Black Bag is a series of works based on the theory of optograms (this is the name given to images that were believed to be etched onto the retina. This idea came from experiments published by scientists Franz Boll and Willy Kühne in 1876/77 which seemed to prove a photograph could be taken by the eye).

"…the retina functioned like the photographic plate of a camera, therefore the final image viewed before death should remain fixed forever like a photo within the dead person’s eyes. It also came to be believed (as a logical extension of this hypothesis) that if death were to occur at a moment when the pupils of the eyes were hugely dilated—e.g., because of fear, surprise, anger or some other strong emotion—the retinal optograms of the deceased would be even clearer, more detailed, and easier to “develop. Popular belief in these “facts” became so widespread during the final decades of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth that some police departments began to take close-up photographs of the eyes of murder victims in the hope of identifying their murderers. The most celebrated of such cases involved Scotland Yard’s investigation of the infamous Jack-the-Ripper murders in Whitehall, London in 1888. One historian, in describing these events, notes: In an attempt to be scientific, the police pried open Annie Chapman’s dead eyes and photographed them, in the hope that the retinas had retained an image of the last thing she saw. But no images were found. (Stewart-Gordon 121)

Eye and Camera, George Wald (1967)


Photography's relationship to death becomes literal in the case of the optogram and no longer metaphorical as in the writing of Barthes. These embodied pictures described in the Victorian period are the inspiration for Seers' Optogram series in which she takes pictures using her body.

In order to be an effective camera it is better for her to lie down – limiting the blurring caused through body movement. Emerging from a black bag (body bag) used to protect the light sensitive paper she falls into her supine position gagged, her mouth is silenced by the photographic paper clamped between her teeth, she becomes a primitive eye/camera.

The resultant work – often presented as doubles moves the viewer from a "scene of the crime" documentary photograph to the internal image of the victim. The point of view shifts from outside to inside. 

This work was initially shown in an attache case and was commissioned by Rory Logsdale for a series of television programmes called Artist's Eye/Lindsay Seers.