When I was a child, my mother worked as a seamstress. It was a fast-track to self-employment in Haiti. When she began studying the sewing course, she made patterns at home out of recycled paper and I thought they were the most enchanting things. It was probably just the novelty of seeing a perfect dress made out of paper. My mother is somewhat of a perfectionist and I remember that she would sometimes draw on the details that did not need to be patterned out, like a bit of the fabric at one corner.
Later when I had mastered the handling of scissors safely I made paper dolls because it was a cheap way to get a new doll. I enjoyed the process of creating little people and then creating little paper outfits for them. Sometimes I got elaborate and used glue to add details like bows or flowers. Then when it rained I made paper boats, put the people aboard and bid them a teary goodbye and sent them down the street in the water. Safe Journey! This is probably, in my child’s mind, a recreation of what I knew was the fate of many of our compatriots.
Christian Tagliavini has made an art out of making paper doll dresses. Inspired by classical paintings and other historical portraits he has created a series of costumes in cardboard in which he has photographed contemporary faces. The people’s roundness makes the paper look real and the paper’s flatness make the people look frozen in time.
The portraits play with the personal and the impersonal/representational. They are portraits of particular people but since they are all in costumes we see not the people in the portraits but a kind of historical reference. The lightning is reminiscent of the old Flemish paintings with soft gradations from light to dark that enriches the look of the texture. You see it but it’s as though you could feel the fabric.
The entire project took him 13 months to complete and considering the level of detail in the design and the mastery of the photography, it’s an impressive feat.
He’s paid particular attention how the collar has changed over the years. The most conspicuous part of the designs are the necks -from suffocating ruffles to permissive (compared to the traps people used to wear around their necks in the 1700s) modern button-down.
Do you recognize the references? Can you spot the Spanish court painter Velazquez and his masterpiece Las Meninas? Tip: wrote about Las Meninas in this post!