Christine Elfman

Anthotype Dress

September 2009 - January 2011

The Anthotype Dress Project depicts the construction of a fading photographic dress.  Twenty-four analog c-prints show the gathering and manipulation of requisite materials through the four seasons.  Each ingredient is captured by the camera, as if taking pictures were like picking flowers. 

In the summer, Queen Anne’s Lace and other flowers are picked and pressed.  In the fall, pokeweed berries are juiced to stain silk for the inner lining of the dress.  By early winter, the stained silk is put in contact with the pressed flowers in large contact-printing frames, and then exposed to the sun.  In the meantime, sumac berries, the most colorful plant in the upstate NY winter landscape, are collected to dye the rough exterior linsey-woolsey fabric gray. 

By mid summer the dark magenta silk has faded to pale pink, while the shadows of the pressed flowers remain vivid.  This seven month long exposure reveals sunlight fading the impermanent pokeweed dye.  The anthotype photograph is created through its own fading, and can never be fixed or stabilized.  The photograph is sewn into the inner lining of an austere dress. Worn in winter, tight to the skin, it’s protected from further exposure.
The dress itself is shown in a vitrine alongside the c-prints. Both the two and three-dimensional photographs hold the viewer at arms length, revealing and concealing the delicate subject. While the c-prints show us what the inside of the dress looks like and how it was made, the view of the anthotype is constrained by flatness.  And while the dress itself is physically present, it cannot be touched, let alone worn. Both the anthotype inner lining of the dress and the c-prints (to a lesser degree) must be sacrificed in order to be seen.  The more you see, the faster they disappear.