Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Us Again

A tiny, so-called 'gem' tintype. Feminist art history types will perhaps be familiar with the late 19th-century American photo-grapher Alice Austen: she left a number of amusing amateur portraits of herself and various female friends in drag. Most of the photos were taken on Staten Island, where she lived and worked; Austen's house is now a historic landmark.

If my own experience collecting anonymous photographs is anything to go by, however, such gender-bent portraits were not as rare as one might have thought. I have at least twenty photos and tintypes of male impersonators--butches galore, in fact. One is tempted to declare the Victorian drag-king photo a topos or commonplace in late 19th-century vernacular photography. Euphoria optional.