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Slave to Beauty

TO STARVE ONESELF, TO ALLOW one’s hair to twine in stringy locks, to cast oneself in loincloth strapped and seemingly nailed to a cross, and to orchestrate the photographs of that crucifixion and later to exhibit them together in a frame as “The Seven Last Words of Christ” was to provoke mixed derision and acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. In July of 1898 an American photographer of romantic sensibility, F. Holland Day (with Baron Corvo, surely one of the most fascinating eccentrics of the century), a bookish man who throve on the examples of decadence and suffering that could be found in the lives of Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley, Honoré de Balzac, and John Keats, staged such an event at his estate in Norwood, Massachusetts—himself cast as Christ. According to his friend Frederick Evans, the English bookseller and photographer, the camera for this event was mounted with a mirror so

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