See earlier post here.
The version I posted previously was a colorised version of this stunning black and white image, shot 150 years ago. That number is part of the magic for me: this is an image that is heading towards its second century, yet feels so present and accessible. Very often one looks at old photographs and there is a barrier between the viewer and the person shown. The obstruction of time is reflected in the manner of printing, the clothing and often physical deterioration, such that a person to person connection is difficult to achieve. However, with this image, I cannot get over its timelessness to the extent that the subjects death nearly ninety years ago (at the age of 81) seems absurd. My grandparents had similar wallpaper in the spare room when I was growing up. Classically styled (Greco-Roman?) summer dresses and jewellery are hardly rare and alternative photographic processes have their devoted followers today, so this image really could have been taken yesterday. It could be anyone’s daughter today.
Ellen Terry was 16 or 17 when this photograph was taken and it may reflect the mood of a young woman recently married to a husband (George Watts), 29 years her senior. However, I don’t feel it necessary to attribute the pose and demeanour of this photograph to a specific event in the woman’s life – she was an actress after all – but her story is an interesting one: this was not a woman to adhere to convention.
This photograph seems to be one of the most popular of Terry and its easy to see why. For me, it is a portal into the eternal. It stands in stark contrast to the measured and quantified approach to time today and the ubiquitous reminders of its passage. This image is bursting with questions related to the fundamentals of human existence – what is ‘a life lived’ and what does its passing mean – and I am sure I will come back to it again and again. There is a life beyond the mortal in this image; something independent of the person who was born, lived and died and I find it absolutely captivating. Perhaps have a read about Ellen Terry and see if this images takes you on a similar journey?