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A Spark 

One of the oddest photographs I've ever seen, made even odder by it's preposterous title: A Spark Captured on the Surface of the Body of a Well-Washed Prostitute. [Etincelle Prise Sur la Surface du Corps d’une Prostituée Bien Lavée] 1895. By Jakob von Narkiewitsch-Jodko. Narkiewitsch-Jodko's 1896 image of "Effluvia From an Electrified Hand Resting on a Photographic Plate" is better known than his spark photograph shown here.

Nothing I understand about the historical period or the electro-photography techniques being used at the time seems sufficient to explain it, and none of the research I did satisfied my only left me with more questions. Was Narkiewitsch-Jodko Polish or Russian (Yakov Narkevich-Iodko)? Why a prostitute? Was it meant to be titillating, or to incite publicity? Was the experiment to scientifically explore the kinds of "effluvia" emitted by a hooker vs. others? And the inclusion of "well-washed" in the title--was this meant to reassure him or us? To underscore the meticulous nature of the experiment? How did this go down? Picture Narkiewitsch-Jodko arriving with lots of big equipment (cameras, cables) and asking the lady to disrobe. Did he engage her for other services--perhaps she was a muse, or a favorite..?

The spark itself reminds me of the shocks of pubic hair of the Japanese women in Araki's bondage series. The big fingerprints visible on the surface underscore this visceral feeling that the stuff is hair, or of the body, not electricity. The photo is included in the Fraenkel gallery's latest show and book, "The Unphotographable", a fine cabinet of curiousities that I was lucky enough to write about for Discover last week.

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