Sunday, May 9, 2010

My Mother's Dresses

Clothing evokes memories. Many women have several dresses or suits hanging in the back of the closet that they cannot give away. These garments  embody a memory of a special time or belonged to someone they loved, like a mother, grandmother or sister.

A dress is literally a metaphor for a woman. It is a second skin, forming a protective barrier between one’s self and the world and the choices of style and material provide clues as to one’s self image, social class, profession and identity.

This past winter I photographed some evening dresses belonging to my mother. Sadly, the lovely purple satin dress she is wearing in the photo above was not in her closet. But there were several others including a gold brocade dress with matching jacket, a copper coloured Indian silk dress, a black lace dress and a long silver brocade dress. I did a series of documentary photos as well as a set of photographs in ravine settings hoping to evoke a sense of haunted beauty in bleak and barren surroundings. To see selected images from that series, please visit my website.

Many people who saw these photographs of my mother's dresses were reminded of a specific dress that their mother or grandmother wore. And sometimes that dress was still hanging in the back of a closet, too precious to give away. It seems that clothes can embody the essence of a person. 

I wish I had a story to tell about my mother wearing this beautiful brocade dress. It came with a matching jacket and is in pristine condition. I don't recall seeing my mother wearing it, but it clearly meant something to her as I found a scrap of matching fabric in a drawer the other day. 

The style of dress is one that I wear often. Classic, fitted and elegant, this cut of dress suits my figure and I have many versions of this type of dress in my closet. Although I would never have described my mother as a fashionista, clearly at one time in her life, she took great care with her dress.

I only have a few items belonging to my mother that are worthy of being photographed - not enough to have a show or write a book. However, I realize that there are many beautiful dresses and suits hanging in closets that have stories. I hope to find some women in Toronto and southern Ontario who will let me photograph some of those dresses and record the stories which someday will be featured in a gallery show. 

I also hope that there are people around the world who might also wish to participate in an online version of this project. If you wish to share memories about a special dress, either one that belongs to you or someone you knew, please contact me at