The Paris Review

The Empty Room

In his new biweekly column, Pinakothek, Luc Sante excavates and examines miscellaneous visual strata of the past.

The more empty the photograph, the more it implies horror. The void that dominates an empty photograph is the site of past human activity. It presents itself as a hole in the middle of the picture. The beds, tables, chairs, lamps are not the subject; they are the boundary. Some empty images tease the eye, suggesting clues that may dissolve upon closer examination. More often the scene is as near to a blank canvas as it can be without fading into nothingness. But then we, as habituated viewers, tend to brush a dramatic gloss upon such pictures. What we see cannot be as perfectly banal as it seems. The lighting and composition awaken

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