At first glance, this haunting collodion print looks like an aged Victorian carte de visite. If you look closely, you’ll notice something odd: the dress is trimmed with scraps of paper with typewritten notes. This is a papier-mache sculpture titled Storydress II, designed by artist Christine Elfman. The dress is made of stories recorded from her great-grandmother’s autobiographical reminiscences. On her site, Elfman elaborates on the process and motivations behind this piece:
Finding unknown relatives in my family photograph collection, and noticing old photographs of anonymous people in antique stores, I was taken by how many people were forgotten regardless of photography’s intention to “Secure the shadow, ‘ere the substance fades away.” The older the picture, the more forlorn the subject appeared to me. Holding their image, I was impressed with their absence. Storydress II tries to show this underlying subject of photographic portraiture. The 19th century cabinet card is turned inside out, revealing the presence of absence in a medium characterized by rigid detail and anonymity. The figure of reminiscence, cast in plaster, parallels the poetic immobility of the head clamp, used in early photography to prevent movement during long exposures, aptly defined by Barthes as “the corset of my imaginary existence”. The life size cast figure wears a paper mache dress made of family stories: recorded, torn up, and glued back together again.