fictographica003: Wilfred Eng

A certain parity was at work in the world. Disappointment, disguised by years of routine humility, was bound to yield singular, penetrating fantasies: the iris dilated, the raw world flooded back in. For just a moment these were not portraits but self-portraits, and a palpitating certainty would not breathe denial or allow that they had been made by anyone by Wilfred Eng.

Eng, the great landscape photographer.

Then, the moment passed. I let out a breath and thought, No way. Fantasies turned into torture if we took them too seriously. I’d seen later portraits of Eng, and the likeness to the face in this close-up was striking. But the idea was ludicrous. It was true that Eng had lived in Seattle for brief periods, but he hadn’t made his first trip here until 1881. By then he was using smaller, 3×5 plates. Most of his larger, older negatives had been destroyed in the 1906 quake and fire in San Francisco, Eng’s nominal home. San Francisco was my hometown as well. There, and throughout the world, Eng was revered as one of the the fathers of American photography. Biographies had probed his towering dichotomies. No less a figure than Alfred Stieglitz had called him a genius. Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Edward Steichen, Ansel Adams, Paul Caponigro–the list of his artistic heirs was endless. Even painters such as Thomas Hart Benton acknowledged a debt to Eng. It was crazy to think that the work of this giant might end up where I could find it.
–Thomas Orton, The Lost Glass Plates of Wilfred Eng (1999)

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