Drawn from the extensive personal archives of filmmaker and photography collector Sébastien Lifshitz, this exhibition of amateur ‘found’ photographs from Europe and the US explores gender non-conformity and cross-dressing. Dating from 1880 onwards, the photos are mostly of unnamed and unknown figures – having been mainly collected from flea markets, garage sales, junk shops and ebay – and as such offer an unauthorised view into the worlds of individuals and groups choosing to defy gender conventions.
Lifshitz’s initial collecting impulse was a fascination with the vernacular documentation of cross-dressing; his criteria to accumulate photographs, which showed men dressing as women and vice versa. As the collection grew, he began to trace both commonalities and differences between the images, which proposed a much more nuanced exploration of cross-dressing culture, not least by offering an opportunity to interrogate the assumptions we make about gender. The exhibition also includes exclusive images of Marie-Pierre Pruvot (born 11 November 1935) the celebrated Algerian-born French transsexual woman who performed under the stage name Bambi, before becoming a teacher, and who was the subject of an award-winning documentary by Lifshitz in 2013.
Brought together, the photographs reflect a range of styles and attitudes from theatrical, defiant, shy, proud, subversive and understated; showing individuals and groups from different classes, professions, genders and nationalities, whose only commonality is that they dared to play with dress codes in front of a camera, even if unable to do so in public.
Under Cover: A Secret History of Cross-Dressers celebrates the collective inventiveness and liberation that the seemingly simple act of dressing differently provides. The exhibition offers a fascinating context for today’s Trans community and looks towards a world where personal choice is celebrated.
At The Photographers’ Gallery until 3rd of June.