There’s a good deal of doubt about whether this photograph, part of a group, was made to mock or celebrate the spirit of the crinoline, but either way, what is revealed is the sociality of its production. No-one said it was going to be easy to make a spectacle, but with a bit of patience, team work does achieve marvels. Consider, nevertheless the staging of the scene for the camera’s gaze. Observe, too, as punctum, the puddled hoop of the foregrounded crinoline attempting to resemble a disagreeable object by Alberto Giacometti.
Signs of a more depressing theatre of desolation are served up for comic consumption in another photograph from this group.
A bored dawning is written over the face of the woman at the heart of this implausible structure, apparently in progress, but nevertheless held up for the camera as if in contemplation of the struggles ahead. And held up for some time for the image to take, long before the days of fast shutters. The implausibility of such a structure ever having been built for more than this theatre of the camera is evident too in the fabric of the crinoline itself, and in the very idea that a woman so grand, with such women in waiting, would wait so long for the camera to finish its work.
The great actresses of the nineteenth century did not stand for being made into scenery thus. Note that both photographs take so much trouble to stage the carpet in the foreground against the attending layers of fabric that rise through the crinoline across the drapery of attendants, shoulders, walls, even taking the risk of draping what appears to be a mirror in the dark heart of these pictures. The positioning of the faces of these women in attitudes and poses suggests a theatrical effect rather than lived fashion. This is high mockery. This is the reduction of the crinoline’s three dimensional movement into a two dimensional static electricity.
The women in these photographs are scarcely the aristocrats of their own drama, but such is the socialisation enforced by the cameras of commodification. Then again, there’s a risk that the crinoline appears to wallow in its representation, giving an impression of munificent isolation on the road to the guillotine, where the preferred poetic is that of democratic discipline in wild choreography:
But with the orchestra on your side playing something truly all will and world – you know, soaring analogue polysynthesis, with fuzz boxes on full throttle and a Dionysian hint of bliss mill on the drum section – the possibilities can become movingly electric.
(To be continued.)