Original Novel Title: The Lost Glass Plates of Wilfred Eng
Author: Thomas Orton
Publisher: Washington, DC: Counterpoint, October 1, 1999.
Orton's debut novel of a deceased Chinese-American photographer brings together the worlds of art history and archives.
Leon E. Zimlich, History of Art and Architecture, University of California Santa Barbara, commented on the archival aspects in the PHOTOHST mailing list and submitted this synopsis for The Fictional World of Archives:
The Lost Glass Plates of Wilfred Eng tells the story of photography dealer Robert Armour, whose career is in a shambles after unknowingly selling faked erotic photographs as the work of Edward Weston. Armour finds the possibility of redemption when he discovers a collection of glass plate negatives which he attributes to fictional photographer Wilfred Eng. The negatives are from a series of intimate portraits and seem to corroborate a long rumored affair Eng was believed to have had with the wife of his employer. Not willing to take the glass plates and the mythology of Eng's life at face value, Armour takes to the archives to research the photographer and the woman in the images. There he is cautioned by the librarian to not follow the example of a previous biographer, but to instead "read all the words," and in so doing discovers a much different story.
For those wishing to read a real-life story of not-quite-lost glass plates by a Chinese-Canadian photographer who worked in Barkerville and Quesnel, British Columbia, in the first third of the 20th century, David Mattison highly recommends Faith Moosang's study First Son: Portraits by C.D. Hoy (Vancouver, BC: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1999).
The Fictional World of Archives
Submitted by Leon E. Zimlich, 2000.04.08; additional information by David Mattison. Updated 2000.04.08.