Maria in “The Dress,” 2012
It’s funny how the gestalt of a place or event can be so easily expressed through a single item.
In the case of Harvey Stein’s “Photographing People” workshop last week at the International Center of Photography, it was a dress, a loose navy blue jersey ankle-length number with white diagonal stripes.
A beautiful young girl named Isabel bought the dress on Tuesday and wore it to class on Wednesday. All the girls in the class immediately loved Isabel’s dress and wanted to know where they could get one like it.
I don’t know if any of them ever did that. But several of them slipped behind the seamless background over the next two days to borrow Isabel’s dress so that they could be photographed in it. It looked good on all of them, and all who wore it loved the way they felt wearing it.
The thing about photographing this dress is that it can be striking if the model is standing up and just as striking if she’s sitting down or sitting on the floor, as Isabel’s friend Maria is doing in the picture above.
You can see how the dress is cut in the front. What you can’t see is how it reaches down to almost…well, let’s just say it has almost no back. It’s hard to imagine that any woman could look bad in this dress. And even if your back were plumb ugly the cut of this dress would probably distract anyone from noticing it.
By the way, if you’re curious about Maria’s hair and wonder where the wind source is that’s holding it up, stop looking. There’s no wind source, nor is there a bunch of hair goo holding it up. Maria’s hair is instead wrapped around a tall plastic water bottle and cinched at the top of the bottle with a rubber band. Maria’s mother is a photographer in Mexico City, so I’m guessing she learned this trick at home.
Harvey Photographing Maria with His iPhone, 2012
I say this dress expressed the gestalt of our class because its loose, comfortable style reflected the loose, comfortable style of our class. Over five full days we covered a lot of ground. Most of us were working outside our normal comfort zones. Yet we were confident and forthright when it came to doing so. Sent out onto the streets to photograph strangers, we created our own working rhythms and, more often than not, got the pictures we wanted. In the studios students picked everything from the spare notes of Miles Davis and Buddy Guy to gentle Brazilian sambas to the beat of Michael Jackson to set their pace.
It’s true. Really. All the girls looked good in this dress.