Undergarments and Armor.
Photographs by Tanya Marcuse. Essay by Valerie Steele.
112 pp., 53 duotone illustrations, 6½x10½".
Tanya Marcuse, recipient of a 2002 Guggenheim fellowship,
gained access to museum
collections and archives,
such as the Metropolitan
Museum of Art and the
Fashion Institute of
Technology, to examine
undergarments and armor
ranging from the 4th
Century BC to 19th century.
Though she photographs
the specialized and beautiful
clothing, her main interest in the investigation is the
human body and identity; she documents all the corsets,
bolsters, codpieces and breastplates with a sensual eye
for how the form might have inhabited the pieces.
Presented here in three slim, clothbound volumes and
housed in a slipcase, this collection of elegantly toned
platinum prints makes a fascinating commentary on how
we fashion our social identities and gender roles. At first,
underwear and armor may seem to be on opposite ends
of the spectrum. The undergarments featured here are
meant to be hidden and private, to exaggerate the
female form within it without revealing an underlying
false structure. Armor, on the other hand, proudly bears
itself as it conceals and protects the male body (and
identity) within it, presenting a hyper-masculine and
impenetrable facade. Yet both under and outwear shape
the human bodies and identities they enclose.
Interestingly, it is the male armor that is more intricately
detailed - featuring steely tendrils on a headpiece, and
carved designs on breast plates - while the undergarments
are often more rudimentary. Marcuse focuses her
examination not on the lacey delicacies that we might
associate with ladies underwear, but on the bone, wooden,
and metal architectures of corsets and bustles for
women of the Victorian period, as well as a stunning
chastity belt and breast enhancer. Not only are these
objects controversial because they shape the image of
women according to the desires of men in a confining
manner, but they resemble the male armor, revealing
themselves to be a kind of under-armor, meant to attract
rather than protect. Both under and outer armor were
meant to bolster a specific gender identity directed
mainly toward impressing men, whether on the battlefield
or in the parlor. In this series, Marcuse challenges
how different these objects really are and questions how
what we put on our bodies shapes our identity. The intimate
scale of the photographs and Marcuse's mastery of
the medium make for a delightful and thoughtful reading
experience. DENISE WOLFF
Read Publisher's Description.