A Photographer Revisits the Book That Taught Her About Dying

Like the nineteenth-century photographs that impressed them, Sanguinetti’s portraits mix an often gothic aesthetic with an empathetic sensibility. In one, two sisters are captured in a double portrait: the elder with a curtain of hair nearly obscuring her face, her brow creased with incipient self-consciousness; the youthful clear-eyed, with a composure not but compromised by the onset of maturity. In one other, an aged lady wears a pair of spectacles with one clear lens and one darkish one; having unclasped her wavy white hair, she holds in her lap a hairclip snarled with what, in Sanguinetti’s illustration, appear to be valuable strands of spun silver. Sanguinetti sought to {photograph} her topics, whom she discovered by knocking on doorways and approaching church buildings and different group teams, as if this was their singular confrontation with the digital camera, as it would effectively have been for Van Schaick’s sitters greater than 100 years in the past. Discerning viewers will acknowledge the ornate backdrop behind the younger sisters as a copy of the very same one earlier than which Van Schaick posed a number of of his topics.

There is an unfamiliar dignity to all of Sanguinetti’s topics, from the little woman in her greatest white frock with bangs which were freshly pin-curled into mannered loops, to the bison, proven in profile, with its heavy black head and its mournful-seeming eye. “Wisconsin Death Trip” was understood upon its publication, in 1973, as providing a commentary on the harshness of America’s cult of rugged individualism: the “nightmarish reality which rural America faced when the dream was over,” in the phrases of the critic A. D. Coleman in the Times. That framing was the work of the ebook’s editor, Michael Lesy, who paired the photographs with newspaper clippings giving accounts of native deaths and neighborhood disasters.

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