Category: Concealment

Objectively speaking, this Henry Grant photograph leaves out the most socially significant elements: faces and TV images. The children are looking away, and the object that holds them captive – the television show – is not visible. We see the children gaze at something, infer that they are watching a program, but we end up seeing what they are not seeing – the absence of images on the screen. Despite these social omissions, there is no sense that the photograph is missing something important, or that it is incomplete. It is an image of an activity: of an “uninterrupted flow of the moment” that Henry Grant always aimed to capture. You might find this result paradoxical: moments, events, or happenings are defined by the participating objects, and when we are not shown the objects, the event will get obscured. This image proves otherwise. It is by putting the significant elements of the event out of sight that the photographer enables the core of the event – the moment – to emerge most clearly .

Henry Grant. Children watching television. 1953.


Seeing absence of limbs is always a stark experience, and this image is no exception. But this very quality makes the image non-trivial. On one hand, what we know influences what we see, and this applies to absences. For example, your beliefs about how people ordinarily look activates certain concepts in your mind when you see this image (you see absence of arms). But there is something in your experience that cognition cannot penetrate. The photographer explains, “Peri was getting fed up with the cold, so she put her arms inside her shirt. It was a really great photographic moment, because it was visually confounding. People see the shot and think she doesn’t have any arms.” Eventually, you realize that Peri’s arms are merely hidden. Yet the experience persists: you still see the girl as if she is missing her arms. This shows that seeing absence, like ordinary seeing of objects, can be resilient to what we know or believe. (Contrast this with the image below, where the experience of absence dissolves once you understand what’s going on in the picture.)

Photograph: Amy Stein. Peri on Route 64, outside Lexington, Kentucky.

Route 64