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The Staircase as Masks


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The Staircase as Masks

Artwork Details


Clarence John Laughlin
American, 1905–1985


1948, printed 1951


Gelatin silver print

Accession #



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Currently Not on View


To create The Staircase as Masks, Laughlin used a darkroom technique known as “combination printing,” in which he exposed a single sheet of photographic paper twice with the same negative, inverting the image on one of the exposures. Through his experimental printing processes, Laughlin transformed an otherwise straight photograph of common architectural elements into an uncannily surreal image. By mirroring and overlapping the curve of the banisters, he formed a series of shapes evocative of a spookily grinning face.


Gift of Joshua Mann Pailet in honor of his mother, Charlotte Mann Pailet; her family members Josef, Jiri and Alma Beran Mann, all of whom perished in the Holocaust; and Sir Nicholas Winton, the British hero who orchestrated Charlotte’s escape with 669 Czechoslovakian children in 1939 Abbreviated version: Gift of Joshua Mann Pailet in honor of his mother, Charlotte Mann Pailet, her family, and Sir Nicholas Winton