Published: 23 February 2018
Author: Lexi Manatakis
Following on from our visit to the exhibition, I decided to pursue some of the questions and thoughts that were raised in my notes from the initial visit. My first source is an article published on the online platform, Dazed Digital that includes an interview with Sébastien Lifshitz. I picked this article to read and analyse as after leaving the exhibition I wanted to know more about the curator, who was he, what made him pick the photos he had chosen to exhibit etc. I initially went through the document highlighting portions of text relevant to my investigation into the intentions of the curator. I then annotated the text specifically addressing the questions I had raised.
In this first page I began to understand more about the identity of the curator, as the photographer of all the photos are unknown it puts the curator under a stronger magnification, their intentions become the focus rather than that of the individual shooters. As a gay woman, and a woman who isn’t entirely comfortable in their gender and often plays with gender expression in everyday life and in my own work, I looked at this exhibition with a very critical eye. Therefore it was very important that I discovered more about Lifshitz’s identity, what he chose to highlight, and what appeared to be lacking.
I like the sentiment that Lifshitz was trying to create a visual history of gender non conforming people where there previously was none, that he was bringing visibility to a previously and often purposely invisible group of people. This information was easy and accessible by way of this document. I also discovered that Lifshitz himself creates work something I will to look into further.
One of the key reoccurring but very important questions that came to me while wondering around the exhibit was the lack of representation in a show that was all about representing marginalised identities. What struck me, which I stated in my notes previously, was how the bodies seemed to be predominantly white and although every individual’s identity cannot be assumed from the photos (gay, trans, non binary, queer or other), many of the bodies looked the same, a great proportion of the photos depicted drag queens and therefore cis-male bodies. Where were the people of colour, where were the fat bodies, why were their not more women? I think these are all fair questions and questions that do need addressing when you curate a show about ‘the secret history of cross dressers’ the title promises a lot, and maybe I left feeling a little disappointed by this element. It seems I was not the only one who wondered these things.
“The show only features three images of people of colour, why is their representation so small?”
A question put forth by the interviewer addresses this; “The show only features three images of people of colour, why is their representation so small?”- the answer? ‘It’s more difficult to find snapshots’ and ‘these communities didn’t have the same access’, this addresses both mine and the interviewers concerns. I made the annotation that the answer seemed dismissive, I wanted more, but maybe I just wanted to see more!! More representation !! Is there such a things as too much representation? Um, no. It’s understandable though, perhaps Lifshitz is correct or perhaps when he first began collecting he subconsciously chose bodies and identities he related to.
From the article I also learnt that he found these images one by one, collecting out of sheer interest and intrigue, as a bit of an amateur collector myself, something I could relate to. This helps give context to some of the queries I had about the layout of the exhibition, the difference in display choices, I wanted to know why. Learning that they were collected with no real intention to display helps inform me that they were probably was never a cohesive plan with how to arrange the photos. Without the photographers as well, the displaying all of these images was probably a long process. I can imagine it was difficult trying to create a cohesive narrative throughout the space that felt flowing. The first two rooms blended well to me, and then from there it felt clunky and an afterthought.
I chose my close reading to centre around the images of Bambi, for whatever reason I was drawn to her, during this reading I came up with a lot of questions I wanted answering. I wanted to know if there was a relationship between subject and curator, why was she highlighted, who was she, I just wanted to know more. Within this article the author put forward questions to Lifshitz. The responses informed me that Lifshitz knew Bambi personally and even had made a film about her. From here I will conduct more research into this connection.
TEDDY AWARD. (2018). Interview Sebastian Lifshitz, “Bambi”. [Online Video]. 21 April 2014. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-0IH5JS6Do. [Accessed: 1 May 2018].
Following the published article I did further research into Lifshitz as a creator, a filmmaker and an artist, specifically wanting to explore into the film he created documenting Bambi’s life. However, I was unable to source the film and could only obtain a short clip from Youtube and it was in French. I took some screenshots from the footage. Following this, I found an interview with Marie (‘Bambi’) and Lifshitz speaking about their experiences making the documentary, I found it very informative and made some notes.
The interview addressed some of the questions that arose when I was at the exhibition and during my research. It was clear there was a personal bond between the two, but I wanted to know the extent of this relationship – was it fascination? was it collaboration?
I was also thrilled to see the person behind all those beautiful and intimate photos.
I was captivated by these photos, and when I learnt that there was a documentary created by Lifshitz naturally I was enthralled, this appealed to my love and respect of bold, bright individuals and my interest in film. The medium of documentary is an art that fascinates me and within the interview speaks about the difficulties of moving from fictional filmmaking to documentary format. Obviously as a filmmaker he had to be aware of the visual aesthetics, making sure to get the appropriate framing and footage to drive the narrative but also being respectful to Bambi, allowing her to live authentically in the moment. I was glad to learn about this insight, and as someone who is interested in documentary I have often wondered where the line blurs between filmmaker / observer.
It is obvious from the way Lifshitz has presented the pictures of Bambi in the exhibition, to his depiction of her life story in their documentary that he respects and admires her story. After I finish this unit and this course, I will continue to pursue obtaining a copy of the film as I am genuinely interested in her story and explore some more of Lifshitz’s archive of films.
I think back to the exhibition, it was a wonderful collection of marginalised and hidden identities. My initial scepticism made me wonder about a perhaps lacking in representation of all bodies and ethnicities (an important issue), perhaps defining his collection as a visual history of cross dressers was too broad, there are clearly gaps in his collection and presentation, I thought the exhibition was wonderful, I stayed in that room longer than any other. Perhaps because there was so much content to look at, perhaps because it appeals to my own questions about identity and gender, perhaps because I was observant and wanted to see other’s reactions to the collection. The photos of Bambi stood out. Why? They felt different in tone, in the way they had been displayed, her presence was appropriate to the wider narrative of course, but when I left the room the pictures of her felt like they were burned into my head. From my research, learning about the relationship between the two and discovering there was a film made sense, her story was something he wants to be known, and I’m glad that he persists on putting it out there. Aside from learning more about the fascinating person behind the photos, this process has shown me that the way images are displayed or curated in a space can leave traces of the curators intentions, the photos selected of Bambi in the gallery reflected his deep respect and admiration for her.