Images 2

Masks of Femininity 2

Solitary Figures 2

Chess

Night Reader: Expressionist Experiments in Colored Light and Superimposition

Kriemhild

This series features the Kriemhild “character.” Here this mask of femininity appears in both composited and non-composited images. You can see a small video story featuring Kriemhild here.

Quinault Masked Figures

A non-composite series featuring a masked figure in the forest of the Quinault Native American Reservation in Washington state.

Military Cap Series

This series is an especially complex aspect of the project. I wanted to see how an emphatically “masculine” costume attribute operated in tension with the “feminine” mask. How does the “masculine” component enhance or diminish the “feminine” component? Police and military gear are conventional hyper-signifiers of “masculinity,” even if nowadays it is not unusual for women to choose careers in law enforcement and the military. I wanted a hat that immediately signified a hyper-masculinized identity but nevertheless conveyed a stylishness or allure that accounted for the appeal of hyper-masculinizing one’s look. We’ve tried shots using helmets of different sorts, but these have yet to appear on this website. A series using an Australian slouch hat is planned. Italian officer caps from the 1920s and Latvian police caps from the 1930s are quite striking, but unfortunately I was not able to find anyone who sells them. A Chicago firm that sells military regalia from around the world offered what it called a “Sturmabteilung” cap. I ordered the cap, but with considerable ambivalence, because if you recognize the cap as an emblem of the “Sturmabteiling” (SA), you can’t help but wonder to what extent the wearer, the photographer, or the viewer identify with the fascist ideology guiding the SA faction of the Nazi Party. The SA cap was a fashion element of the SA between 1929 and 1934, when the Party dissolved the SA, although occasionally high ranking members of the Party continued to wear variants of the cap in public. However, the cap I purchased is not an accurate replica of the SA cap between 1929 and 1934. The historical cap was pervasively brown, although sometimes you can find images of men wearing black caps. The cap also had a chin strap, which didn’t work using the black Chicago variant. 

Sturmabteiling parade 1932

However, the SA cap style was not entirely original to the SA. It is similar to the French military officer cap that appeared during World War I and was subsequently adopted by French police officers. But the French cap has a flat visor or bill while the SA cap has a raked visor. The raked visor casts a deeper shadow over the eyes and gives the wearer a greater aura of power than the flat visor. The SA cap is simply more alluring. Major league baseball players wore hats similar in shape to the SA cap around 1910-1914.

Philadelphia Athletics baseball players in 1911; photo from Wikipedia

More recently, variants of the SA cap have found favor with the designers of women’s police and military uniforms. Women members of the Phoenix Police Department wear a variant for ceremonial occasions. Women of the Royal Air Force also wear a cap similar to the SA style, if somewhat more ornamental.

British television personality Carol Vorderman in Royal Air Force uniform at an Air Cadet ceremony in 2016; photo from The Daily Express

Danish fashion designer Charlotte Eskildsen introduced a variant of the SA cap for her 2014-2015 fashion show in Copenhagen. The cap bestows a heightened sense of “discipline” to the ensemble.

But these examples of efforts to separate the aesthetic of the SA style cap from the SA political context are not altogether reassuring as an “innocent” basis for using the cap to construct a mask of femininity that does not implicate the image, the photographer, or the viewer with pleasure in a “fascist look.” One should ask: What made the style of the SA cap appealing to the designers of SA regalia? Was the hat attractive to the SA membership probably for the same reasons that it is attractive to people who have no affinity at all with SA politics? At any rate, the hat gave us an opportunity to test the notion that a mask of femininity can function as a mask of fascism. More precisely: how do the mask and other “feminine” attributes adopted by the model subvert, obfuscate, or redefine the “fascist masculinity” associated with the cap? So we experimented with some shots to see how we might look wearing the cap. I must admit, however, the black cap did make each figure who wore it “dark,” though perhaps not always sinister, no matter how bright the other colors in the costume ensemble. But the cap series needs to expand considerably before we understand even our own motives in attempting it.

The SA cap is alluring insofar as it signifies complicity with a dark region of erotic desire, a sadomasochistic tension between “feminine” and “masculine” impulses, which we’ve tried to acknowledge in a few images.

In any case, the hat encourages a perversity of mood, even with the most straightforward attempts at playfulness.

Encountering a Mysterious Figure (2015)

The Blue Veil (2015)

A linear sequence or narrative showing the transformation of a veil into a headdress.

Movement through Ferns (2015)

Peculiar Encounters with Feminine Masks (2015-2016)

The Golden Mask (2015)

The Gazebo (2019)