Sunday, March 18, 2012

Costuming in Historic Photographic Art

Over the last month, I have presented many wonderful examples of extant costuming - folk, theatrical, and whimsical pieces that give hints and highlights of another era seemingly far removed from our own. These historical examples do not merely reflect the artistic, aesthetic, or skilled craftsmanship of a bygone era (or simply the utility, socioeconomic status, or geographical location of the wearer), although these attributes are certainly necessary in our understanding and appreciation of historical modes of dress. It's more than this, deeper than this. These surviving pieces of extant costume (in remarkable preservation) are evidence of an innate human desire for self-expression. Drama, exhibition, mockery, intimidation, fancy - whatever the case - our ancestral kinfolk were just as enthralled with disguise as we costumers, masqueraders, and reenactors are today.

Aside from paintings, sculptures, and et cetera, or the rare opportunity to examine surviving examples in their respective repositories, the advent of permanent image technology almost two hundred years ago has made available to us an opportunity to study historic costume with greater convenience and within another context: through the photographic lens. My intention here is not debate which visual medium (i.e. painting versus photograph) provides the more genuine view of reality, but rather to demonstrate through an alternative medium how people of history have interpreted, presented, and employed historical modes of dress. 

The following photographs were taken between 1910-1913 by amateur photographers Alfonse Van Besten and  Charles Corbet, who wanted to show that photography had artistic as well as technical value. Their image collections can be viewed in their entireties at Autochromists From Belgium, along side the works of several of their contemporaries. The photographs presented here are copyrighted and courtesy of Florent Van Hoof-Williame.

Alphonse Van Besten - Symphony in White, 1912

Alphonse Van Besten - Veiled Lady in Abbey Ruins, 1912

Alphonse Van Besten - Ancient Times, 1912

Alphonse Van Besten - Grecian Times, 1912

Alphonse Van Besten - Group Antique Composition, 1912

Alphonse Van Besten - Innocence, 1912

Alphonse Van Besten - Lady in Garden, 1912

Alphonse Van Besten - Japanesesque, 1913

Alphonse Van Besten - Lady on the Garden Bench with Flowers, 1912

Alphonse Van Besten - Nero Playing the Harp, 1912

Alphonse Van Besten - Pink and Green Wigs, 1912

Alphonse Van Besten - Portrait of Lady with Roses, 1912

Alphonse Van Besten - Purity, 1912

Alphonse Van Besten - Study of Mrs. Van Besten as a Flemish Princess, 1912

Charles Corbet - Young Lady with a Fan, 1910

Charles Corbet - Young Lady with a Fan on Couch, 1910

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