Purple Art

[September 7 2016]

“Fabulous Failures” A group show for Les Rencontres de la photographie d’Arles 2016, Arles

These amateur photographs taken in Europe and North America between 1880 and 1980 were acquired by director SEBASTIEN LIFSHITZ.  Most never intended to be seen by the public. The collection reflects its owner’s interest in gender, homosexuality and transsexuals before the 1969 Stonewall riots.

It also attests to the remarkable transgender spectrum: not just spectacular transvestites and glamorous drag queens, but also cross-dressing women who look more discreet because men’s clothing became much plainer and more uniform between 18th and early 19th century, a fashion turning point when men bid farewell to the lavish frills, ruffles and powdered wigs of the Ancien Regime.

These pictures raise more questions than they answer. Their enigmatic power strengthens their attraction. Man or woman? How is identity defined? Clothes make the man, but then again you can’t judge a book by its cover. Not all the motives for transgender practices are clear. Many are very different depending on the sex: homosexual subculture, cross-dressing for the stage, a festive event or a rite of passage, not to mention trans identity. The collection shows that the ‘gender theory’ critics’ hateful fear is utterly groundless and provides a glimpse into the joys of self-assertive transgressions that ushered in a freedom still shaky today.

On view until September 25th, 2016 for  Les Rencontres de la photographie d’Arles 2016 at Palais de l’Archevêché, Arles.

Text Isabelle Bonnet and photo Guillaume Boutrolle

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