PHO2006_154.jpg "Headless Man" (about 1893-1902). George Herbert White. Collection of Puke Ariki (PHO2006-154).

George H. White vividly demonstrates photography's power of illusion with this image of a young man serving up his own head for dinner. This glass negative, made sometime between 1893 and 1902, is likely to have been constructed from collaged elements. Its black humour, punctuated by the young man's uneasy backward glance towards his severed neck, is both fascinating and disturbing. Of the White negatives held at Puke Ariki, this image is the only one that departs from the conventions of photographic portraiture.

White was born in Lincolnshire, England and arrived in New Zealand in 1893. Upon arriving in New Plymouth, he bought Mr Shaw's established photographic business. Also a music teacher, in 1902 White decided to devote his attentions to his pupils. Consequently, on Monday 2 June an auction was held at White's studio to sell his photographic equipment. The sale included cameras, lenses, chemicals, plate glass, backgrounds and studio furniture. The auction notice in the Taranaki Herald, however, made no mention of a severed head.

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