A Payne In The Arse

There are photographs which hunt us through the years. One of them is the portrait of Lewis Payne (or Powell), taken by Alexander Gardner in 1865, which inspired my collage against death penalty. Payne was involved in the Lincoln conspiracy and attempted to assassinate U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward on April 14, 1865. For that he was sentenced to death by hanging. We deeply detest his deeds, but we also detest the fact he died (aged 21) on July 7, 1865 after he struggled for nearly five minutes at the gallows.

Today’s horrible fact: This seems a short time considering executions gone wrong in the U.S. over 150 years later. In Arkansas criminals were killed in a rush before the State’s death drugs expired… Some of the convicted suffered terrible pain. The beautiful face of national justice has a rotten and vindictive side.


Roland Barthes’ »Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography«. Barthes captioned the photograph of Lewis Payne: »He is dead and he is going to die«. What makes this photograph special, its punctum, is the future death by hanging of its subject. In this sense this punctum is relevant to all photographs showing a future death and trauma.  Its unique feature is that it relates both to the future (what is going to happen next) and to what has happened (as information that is brought in by the viewer).

A Handbook on Hanging (1928) by Charles Duff. The book is a Swiftian tribute to that unappreciated mainstay of civilization: the hangman. With barbed insouciance, Charles Duff writes not only of hanging but of electrocution, decapitations, and gassings; of innocent men executed and of executions botched; of the bloodlust of mobs and the shabby excuses of the great. This coruscating and, in contemporary America, very relevant polemic makes clear that whatever else capital punishment may be said to be justice, vengeance, a deterrent – it is certainly killing.

Replant your mind!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s