27 Dresses

 I’ve been thinking about the 27 dresses I unpacked when I moved to Madison. They are all from my grandmother, all in a similar fashion. She was a tiny Japanese woman, but during her middle age, became a bit plumper. I believe these dresses are from this time frame. I am determined to squeeze into each of them and stage a photograph. It somehow feels related to “Passage” and every other work I’ve made about that side of my family. Ironically, I am also coming to terms with being a middle-aged woman, so it is with both a heightened awareness and a disappointing self-criticism that I see my aging, plumping body struggling to be contained within the dress form.

Last weekend, when I refrained from eating a donut, Ciera told me to watch a movie called “27 Dresses”, because of the title. It is about all the bridesmaids dresses the character wears, always in support, but never being the “one”. Last night I was posting an image from a group exhibition. It is “27 Mornings”, every morning I photographed in bed during my residency at CPW. I knew I wanted to start using my body in my work again, but was feeling shy and anxious about it, knowing I could no longer make any reference to youthful beauty in the feminine form. Not that was what I ever have strived for in my work, but I had just become so self-conscious, being critical of my body and intensely self-aware as a single woman without a lover to remind her she was wanted, desired or beautiful. The phrase “your ship has sailed'“ came to mind almost daily.


This whole scene was so abjectly pathetic that I thought I should find a way to address it in my work. It seemed I should be the one in my own pictures, not as a representation of humanity, as I have been for years, but as myself. When I got to the AIR house at Woodstock, I went to unpack my suitcase in my new bedroom for the month. There was a scale by the door. I thought this was strange, but weighed myself. Every morning, as an exercise in accepting my body and being in front of the camera, I would get up, weigh myself, move the camera into the doorway, load film, get back in bed with my journal, write my weight down, and make a picture. I wasn’t sure what these images would become, it was more like an exercise in becoming unclothed and more comfortable. On two occasions I included guests in the images, once when John camped on the bedroom floor and giggled for the whole 45 second exposure, and the other when Jeremy brought me breakfast in bed. He climbed in and rested his head on my shoulder to stay still. I squeezed the shutter release bulb between my elbow and my hipbone.

Initially I sent Jan 25 files for consideration, because that is what I had edited at the time. They printed them as a grid of 5x5 for exhibition. I like them this way, but I know there are really 27 Mornings. If I ever show them again, I will show all 27, although the tidy grid form will be lost. Life is not tidy.

Mornings grid.jpg

After I posted this image to Instagram, I decided to watch the movie “27 Dresses”. It was already 2 am but why not, it was Friday night. It was romantic and a comedy, but speaks to so many things we go through in life as women, wanting a dream and being afraid to ask for it. It reminded me of so many years ago when I made “What Could it Mean to Say Yes?” I had photographed countless weddings as a photographer (not a bridesmaid like the character, but not all so different.) I had in my heart a bit of a fairy tale I could not let go of, but knew I had to resolve it within myself if I was to stay in my long-term relationship with a man who told me on our first date he would never get married. Later, he would agree to commitment and partnership. I asked myself what my biggest commitment in life was, what could I say yes to? I letterpressed a 100 cards and set them by my bedside. Every morning I would answer the question “what could it mean to say yes?” I had just started graduate school and Grey went to Barcelona to see about starting a move to Europe. In theory I would be joining him, but I think I must have known it was never going to happen. Maybe then I wouldn’t have made the work. I knew my commitment was my art, so I finished this work. I married it. He came to not be able to keep the commitment and left me after 6 years. I was heartbroken for too long afterwards, but so it goes. After ten years, he got married to another woman. When he called to tell me, I called him a jerk, even though we had remained friends. He begged me to come to the wedding, but it was in Indonesia and I said I couldn’t make it because of school. They pushed the date ahead and I finally caved in and went with Dacre, my then partner of 8+ years, who also said he would never get married again when we first started seeing each other. When I got back from Indonesia, I realized, that even after 10 years, I was still a little angry and hurt by that experience. I told Grey I loved him, but I needed a break from being in his life. I told him I needed to clear my path. I was unhappy. I left my longtime partner. It has been three years. A month ago I had a dream about Grey and knew it was time to be friends again and so we spoke. Yesterday he called me to make a plan to meet in New York. Our good friend is getting married in two weeks and we will both be in town. I am flying from Madison and he is coming from his home in Barcelona.

Last night I cried when I watched the movie. It stabbed at something tender inside of me. It has a happy ending, but I could not help but feel like it was a happy ending I also wanted, but have been coming to accept, in the past few years, does not seem to be mine to have in this lifetime. It is not about the spectacle of the wedding. It is about something much deeper. It would take too many words to try and unwrap it here. In a few words, I suppose it is about being loved completely. And perhaps about truth.

It’s funny that a few weeks ago in San Francisco I tried on at least 10 dresses. I wanted to wear something fabulous to Brent and Sarah’s wedding. They have the most creative community and I know it will nearly be a costume ball. I could not find anything that was either unique enough or looked good on me without revealing all the parts of my body I am struggling to not be ashamed of. It was deflating. I gave up and fled on a bus towards the sea, opting instead for a very windy walk by the Golden Gate Bridge and to the Wave Organ, where I made a handful of cyanotypes. I thought, not for the first time, art has saved my life.

“What Could it Mean to Say Yes?” I have said yes to art and it has brought me a lifetime of joy and discovery. I feel very lucky. Perhaps this truly is my 28th dress, I just did not know it until today.

I folded boats for the mornings I was in San Francisco, moving the days along in my daily boat folding for the month of April, a month of movement and of clearing. I made prints of things found on the beach…