait photographer, that resonates so sublimely in these photographs.
Rather, it's the absence of such posturing that's so mesmerizing. Less about the nuances of violence & crime in an age that paralleled Weegee's street photographs, Dead Silence focuses instead on a singular kind of portrait photography in which the sitter no longer has the ability to declare that he is.