Nicoletta Vallorani
I rang the bell before a mahogany door on the first floor, and while I waited he seemed to stare at me out of the glassy panel - stare with that wide and immense stare embracing, condemning, loathing all the universe.
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1988, 72)
Man has no internal sovereign territory; he is all and always on the boundary; looking within himself he looks in the eyes of the other and through the other; I cannot become myself without the other.
Michael Bakhtin, "Towards a Reworking of the Dostoevsky Book" (1961, 287)
Whether one calls it Kurtz or Haldin, whether one sees it reflected in a mirror or in the glassy panel of a mahogany door, the Conradian Other is there any time one of his characters tries to find his own identity, or better - in Bakhtin's words - to become himself. By all rights, this silent brother - the twin whose voice has long been silenced - can be interpreted as a more or less accidental offspring of Conrad's obsession with the double, seen through the magnifying glass of literature:
Both at sea and on land, my point of view is English, from which the conclusion should not be drawn that I have become an Englishman. That is not the case. Homo duplex has in my case more than one meaning1.
Some further articulations of this openly stated duplicity - better defined, though, as multiplicity - are given in a host of his stories, and they go on feeding critical theories on the modes and modalities of Conrad's mirror effect (Ambrosini: 1991, 88) and the ontological ambiguity of the voices speaking in his narratives (London:1990, 1-27 and Kreilkamp: 1997, 370-373).
Under a wider perspective, the mood revealing in Conrad's attitude to "feel double" - and to transmit osmotically this feeling to his characters - is epistemologically grounded in a much debated development in the techniques of vision at the turn of the century. Film and photography are obviously implied in the process, and with good reason. They are largely responsible - though at different levels and with less contiguities that one can think2 - in what Anne-Marie Willis posits as "the late twentieth-century condition of hypervisuality, which has seen the rise of the figural over discourse" (Willis: 1995, 77). Though oversimplifying a little, Willis is right when identifying the first and most worrisome outcome of the process in the changing status of representation: "The real has collapsed into credibility of appearance, authenticity has become a matter of convincing details (...) Film, photography, video and the 'real' intertwine." (Willis:1995, 77). More in particular, the experience of photography, in popular culture, has been fundamentally moulded by the sense that it is a realist medium. Its basic operation has always been understood as consisting in the precise, mechanical and impersonal rendering of the appearance of objects3. The process, as we will see, is reversed when referring to photography as an art, but for the time being - and for the purposes of our study - it may be relevant to point out the close kinship soon stated between the original - be it a person, an animal, an object or a landscape - and its photographic reproduction. We do believe that Conrad's Other is unavoidably - though not necessarily consciously - linked to this feeling of closeness, this technically - obtained kinship which confirm and at the same time denies the profile of the original in its copy.
At a deeper level, the photographic analogy may be further articulated, and goes back to Conrad's perception of himself as a split personality: a homo duplex, a modernist at war with modernity, endlessly - and hopelessly - in search of an ethical absolute which has been lost4. Erdinast-Vulcan, developing this point with reference to Conrad's protagonists, acutely maintains that
In the absence of the metaphysical vertical analogy, they set up a horizontal, lateral analogy of brotherhood. In terms of the mastertropes of consciousness we have posited for Conrad's modes of response to modernity, the movement here is from synechdoche to metonymy, from the perception of sameness through containment to a perception of sameness through contiguity (Erdinast-Vulcan: 1991, 90).
Though applying this consideration to Conrad's canon at large, Erdinast-Vulcan's analysis refers more closely to two works in particular, "The Secret Sharer" (1910)5 and Under Western Eyes (1911). Sticking to our starting metaphor of brotherhood, we may say that they belong to a set of twins. They sport the same structure, the protagonists' psychological journeys develop along the same pattern and they were elaborated in the same period, since SS was written in the intermissions of Under Western Eyes. In both cases, the Other is not only a palpable presence, but it gives a concrete - or better, perceptual - shape to something normally considered as bad, negative, to be repected in the light of commonly shared ethics. As it first happened to Cain, this Other has committed an unforgivable sin which is to be expiated through exile for him and his progeny. However, the basic difference between Cain on the one hand and SS's narrator on the other (together with Marlow, Razumov, the narrator of The Shadow Line) is to be looked for in their relation with their "killed brothers". Their revision of the predicament of Cain ("The 'brand of Cain' business", as Leggatt himself defines it - SS, 203) is given in terms of their readiness to assume full responsibility for the Other, their sincere and fully conscious perception of themselves as "their brothers' keepers" (Erdinast-Vulcan: 1991, 91).
This is all the more true in SS. Leggatt is soon perceived by the Captain as his twin brother. Their resemblance - it comes out right from the beginning - is a matter going deep into their psyches, though apparently given as a surface contiguity: a metonymic solidarity, to use Erdinast-Vulcan's definition.
He had concealed his damp body in a sleeping suit of the same grey-stripe pattern as the one I was wearing and followed me like my double on the poop. Together we moved right aft, barefoot, silent (SS: 197).
He was not a bit like me, really; yet, as we stood leaning over my bed-place, whispering side by side, with our dark heads together and out back to the door, anybody bold enough to open it stealthily would have been treated to the uncanny sight of a double Captain busy taking in whispers with his other self (SS: 201).
The immediate factuality of the image and its irrefutable credibility from the point of view of the observers bear witness to the dominating mood of the age: seeing tends to be perceived as a condition for reality, and what is seen is real. Nevertheless the ontological status of the seen image is soon given as ambiguous, since the physical resemblance between Leggatt and the Captain is less an actual similarity of traits than a matter of attitudes, clothes, and psychological reactions to their surrounding world. As it happens with photographic portraits (or twin brothers), there is an essential difference between two versions of the same self, something pertaining substance and not so easily caught, a shade epitomizing a difference and entailing a (conscious or unconscious) lie.
Again, one of Conrad's mastertropes can be suitably applied also to photography: there as in Conrad's fiction the basic operation is to be stated - oversimplifying a little - as the staging of an unreliable identity. The attitude of photography to produce a fake double must have been already clear at mid-nineteenth century if as early as in 1840 a French photographer, Hippolite Bayard, exploited its potential for am ironic reversae ot reality producing and then publishing his "Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man" (fig. 1). Quite a good photographer whose work was overshadowed by the popular success of Talbot's and Daguerre's daguerreotypes, he commented on his misfortunes pretending a suicide and taking a photograph of himself as a dead man. The image was described as follows:
The body you see is that of Monsieur Bayard...The Academy, the king, and all who have seen his pictures admired them, just as you do. Admiration brought him prestige, but not a sou. The Government, which gave M.Daguerre so much, said it could do nothing for M.Bayard at all, and the wretch drowned himself 6.

Bayard's provocative stance is supported by a definite use of the photographic technique, it develops around this technique's ability to create a fictional double and aims at putting the blame on the Government (though ironically) for the photographer's tragic death. Of course, no actual assumption of responsibility is implied here, but it may be of some relevance to point out that the matter of responsibility is mentioned. The creation of a fictional double results - though not always - in the enactment of an ontological double: at the imaginative level, the photographic self acquires a personal history, a biography, a private and public life, all of them suggested by the photography itself and underlaying it7.
This brings as back to the "'brand of Cain' business" and his relevance in SS. Faced with his twin brother, appearing in water as a photographic image, the Captain can either denounce him - and sentence him to a fate of imprisonment and death - or hide him from anybody else. He decides for this latter possibility. Given that the narrator and Leggatt are so similar as to look twins - or one the photographic replica of the other - the narrator's assumption of responsibility for the Other - in such a condition - tends to become self-responsibility. Under a very concrete perspective, the Other has become what Bakhtin defines the "usurping double" (Bakhtin: 1984, 288)8 and will at length oblige the Captain to take a definite stance against the ethics he had chosen to conform to when becoming a sailor. An ethics - we must say - he appears from the beginning to be in conflict with.

1. Self, substance, the original and the copy
But what I felt most was my being a stranger to the ship; and if all the truth must be told, I was somewhat of a stranger to myself (SS: 193).
Right from the beginning, even before Leggatt appears, the Captain feels ill at ease with his crew - synechdochically alluding to all the men linked by the Conradian "bond of the sea" - and even with himself. The area around him is crowded with ghostly doubles - strangers among the crew, plus his own stranger self - among which he is unable to find his own bearings, to spot his true identity and feel familiar with it. The Captain's schizophrenic process of doubling, besides defining his quest as a journey towards the acceptance of doubleness9, anticipates Leggatt's appearance and his taking the role of the Captain's double. The mutual understanding between the two of them somehow echoes the kind of interaction between photographer and sitter given as a basic requirement to make photography into an art.
As early as in 1856, Nadar, while trying to promote the new photographic technique, described it as "a marvellous discovery, a science that has attracted the greatest intellects, an art that excites the most astute minds - and one that can be practised by any imbecile". Science and art as adequate definitions of this "marvellous discovery" clash'- in their syntagmatic contiguity - with the idea that no particular ability is needed to practice photography. Technically speaking, this is true, since "Photographic theory can be taught in an hour, the basic techniques in a day. But" and this is the key statement in Nadar's position, "what cannot be taught is the feeling for light. It is how light dies on the face that you as artist must capture. Nor can one be taught how to grasp the personality of the sitter." Therefore, photography as a doubling technique is not to be limited to the mere visible surface of persons and things, but it must reach the deeper realm of personality. "To produce an intimate likeness rather than a banal portrait, the result of mere chance, you must put yourself at once in communion with the sitter, size up his thoughts and his very character"10. The entire process, therefore, implies something of a mystic: right from the beginning, taking a photograph is less a matter of creating a double than a technique to capture the profile of a soul11.
The profile of his own soul is exactly what the Captain is looking for when meeting Leggatt. And he finds it - at least its dark "Cain" side. Evidence enough for this is provided by the narrator often identifying Leggatt as its own self, using this specific lexical voice or some other terms belonging to the same semantic field:
My double
My other self
My secret sharer
My secret self
The secret sharer of my life
My second self
The unsuspected sharer of my cabin
My intelligent double
Our secret partnership
That stranger in my cabin
Meaningfully enough, these definitions are given with no qualifying quotation marks in the text and all of them imply a double semantic reference: an ontological similarity or at least a basic solidarity ("self", "double", "sharer", "partnership") coupled with mystery, a secret which is to be kept and which is the clearest evidence of otherness ("other", "secret", "second", "unsuspected", "stranger"). The resulting sense of the uncanny is certainly an integral part of SS's fascination as a story. As Erdinast-Vulcan maintains, it is epistemological rather than ontological: "Leggatt, the man, is real enough. It is the perception of Leggatt as the Captain's double which corrodes the substance of the tale" (Erdinast-Vulcan: 1999, 40). In other words, doubleness is staged rather than substantial. It does not spring from an actual condition of duplicity, but from the acting of it.
The Captain himself seems aware of this condition of artfully performed similarity. Faced with the image of Leggatt wearing his sleeping suit and occupying his bed, he comments:
And then, with his face nearly hidden, he must have looked exactly as I used to look in that bed (SS: 206).
Though not deceived himself, he can anticipate some other observer's possible deception. He even pretends this deception when, after helping Leggatt to climb onto the bed - which is "rather high" (SS: 206) - he seems to take some steps back to observe the whole scene. Or, to use a photographic metaphor, to check his sitter and background before taking his photograph.
Accurate staging when preparing to take photographic portraits is customary since 1860, and it becomes more and more elaborated when actors and actresses start demanding for publicity photographs in costumes - sort of acting doubles - on the background of a stage setting closely rebuilt in the photographer's studio.

In the meanwhile, photography becomes a popular medium, a technique which can be easily approached not only by a restricted élite but also by a wider and wider number of practitioners. The popularisation of the art has also produced something of a "philosophy of photographic reproduction", a process by now increasingly far from mimetic representation. By the early twenties, what photographers are usually asked for are no longer mirror images of their sitters, but the staging of a fantasy (Williams: 1986, 13-14). This graduary changing halo around photography produces its modified ontological status: at the beginning of the new century, it is felt as a document which is apparently mimetic but not to be trusted12. The new self the photographer lends to his sitters is unsubstantial. Its reality factor depends on the gaze of the observer and on his ability to provide the photographic portrait with a personal history, a background, a private life and all that is needed to make it all the more similar to a real person.
This consideration brings us back to a basic trait of Leggatt. If compared to other "doubles" in Conrad's narrative (Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, Haldin in Under Western Eyes, James Wait in The Nigger of the Narcissus and the old dead Captain in The Shadow Line), this is the only one whose presence goes almost totally unnoticed. Nobody but the Captain is aware of his presence on board, nobody witnesses his slow recovery from the long swimming journey from his ship, even his tale seems surrounded by a halo of uncertainty and unreality. Nevertheless he is openly presented as reliable: an I(eye)-narrator whose words are supported by factual details and concrete references. The Sephora actually exists and is sailing nearby. There is really someone looking for Leggatt and his story about his crime is finally confirmed by his chasers.
This basic dichotomy between what is real and what is perceived as real replicates the ambiguity surrounding the birth and development of photography. From mid-nineteenth century onwards, photography was felt as sporting two somehow opposing features, which can be identified as a mimetic vs a magic function, fact vs fiction.
Photography goes on being considered for quite a long time as a technique capable of conjuring up fidelity of mimesis and therefore to bear witness to people and events which must have existed in "reality". On the ground of this perception, in his Preface to The Pencil of Nature, Henry Fox Talbot, writes that "...the plates of this work have been obtained by the mere action of light upon sensitive paper (...) They are impressed by Nature's hand; and what they want as yet of delicacy and finish of execution arises chiefly from our want of sufficient knowledge of her laws" (Fox Talbot: 1844, XII). Later on, photojournalism - soon positing photography as an object of mass consumption - will develop exactly on this basis, as a way to provide concrete evidence of a fact to whoever has not had the possibility to witness this fact through his/her own eyes. The addressee - the public - acquires a new centrality, since photography of this kind - more than any other - exists to be seen. It is from the beginning a substitute evidence for reality. Conversely, the photographer's failure consists in not being able to bring images on plate/paper and therefore not being able to make us see.
In SS, Leggatt is meant to make us see. The narrator's double is, just like a photographic portrait, charged with the duty to replicate the Captain's physical appearance which is never given as such. He seems to provide the reader with a mimetic replica of a peculiarly shy sitter, nevertheless perfectly aware of what is happening:
The shadowy, dark head, like mine, seemed to nod imperceptibly above the ghastly grey of my sleeping suit. It was, in the night, as though I had been faced by my own reflection in the depths of a sombre and immense mirror (SS: 198).
At the same time, the narrator's double is never seen. He is therefore a photography which has not come out, a failed attempt at reproducing a very elusive sitter.
The elusive quality of the sitter - and of the portrait - leads us to the conflicting perception of photography as a kind of magic. Henry Fox Talbot, in his 1839 lecture to the Royal Society, describes photography as something which "appears to me to partake of the character of the marvellous (...) The most transitory things, a shadow, may be fettered (...) by the spells of our natural magic"13. This must have been a shared feeling if David Octavius Hill's sitters declared that when photographed they felt involved in a magic experience14.
The same atmosphere pervades SS. Right from the beginning, the narrator's reaction to what happens is wonder, mostly triggered by how much Leggatt looks like him and then reinforced by several peculiar details, namely his astonishing swimming ability, his capacity to disappear when required, the discrepancy between his apparent good disposition and the sudden violent burst producing his crime and so on. The gradual discovery of these features - besides resulting, for the Captain, in a sort of self-unveiling - seems to replicate the "mystic" contact photographer/sitter taking place when an effective portrait is obtained. In 1890, Julia Margaret Cameron gives a very effective description of the process in his Annals of My Glass-House:
When I have had such men before my camera my whole soul has endeavoured to do its duty towards them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man. The photograph thus taken has been almost the embodiment of a prayer (Cameron: 1890, 158).
Both the magic and the mystics are supported by a technique which resembles a ritual. In particular, water symbolism has a very strong part in producing a deep fascination in both the public and the practitioners of photography. When the calotype is introduced - by Henry Fox Talbot in 1841 - and the image support becomes paper, the magic is finally and explicitly coupled with a "water ritual". The image does not appear during the exposure in the camera obscura, but the silver salts are darkened later on, through a "development" in gallic acid, which speeds up the reaction15. The whole process is not only the living evidence of how much techniques have evolved, but most of all an event springing from a very relevant - though oversimplified - popular assumption: photography is the art of giving shape to the invisible16.

2. Substantial technicalities
Photography became a mass phenomenon with amazing rapidity. Henry Fox Talbot's work with the calotype was followed by a great explosion of activity. Soon enough it made the medium accessible and attractive to professionals and practitioners and transformed it in to a wholly new and profitable commercial business. Both as a form of art and as a documentary device, photography seemed to reveal astonishing possibilities and induced a wave of technical self-congratulation propagating all over Europe, to which a series of world expositions certainly contributed. "From the first, the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London - writes Alan Thomas - these expositions encouraged photography by establishing display salons, and, with wider effect, by advancing the universalist idea to Western peoples of a new global perspective: the world under one roof" (Thomas:1978, 11).
All through this process, the photographic portrait goes on being the most courted and refined technique. It develops with equal effectiveness to artistic purposes and documentary needs, both in terms of official history (e.g. portraits of famous personalities) and as a Tribute to private memory (e.g. portraits of dead relatives). It is exactly this wide popularity which must have induced Lichtwark, in years not far from the publishing of SS, to declare that at the beginning of the new century there was no work of art so closely observed as one's own photographic portrait, or the portrait of one's relatives or friends or beloved woman17. Meaningfully enough, Lichtwark was a German photographer who was trying to launch artistic photography in Germany and to revive the art of portraiture in a period when the only good portraiture was being done by amateur photographers who had economic freedom and time to experiment. Therefore he must have been well aware of what he was speaking of.
Conrad's direct comments on photography and the art of portrait equals zero while SS was being written. Nevertheless, he must have had quite a clear feeling of their impact, since SS's narrative seems saturated with the language and techniques of the new visual mediums18. And when closing up on the appearance of Leggatt, it openly quotes the process of photographic development:
The side of the ship made an opaque belt on the darkling glassy shimmer of the sea. But I saw at once something elongated and pale floating very close to the ladder. Before I could form a guess, a faint flash of phosphorescent light, which seemed to issue suddenly from the naked body of a man, flickered in the sleeping water with the elusive, silent play of summer lightning in a summer sky. With a gasp I saw revealed to my stare a pair of feet, the long legs, a broad, livid back immersed right up to the neck in a greenish cadaverous glow. One hand, awash, clutched the bottom rung of the ladder. He was complete but for the head. A headless corpse! (SS: 196).
The multiple recurrences of verbs and lexical voices going back to the semantic area of seeing ("saw", "revealed", "flickered", "stare") quote the power of vision to define the world, ironically reversing it. The image offered to the reader is in fact "not visible", in the double meaning of not accessible to sight (physically) and not understandable through mind (cognitively). First of all, there is not enough light (e.g. "opaque", "darkling", "pale", "elusive"), and moreover that much left has a peculiar quality of transience and weirdness: the "darkling glassy shimmer of the sea" anticipates the "faint flash of phosphorescent light" so soon compared - for its suddennes and unpersistence - to the "summer lightning in a summer sky". Second, the corpse has no head, therefore his identity will be difficult to reconstruct.
Both observations are relevant from the point of view of photographic allusions. Light is a key-issue - for obvious reasons - also in photography. The semantic insistence on its quality has already been noted in Daguerre's, Talbot's, Hills's, and Cameron's writings and it will result in multiple lexical occurrences analogous to the ones we spotted in Conrad's text. There, finally, the "phosphorescent light" illuminates the gradual appearance of a human profile'- as it happens in some techniques of photographic "development" - culminating in a description which tends to be photographic (extremely detailed and yet not to be perceived as a mimetic representation). An image emerging from darkness - and possibly not even complete - Leggatt appears as Hill's sitters, who - in Benjamin's "Piccola Storia della fotografia" - are given as laboriously takingshape in the deep gloom of the first photographic portraits (Benjamin: 1966, 67)19.
Water symbolism - with its archetypal mythology of death and rebirth - is of course implied here. However what is more relevant from our point of view is that the technical, procedural aspect supporting this rather obvious symbolic reference parallels the processes of photographic development. It is certainly true that in early photography the immersion in a liquid chemical compound is not basic in the process of making the image appear. Nevertheless - be it fondamental or not - it seems always implied. When Daguerre first demonstrated to the public the working of his daguerreotype - on August 19, 1839 - he specified that the final stages of the process consisted in holding "the exposed plate over hot mercury vapour until an image appeared; the silver iodide was desensitized by placing the plate in a hot solution of common salt or removed using a solution of sodium thiosulfate. This last treatment was followed by a series of rinses in water and drying of the plate"20. The image obtained through this process was extremely fragile and impermanent. Just like Leggatt.
Fox Talbot's Calotype replicates the same insistence on an analogous process:
To fix the picture, it should be first washed with water, then lightly dried with blotting paper, and then washed with a solution of bromide potassium, containing 100 grains of that salt dissolved in eight or ten ounces of water. After a minute or two, it should be again dipped in water and then finally dried21.
And in 1859, when the concept of negative picture is definitely introduced, Wendell Holmes - anticipating the manufacturing of paper negatives by George Eastman in 188422 - gives a detailed description of the solution to be used when developing it and to which purposes:
The negative picture being formed, it is washed with a solution of hyposulfate of soda, to remove the soluble principles which are liable to decomposition, and then coated with shellac varnish to protect it. This negative is now to give birth to a positive - this mass of contradictions to assert its hidden truth in a perfect harmonious affirmation of the realities of nature. Behold the process! (Wendell Holmes: 1859, 739)
The metaphoric reading of the process is very clear: the old self (i.e. the negative image) is to undergo a lavacrum through which what is bad in it is to be eliminated (i.e. "principles which are liable to decomposition") and a new self (i.e. the positive image) is generated. The recurrence of such an expression as "to give birth" in what is supposed to be the description of a technical proceeding is by no means accidental.
The water symbolism will stick to photography also in the following years, and it will also keep its reference to a christening act. Baptism as a way to wash one's self clean of anything shameful is a conscious or unconscious reference operating in the public's imagination at the turn of the century, when listening to the technicalities concerning the gum print - where the sensitized paper, after having been exposed under the negative, had to be washed to eliminate the gum and pigment not affected by the light23 - or the ozotype - where, after the immersion of exposed paper in an acid solution, the tissue was peeled off to reveal an image then to be impressed on paper24.
Birth and Death are linked, both in the cycle of life and in photography. If the symbolism of rebirth is a metaphoric allusion reinforcing the artistic and/or literary fascination of this technique, from the point of view of marketing death was much more profitable. Right from the beginning, there was an enormous demand for family pictures due to the sensitivity to mortality so prominent in the nineteenth century, when the death rate, particularly among children, was high. Portraits of dead relatives were a way to keep them still in the family, and therefore they were widely popular25. Technically, they were often made when the relatives in question were already dead. Photography of corpses, therefore, was a widespread and rewarding activity for many professionals, not only because of money but also in terms of technical results. Given the long time of exposures required by early photography, while a living sitter had problems in adapting to them and remain perfectly still, a dead one consented to elude this difficulty.
And there is more. Photographic portraits of this kind were perceived as a challenge to death. They were a magic tool to give new life to someone who had definitely lost his. They were documents standing on the border between life and death, and not belonging definitely to one realm or the other.
Leggatt, on his first appearance, sports exactly the same characteristic. Perceived at first - and with sudden horror - as a corpse, he then acquires a new life: he is givena new life, as it were, as a dead relative in a posthumous portrait. The process of unveiling is quite meaningful:
The cigar dropped out of my gaping mouth with a tiny plop and a short hiss quite audible in the absolute stillness of all things under heaven. At that I suppose he raised up his face, a dimly pale oval in the shadow of the ship's side. But even then I could only barely make out down there the shape of his black-haired head. However it was enough for the horrid, frost-bound sensation which had gripped me about the chest to pass off. The moment of vain exclamations was past too. I only climbed on the spare spar and leaned over the rail as far as I could, to bring my eyes nearer to that mystery floating alongside.
Unable to control his wonder - and therefore dropping his cigar, his mouth gaping wide - the narrator witnesses the sudden rebirth of a presumed dead. From a stop-frame - "the absolute stillness of all things under heaven" - we pass to a moving image. The narrator's gaze becomes increasingly attentive, while trying "to make out down there the shape of his black-haired head". And when he does see something, the "frost-bound sensation" invading him effectively echoes the absolute stillness quoted at the beginning of the passage. Both of them create a semantic chain reinforcing the photographic allusion to be revealed in "the mystery floating alongside". The undeterminable semiosis of the body - its unreadable metonymic description - marks Leggatt for what he will be all through the story: a mirror image, the soon found and soon lost twin brother.
In 1859, Oliver Wendell Holmes defines photography as "a mirror with memory" (Wendell Holmes: 1859, 740). The definition works when applied to the relation between the narrator and Leggatt: the first has a solid existence, while the latter has a story to tell. Memory is a sequence of events providing a reason to his being a stranger, an outcast, Cain - whereas nothing similar is available to the Captain, whose chosen and suffered marginality is without reason.
In other words, Leggatt is a portrait where the Captain's condition of an outcast is made - if not accettable - understandable. That is why the narrator perceives such a deep link with Leggatt: he provides a sense to his own existence. The narrator's "sensation of being in two places at once" (SS: 206), his feeling that now "the ship had two Captains to plan her course for her" (SS: 223) are repeated reminders of his perceived kinship with what he calls his "second invisible self" (SS: 208): his twin brother, whose existence proves peculiarly unstable.
Strictly speaking, Leggatt has no existence at all. It could easily be a product of the Captain's schizophrenic psyche. His ontological status is therefore uncertain, and it echoes the ontological status of a photographic reproduction. The intensifying reflections on the new medium - more or less in the period when SS is written - stop focussing on the mechanical character of reproduction to outline a basic concept: "photography created its own category of visual images resulting from the "independent" role played by the object in the process of reproducing and, more particularly, from the fact that the viewer is constantly aware of this "independence" of the object in its relation to both photographer and medium." (Willis: 1995, 95)26.
Always on the verge of dissolution, Leggatt is perceived by the Captain as a part of his own self: a twin invisible brother suddenly appearing to tell his own story and provide the narrator a mission on board of his own ship. A meaning to his being there. This done, he swims away:
All at once my strained, yearning stare distinguished a white object floating within a yard of the ship's side - white on the black water. A phosphorescent flash passed under it. What was that thing? ... I recognised my own floppy hat. It must have fallen off his head ... and he didn't brother. Now I had what I wanted - a saving mark for my eyes (SS: 162).
So the twin disappears, the photographic portrait goes lost. In water, as it had come, leaving only "An evanescent glimpse of my white hat" (SS: 126): a synechdoche for the brother he has left on board of the ship.
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