The man in this photograph is tall, though not absolutely. Five-foot ten. Plenty are taller. Even in those days. Seated, his height reads in his angularity, his high, hollow cheekbones. Deep in a wooden armchair. The crease of his trousers runs sharply to his knee. His crossed leg bars access. Thrusts upwards from a sharp ankle balanced on his other thigh. Together, his crossed legs; a blade and shield. They hold us at bay.
His expression is cool. Before the term took on so much baggage. Cool as not hot. He’s working hard not to express anything in particular. Beyond a sense of a matter-of-fact presentation, “Here I am.” His pose poses more questions than answers. Is it a boast? A hungry self-satisfaction? It’s not complacent.
This much appears evident: Much is hidden. Is he a wealthy young man? Older than he looks? What has he proven? What is he claiming, sitting here poised? Yet, mildly distracted.
A bachelor? Probably, certainly a masculine presence in a masculine room. Dressed sharply. Aware of his looks.
Where is this room? The furnishings, his wardrobe…, it could be a middle-class interior almost anywhere in Europe. Something about it, an atmosphere of self-invention, makes me think, Only in America.
Most probably Cambridge. Cambridge, Massachusetts. But not the Cambridge of Harvard or MIT.
Unfair. This is not deducible from this image. I do have an outline of a history, his story, placing him there at about this time. He traveled a lot then. Could have been São Paulo, Lisbon, even Southampton. New York or Newark. That Newark, New Jersey. Wherever it was I stand by the evidence of this photos atmosphere. My conviction that this image was meant to convey…. That this image does convey: Here is an immigrant to America, expressing his pride at having achieved some rather vague but portentous accomplishment, “I have left the Old World behind.”
He’s established a toe-hold on foreign shores. Someone hungry for results, for accomplishment. With appetites and a strong belief in his own acumen and abilities. He sits on display at the point where the newness of this break from tired, muddled, moribund circumstances, his family and culture and society, is wearing off. To be replaced by a newfound awareness of the entire enterprise. He’s broken away from so much. This allows him to proclaim without any overt intrusion of his many doubts: His handicaps of education, of language. His weaknesses and the worm of alcoholism. His earliest “ism.” Soon to be followed by Capitalism and Stoicism and all that unfinished business of his childhood….
“Here I am!”