In this identity project, I decided to capture the vintage alter ego’s of my parents with their shabby lindy hopping fashion. My mother used to be in The Military Wives Choir which would commonly perform at military associated events, some of these events would be at a number of 1940s themed events such as The War & Peace Show which had influenced both her and my father to dress up in the 40s style.
I would personally see this “vintageness” becoming a big part of my parents personality which influenced me as a photographer to capture it, in addition many friends of my parents with the same hobby had the same characteristics within themselves as well creating no difference between them and my parents. I too was interested in dressing up in the 40s style since I used to perform drama back in secondary school and pantomimes.
Larry Sultan grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley, which became a source of inspiration for a number of his projects. His work blends documentary and staged photography to create images of the psychological as well as physical landscape of suburban family life. Sultan’s pioneering book and exhibition Pictures From Home (1992) was a decade long project that features his own mother and father as its primary subjects, exploring photography’s role in creating familial mythologies. Using this same suburban setting. The child photographing his parents reverses the social norm, complicating the sense of power, identity, and self-creation experienced on either side of the camera.
The photographs in Sultan’s series show the rather unspecific personalities of his parents which the photographer is desperate to further discover since he doesn’t truly know who he is. Larry had quoted that he had made a recreation of his father which would be his recognised self. When Larry was younger he had seen both a photograph of his father and himself at the same age, he always saw this comparison as himself being younger than his father. The photographer would search through movie stills, snapshots and business pictures of his father to try and find the younger father than Larry’s age from then till now.
This photography project was a collaboration between Larry Sultan and his parents and I think this documentary series had been a visually interesting journey. This visual reference has the parents as primary subjects that are creating familial mythologies, my identity project has a little few similarities with the parents but in terms of their alto ego characteristics within their changed fashions.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2000-2015) reports Walker Evans is one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. Furthermore, that his elegant, crystal-clear photographs and articulate publications have inspired several generations of artists, from Helen Levitt and Robert Frank to Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Bernd and Hilla Becher.
The photographer was best known for his work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) documenting the effects of the Great Depression.
Walker Evans had a project named “Simple Secrets” which had included some people wearing clothing that had similar styles to the era that I and my family had re-enacted upon. Other than the clothing, I was also intrigued by the compositions of the sitters in the “STUDIO” image.
Dorothea Lange was best known for her chronicles of the Great Depression and for her photographs of migratory farm workers. Like Walker Evans, she had also created for the U.S. Farm Security Administration (FSA) investigating living conditions of farm workers and their families in Western states such as California. Most of the workers had come west to escape the Dust Bowl, the lengthy drought which devastated millions of acres of farmland in Midwestern states such as Oklahoma.
Since there were many images of rather depressing portraits since the photographer was well known for capturing The Great Depression, I needed to find some photographs that were a little more visually relevant to what I have been trying to create myself. Eventually I encountered these two images.
The photograph of this classy gentleman chilling on bench in 1936 and a smiling shabby woman standing outside a café in Richmond Virginia. The man wearing the hat would remind me of my father since he likes to wear a similar hat but with a coat while my mother would have the similarities of the furry coat and dress since she has owned these types of clothing in her wardrobe.
Lastly, I had come across a photograph by Dorothea in 1938 of J.R Butler, The President of the Southern Tenant Farmer’s Union in Memphis, Tennessee. From my visual perspective, his pose and facial expression would remind me of myself looking more casual and honestly less happier or cool with the vintage style since I personally wasn’t as passionate as my parents.
Naughten (2015) quotes
“Every summer thousands of people from all over the world
gather in a Kentish field and leave the present firmly behind.
They step out of their routine daily lives and transform into
historical characters from the First and Second World Wars,
often with such vigour and obsessive attention to detail that
its hard to imagine them in contemporary settings. Taking
on a different name, identity and sometimes even a different
tongue, the role players re-enact battles and drills from an
imagined past. It is something more than acting, a collective
fantasy played out on a massive scale”.
“Photographed against a plain background in a portable studio,
the re-enactors seem to gaze beyond the viewer in to another
time. Their uniforms and costumes are precise in their detail,
but the artist confuses our perception of what we are seeing.
The time and space are ambiguous and this disconcerting
effect gives the viewer the feeling that they are looking at
both the past and the present simultaneously. Naughten tells
us nothing of his sitters;’ lives, nor does he express a view
on their activities, but raises questions about collective
perceptions of history and our own relationship with the past”.
Naughten’s novel re-enactors (2009) states that photographer “August Sander in comparison represents the straightforward image of a specific person and is said to reveal something of the soul of that person or in the case to represent a stereotype of a profession such as chef, postman, policeman”. Naughten’s (2009,2015) portraits would invert this equation by deliberately providing the audience with not the real person being photographed but of people pretending to be others from the past which would be around the years of both the first and second world war which would be the protagonists chosen characters who are stars in their own inner dramas. These re-enacting portraits being shot against a neutral backdrop strips all the context away and leaving just behind the uniforms and facial expressions which are the key points in the photography’s presentation or appearance.
Mark Rappolt who describes ” The face out of Time” cited in Naughten (2009) captures people who he claims balance a fetish for historical accuracy, with a appetite for fantasy that enables that person to take on the guise of someone else. It is his view that this is their attempt to keep history alive.
The photographer has developed his production in a studio with a plain background while I have developed my photography in the natural spaces of my house and some vintage events. The subjects have defiantly got their similarities in style such as the soldiers and the civilians. I was glad that my family’s wardrobe had the same styles & colours as the other clothes on the re-enactors within the photography by Jim Naughten since this part of my development shows more visibility of visual referencing unlike the photography of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange since the two photographers use black and white in their eras.
The facial expressions of the models haven’t been quite as jolly my parents since most of them have an emotionless face which probably connects with the costume they are wearing, while my mother for example would act like she is enjoying herself in terms of her being prepared for an event. Jim Naugten’s re- enactors would play their role while being photographed as well as my parents but perhaps with different things going through their minds in terms of the interesting acting, my parents are lindy-hopping civilians while Jim’s people are more war based which looks rather more intense and less friendly.
FASHION IN THE 40s (mainly America since lindyhopping originated in that country)
Paul Phipps (2015) quotes that “Fashion in the 1940s was a good mix of comfort and glamour. There were specific outfits that were meant for specific times of the day. Some of their designs look downright modern even by today’s standards”
Paul Phipps (2015) also argue men’s suits, ties and hats were common in public while women wore dresses and skirts however, they still didn’t wear slacks yet. In addition to the women, they mostly wore were a pair of gloves that matched their outfit. Fur was very popular, as were animal skins. Crocodile purses, wombat collars, lambskin lining, and leather sleeves.
The blog Old School Fashion – Men of the 1940s by Lauren Shoff from America’s Best Racing quotes that “by the end of the war, America saw the development of the style that is most often associated with the swing era. Clothes were full-cut again, and shirts and coats came in a wide range of colors. Hand-painted silk ties were worn by men who wanted to express their individuality. A man’s accessories became a key to their style as single-breasted jackets were taken off to dance and celebrate. Ties were crucial, and cufflinks and suspenders became popular. Almost every man wore wingtip, spectator shoes, and the wide-brimmed fedora was worn by everyone from gangsters to the president”.
WHAT IS REENACTMENT?
Vocabulary.com defines re-enactment as “a restaging or recreation of an earlier event. History buffs do reenactments of the Civil War, where men grow bushy mustaches and pretend to shoot at each other with muskets.” as an example. In further explanation, “To enact is to do or make something, and to reenact is to do it again. A reenactment is the action of performing a new version of an old event, usually in a theatrical performance. If you’re interested in history, you might enjoy watching a reenactment of a major battle or speech. In a reenactment, people try to get the details as close to the original as possible. Doing reenactments is a hands-on way to learn and celebrate history”.
WAR POSTERS AND BACKGROUNDS
With a theme in relation to the 40s, I thought it would be a good idea to inspect a couple of war posters with their styles and colours, the famous “We Can Do It!” poster was one of the most colourful posters I came across, the other two posters had rather more plainer backgrounds, one looks like a poster that had been around for a long time which effects the print making it turn more of a brownish colour and the other is white for some focus on the details of the clothing.
These images have been my starting points, with this vintage style photography idea in mind I had looked at what clothes to wear, who I am photographing and location or background. these key elements have been randomly played around with for a search of a starting point that is strong enough for me to establish an actual photo-shoot that would importantly connect with the characterisation I am trying to represent in terms of how things have changed in my life and family.
When inspecting these images I had definitely seen how I have developed towards an image that would stand out in character. The backgrounds have been very challenging to find and use in terms of this theme, but like most key points about portraits with having a sitter speaking for itself with its face,clothing ,pose etc., I had ended up focusing on my sitters and myself which would show the viewers not only just a picturesque picture of a person doing their hobby but also the imaginative character within that real character being photographed which may not have one answer, but answers in terms of what a viewer of the photograph might think. The plain background would allow the viewers in doing so in terms of the format or there would be a distraction behind the characterisation. With the military uniform in a plain background, I as a viewer ignoring the background would be inspecting the detail of the clothing just like I did when coming across the details in the war posters with clothing, and other aspects.
In final development, the reenacting had its moments captured on camera while further interpretations were discovered unexpectedly, the format of this drama was not planned before the shoot, so I and my parents had to ideally develop many elements that were in relation to the 40s. Planning before shooting in terms of this may have improved creating the photographs dedicating to the past, but these photographs had interestingly and ambiguously ended up creating vintage identities also portraying the peculiar and curiosity, I would look at these images knowing I had used the 1940s as an inspiration… but who have I captured?
Larry Sultan Bio [Online] Available from: http://larrysultan.com/bio/ [Accessed 13th December 2015]
Sultan, L. (1992) Pictures from Home. New York: A times Mirror Company.
Retrowaste (2015) Fashion in the 40s [Online} Available from: / [Accessed from 13th December 2015]
Naughten, J. (2009) Re-enactors London: Hotshoe International
Jim Naughten (2015) Re-enactors [online} Available from: http://www.jimnaughten.com/project/Re-enactors_intro [Accessed: 13th December 2015].
The History Place. (2008) Dorothea Lange Migrant Farm Families [Online] Available from http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/lange/ [Accessed: 13th December 2015]
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2000–2015) Heilbrumm timeline of art history. [online] Available from: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/evan/hd_evan.htm [Accessed: 13th December 2015]
Vocabulary.com (2016) Dictionary Definition: Reenactment [Online] Available from: http://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/reenactment [Accessed: 9th January 2016]