Posted by: stephblakeman | October 4, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: The Man, The State Photographer

As the photograph became more and more an instrument of the state in the late 19th century, it is no wonder that Sherlock Holmes, the best, albeit eccentric, private detective in “three continents,” becomes almost an embodiment of the camera- a keen, astute and perceptive “observer.” His primary mode of evidence gathering is through basic powers of observation. The descriptions of his clients come to us through Sherlock’s vision as a series of focused snapshots—a fresh ink stain, squared-toe boots, or an indent on a thick fur. It is as though his clients come to him as portraits of their circumstances, and Holmes has the incredible ability to discern these details quickly.
Perhaps what Sherlock, an admirable and lovable character, may mask is an anxiety of the public as they become increasingly aware of the evidence-gathering tactics of the police force, and the ‘all-seeing Eye of the Law’ today. Holmes may be a rogue agent, who outsmarts and out-detectives the official investigators, but he is a forbearer of the caliber of visibility to which the public will soon be exposed.
Holmes not only gleans truth from the details that make themselves visible to him, but though actual photographs. Both in “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box” and “A Scandal in Bohemia,” photographs and portraits reveal to Holmes an index of truths and serve as testimonials of truth, though no confession is spoken. Used to blackmail the King of Bohemia, a picture of a King with someone he isn’t supposed to be with threatens to start political upheaval, indicating the value and faith the public held to photographs, the visual, over the spoken or pronounced. Holmes operates not only as an agent of the state, but as well as an allegory for the technologies and power of the industrialized and modernized state, including their new expectations for evidence.

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