Home again, home again! This photo is an example of an interesting variety of novelty/souvenir photo which was popular from the late 1800’s through to the mid ’30s: The Multigraph.
The trick is achieved simply by seating the subject in front of the intersection of two angled mirrors, thereby creating the illusion that they are sitting at a table with four other versions of themselves. Only the center figure (the one turned away) is the real person, the other four are the reflections.
In a fit of research on the subject by my friend Erik and myself, Erik came across this wonderful passage that really sums up some of the things that I find really singular about Multigraphs:
“From a bag of loose pictures: a trick photograph taken in an Atlantic City studio sometime during the Forties. There are several of him sitting around a table, each image shot from a different angle, so that at first you think it must be a group of several different men. Because of the gloom that surrounds them, because of the utter stillness of their poses, it looks as if they have gathered there to preside a seance. And then, as you study the picture, you begin to realize that all these men are the same man. The seance becomes a real seance, and it is as if he has come there only to invoke himself, to bring himself back from the dead, as if, by multiplying himself, he had inadvertently made himself disappear. There are five of him there, and yet the nature of the trick photography denies the possibility of eye contact among the various selves. Each one is condemned to go on staring in space, as if under the gaze of the others, but seeing nothing, never able to see anything. It is a picture of death, a portrait of an invisible man.”
For more Multigraphs, please have a look at this really wonderful blog/archive of them coming out of Berlin: http://uneinsamkeiten.blogspot.com/ I recently contacted this fellow and submitted the one specimen I’ve got, which I’m also posting here today.