PEOPLE: Alix Dobkin

Liza Cowan "What The Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear" in Museum Of Modern Art blog

The Museum of Modern Art has a major exhibition called  "Is Fashion Modern?"  Part of the exhibtion covers t-shirts. 

Coordinating with the exhibition, the museum publishes a blog with some wonderful articles. I'm honored that they wanted to know the backstory of my photograph of Alix Dobkin wearing "the future is female" shirt from Labyris Books.  Please read the actual blog...it's got some great essays. I've reprinted mine here.

 

The future is female t-shirt labyris books worn by alix dobkin photo by liza cowan 1975

 

The story behind the The Future Is Female graphic T-shirt is well known, both within feminists circles and outside them. In 2015, the Lesbian history Instagram account @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y posted a photo of folk singer Alix Dobkin wearing a T-shirt with the logo in 1975, a piece of merchandise from Labyris Books, New York City’s first women’s bookstore. Soon after, the owners of Los Angeles–based boutique Otherwild approached Liza Cowan — the photographer and Dobkin’s then partner — requesting permission to reproduce the T-shirt. The garment and logo have since become an enduring symbol, worn by celebrities and civilians alike. It has also sparked numerous debates about the binary nature of gender and about the necessity for more inclusive discourses in mainstream feminism.

The story of the groundbreaking project that gave birth to the famous photograph is less known, however. As an artist working in the context of separatist Lesbian politics, Cowan was interested in the semiotic power of fashion to communicate identity. Years before costume and dress gained academic validation, Cowan developed a photo essay called “What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear,” an exploration of Lesbian dress and its role in the construction of identity. As part of our research for item #044 on the Items: Is Fashion Modern? checklist, the Graphic T-shirt, we spoke with Cowan about the project, the political implications of Lesbian dress, and the proliferation of identity-proclaiming merchandise.


You first published your photo series “What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear” in COWRIE Lesbian Feminist magazine. Can you talk a little more about what prompted you to work on this and the context in which it was developed?

COWRIE was a small magazine I started in 1972, originally as the newsletter of a women’s group on the Upper East Side of New York City. The group was called Community of Women, and our goal, unachieved, was to start a women’s center to serve the women in the neighborhood. By the third issue, in June 1973, the group had disbanded, but my editorial partner and I decided to continue publishing the newsletter as a magazine for Lesbians, renamed COWRIE Lesbian Feminist.

I had been observing how the women in the Lesbian community — as we called it then — were dressing. In 1972 I was inspired by a wonderful article in Rags Magazine, edited by Mary Peacock and Daphne Davis, called “What Gay Women Wear.”

I began to ask questions about clothing, both to myself and to my friends. I had just come out the year before, at age 21, and had started to dress like my Lesbian peers. I wanted to know why we dressed as we did, and what were the social and political implications. Mind you, this was decades before fashion, or even culture theory, was considered worthy of study as an academic discipline. In those days it was considered trivial, and I was often ridiculed for being interested in fashion. I knew it wasn’t trivial, and I knew that clothing carried a message. I wanted to decipher it.

In the seven-part series, I covered general observations, history of Lesbian clothing — including ancient Amazons — and contemporary lesbian clothing designers, hair, and shoes. In every one, I was trying to decipher the political and social consequences and meanings of our clothing choices.

My main theory, I suppose, was that contemporary Lesbians didn’t want to look like men, as we were constantly accused of trying to do, but we wanted to look like Lesbians — women-loving women — to invoke the styles of at least some of our foremothers. We wanted to honor our history and to wear clothes that would signal our identity to other Lesbians.

Why did our foremothers, some of them, dress in men’s clothing? Because of the power and freedom that men’s clothing both symbolized and allowed. Through the ages men have dressed for freedom, for comfort, and for power. Women have been forced to dress as second-class citizens and sexual objects. From hobble-skirts to corsets, from stiletto heels to beehives, our clothing has confined and constricted us. Lesbians didn’t want to look like men, they wanted to be free — free to move, free to play, free to run, free to work, free to catch the eye of other women, and free to mark themselves as off-limits to men.

Clothing — in addition to being necessary, sometimes fun, and always interesting — is about power and class. It always has been. Clothing is deeply symbolic. That is my interest. Writing about clothing was always an intellectual pursuit. I was not interested, or able, to tell women what to wear or where to shop, or what accessories to buy. I wanted to explore the meaning.

“The discussion I had with my friend [who had asked me why I wanted to look “dykey”] made me start thinking about the Lesbian Look. What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear. And why. I knew we look different from straight women. Is it a clothing style? A hair style? The movement Lesbians that I know, the community that shows up at conferences, women’s dances etc. all tend to dress similarly: comfortable clothes, T shirts, sturdy footwear, hair cut short, tied back, or loose au naturel. Women wear put-together suits, and blazers are always popular. But many of the women that go to bars (at least on weekends) wear outfits straight from Glamour magazine: platform shoes, tube tops, baubles, crimson mouths and plucked eyebrows. These clothes carry quite a different message.”

Cowrie Lesbian Feminist, Vol. 1 #3, June 1973

“The clothes I wear help me to know my own power. So does being a Lesbian. I love the way I look. I love the way other lesbians look. I’m learning to rid myself of all straight patriarchal values and build my own world. So it’s a combination of clothes and attitude that make a woman identifiable as a lesbian”

Cowrie Lesbian Feminist, Vol. 1 #3, June 1973

In 1975, along with my childhood friend Penny House, I started another magazine called DYKE: A Quarterly. The “What the Well Dressed Dyke” series continued there, but only for one issue. Our inaugural flyer for the magazine has become somewhat famous now, and exemplifies that Dyke look I had been describing in my articles. Decades later, in 2016, the flyer was featured in the book Gay Gotham, by Donald Albrecht and Stephan Vider, who curated the Gay Gotham exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York.

Penny House and I had read fashion magazines ever since we were young girls. We both came from upper-middle-class families in New York City, where fashion — and the fashion industry — was part of the air we breathed. We had one school chum who had moved to England and became one of the world’s first supermodels in the ’60s, and we also had other friends whose parents were photographers, fashion editors, or were featured in magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and the like. We thought it would be amusing to do a photoshoot of Dykes as a fashion image. Dykes — the famously “ugly” and badly dressed. We found a Lesbian photographer who had access to a fashion photography studio. Her dad owned it and she was one of his assistants.

Penny and I gathered a couple of women to join us in the shoot, including Alix Dobkin as well as Penny’s modelesque friend Val. The photographer’s girlfriend was also in the shoot. Alix and I were wearing jeans. I had just shaved my head and was wearing a bandana and a blue work shirt, the kind I’d loved since I was a “folkie” teen. Blue work shirts were emblematic of ’60s folkies, as were bandanas. Laborers’ outfits, appropriated by middle-class kids, had become trendy again within a subcategory of Dykes who had grown up as Beats and folkies. Penny, Alix, and I are wore vests. Alix and Penny’s were traditional, woolen “men’s” vests, which we used to buy at thrift stores. Mine was blue cotton with tiny white flowers on it, a kind of a vestigial hippy item. Val had on gorgeous tall leather boots with a folded-over top. Alix and I were wearing workmen’s boots and shoes, another leftie/folkie appropriation that was quite popular among Lesbians. Debbie and Penny seem to be wearing Frye boots, which were all the rage.

More than anything, though, it is our posture that says, “We’re Dykes!” Ladies just did not stand like that; hands on hips, standing squarely on two feet, balanced and ready, staring straight at the camera with no smiles. It would never be unusual to see a group of men with this body language, but a group of women? Highly unusual, and only could be read as Lesbian.

It was around this time, 1974 and 1975, that Alix Dobkin and I were contacted to do presentations at an event in California called The Lesbian History Exploration. I decided to make my series into a slide show. One of the photos I used was an image I took of Alix wearing The Future Is Female T-shirt from our friends at Labyris Books, the first women’s bookstore in New York City.

In the series, you explore what you call Lesbian “archetypes,” like the Amazons, but you also discuss certain stereotypes like “haute Dykes.” What was your research process like?

I prepared for the slideshow by taking photos of images in books of Lesbians from a particular era of Lesbian history, mostly American and British expats living in Paris — women like Gertrude Stein, Radclyffe Hall, Margaret Anderson, Djuna Barnes, Natalie Clifford Barney, Sylvia Beach, Alice B. Toklas, Romaine Brooks, Janet Flanner, Renée Vivien, and more. I relied heavily on photos taken by the legendary Lesbian photographer Berenice Abbott. These women had recently earned legendary stature among my Lesbian friends and colleagues.

Then I took photos of contemporary Lesbians, mainly in New York City. I created the categories of fashion expression, “DYKE Schlepp” and “DYKE Finery,” and set about going to every event I could find at the time. For a couple of months I went to many events for Lesbians including dances, workshops, conferences, networking gatherings, concerts, and even a fashion show by Lesbian clothing designer Morgan Zale, whom I had interviewed for COWRIE. I went looking for what women were wearing, and asking permission to photograph them. In that era, there were many such events every month in New York City. I did not go to bars, mostly because the lighting would be terrible.

DYKE Schlep was, as it sounds, our everyday clothing: jeans and T-shirts, pea coats, work boots, denim overalls, sneakers, and Frye boots. Pretty much an up-cycled workman/folkie look. DYKE Finery included the outfits we wore to mostly evening events: jeans, suspenders, blazers, Frye boots, wingtip shoes, and the occasional fedora or tie. The difference between Schlepp and Finery was not huge, as I recall.

There was a section on hair. We tended to wear our hair short, sometimes the very bold shaved their heads. I did it once, just to see what it was like, and so I could document it for the slide show. I also included categories of lesbian accessories, like feminist/lesbian political buttons, which everyone wore, and the ever-present bandana/kerchief, which was tied in many different ways. As I travelled around the country, I continued to add slides and would include them in subsequent presentations around the US.

The last section of the show was about the style evolution of a few Lesbian friends, showing how their looks had changed as they went from girlhood to adulthood. I made slides from the photos in their photo albums and then photographed the women as they were at the time I was putting together the presentation. Most had gone through a period of being heterosexual, which made the whole thing both interesting and hilarious to my audiences. I think only one woman had been a Dyke her whole life, but even she had a marriage of “convenience,” which she had documented and was in the show.

In addition to my live photoshoots, I also did a number of interviews for the COWRIE series. I spent a wonderful afternoon at The Metropolitan Museum of Art with Stella Blum, who was at that time the curator of their fashion/clothing department. I also tried to interview Dietrich Felix von Bothmer, curator of Greek antiquities at the Met when I was researching Amazon clothing. He scoffed at me and told me he would not do my “homework.”

“h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y” and Otherwild took inspiration from your photograph of Alix Dobkin for their first collaborative clothing collection, which gave rise to many Lesbian-history-inspired garments. What are your thoughts on the growing availability of queer identity-proclaiming garments and their popularity? What is the biggest change that you see when you compare this context to the radical Lesbian one in which you came of age?

I don’t know why garments with slogans are popular in general. I never wear shirts with slogans, no matter how much I agree with them. I never have. I don’t enjoy being a walking billboard, and I find it odd that so many women do. The only one in my household who wears slogan shirts is the Rootstein mannequin who lives in my dining room. She likes when people stare at her — it’s her job. If I were going to wear one, I’d wear the T-shirt from Old Lesbians Organizing for Change that says, in simple block letters, “This is what an old Lesbian looks like.” It’s an inspiring message, it’s a fundraiser for a great organization, and it would be really hard to appropriate it.

However, the fact remains that these shirts are now big business. There were plenty of feminist and Lesbian T-shirts, of course, during the 1970s. Enough that DYKE: A Quarterly was planning for a theme-based issue on Lesbian Media, including T-shirts and buttons. But most of the T-shirts of that era were decorated with slogans and symbols from women’s groups, events, or places. Bars, conferences, sports teams, political groups and actions, etc. had their shirts. They were popular, and they were a great way to fundraise. T-shirts commemorated a place, an event, a group, but usually not a free-floating idea. Even the original The Future Is Female T-shirt had the name of Labyris Books on the back.

The point of buying these shirts was to support the places, the women, or events that created them. Sometimes the shirt was a medium for communicating a political action or “zap,” like the day in 1970 when a group of radical Lesbians occupied the stage at a meeting of the Second Congress to Unite Women wearing “Lavender Menace” T-shirts, protesting the exclusion of Lesbians and Lesbian issues from the feminist movement.That was a defining moment in lesbian history, made more powerful by the shirts themselves. This was not T-shirt as commodity. The action and the shirt are entangled.

T-shirts also acted as a way to signal other women. Wearing a T-shirt that said “Amazon Expedition,” for example, was a cue to let other women know that you’d been at that wonderful event, and the word “Amazon” let other women know that you were probably a Lesbian without actually broadcasting a message to everyone.

It was not hard to find T-shirts that included words like “Lesbian” or “Amazon” or “Sister” commemorating a march or an event, if you knew where to look, but you’d rarely find a T-shirt without the name of the group that made it, and date of the event. There were, of course, times when you’d see shirts that were just a slogan without a corresponding place or event. One well known photo shows a pair of women wearing shirts, one of which said “femme” and the other “butch,” but I think those shirts were homemade.

The big change came when T-shirts went from being fundraisers, cues, and memorabilia for events or groups to being commodities in themselves. In the past, the only place to buy Lesbian T-shirts, buttons, etc. was at an event, or at a woman’s bookstore. So you were supporting either an event, or a feminist venue, or both. Today, there are only a couple of women’s bookstores in existence. In the past, there were dozens and dozens.

Today, e-commerce and the huge popularity of slogan T-shirts have changed the whole ballgame. Anyone can buy a shirt without ever setting foot into a women’s bookstore or a feminist or Lesbian event. The shirts are are now just free-floating commodities. When you see someone wearing a T-shirt that says “Feminist” or “Love wins,” it does not reference a particular event, group, or even timeframe. It’s just something you bought.

Back cover dyke a quarterly 1977 photo by Irene Young
DYKE, A Quarterly, back cover, Lesbian t-shrits. Photo by Irene Young
 
 
 
Dyke is out flyer  dyke a quarterly 1974 design by Liza Cowan

 


Otherwild, a shop in Los Angeles

Otherwild, Rachel Berks, The Future Is Female, Los Angeles
Otherwild, a shop in Los Angeles

 

Regular readers of this blog will know of my interest in Retail Theater. 

Now from Design*Sponge (one of my favorite blogs) comes this story about the Los Angeles store, Otherwild, and its owner, Rachel Berks. Not only does this give us a glimpse of the process of owning and managing a small shop, a topic which resonates greatly for me, as a former shop owner and manager, but also the piece discusses Otherwild's best selling item, THE FUTURE IS FEMALE t-shirt.


 

 You may know by now that I had a part in the creation of this shirt, and the button. And you probably know how my brains are near bursting with the wild popularity of this shirt, 40 years after Alix Dobkin and I made the photo that it was based on.

 

The future is female alix dobkin photo ©Liza Cowan 1975 copy
The Future Is Female, the original shirt, worn by Alix Dobkin. Photo ©Liza Cowan 1975

 

 


Judging a book by its cover: covers + blogs about book cover design

Yes! I do judge a book by its cover. So do you, probably. Most of my readers are pretty design savvy so you know you are critical, but even those of you who are not are still having a subjective response to the books you chose. Sure, we chose our books by author, by title, by subject or by a review we liked. These days, who is going to buy a book just for its brilliant cover?  Yes, I see some hands rising. But what if we are wandering around the bookstore? Or reading a review with a picture of the cover? What catches our eye? More importantly, what thrills us? What demands our attention? The cover.


  Ian Shimkoviak, The boodesigners, How wel live and why we die, book cover design, the human body details, cell illustration

Ian Shimkoviak: book  design. I love this!  The images are from The Human Body, by Cyril Bibby and Ian T Morrison. Puffin Picture book No. 102. Shimkoviak found the image here at SeeSaw. No worries, he's been generous on twitter and Facebook,  and I don't own the image anyway.

There are books I will pass by in the store simply because the covers are bad. They offend my eye. They do not thrill. Sure, for my favorite authors I'm willing to forgive almost anything just for the pleasure of the read, but a bad cover diminishes the thrill, and will likely kill random bookstore sales.

Authors have little or no control over the visual packaging of their books. It's not their fault if the design department of their publishing house has bad taste. But I do blame the houses for hiring  designers who crank out...visual garbage. Such a shame.

That said, there are so many brilliant book designers and so many ways to enjoy their work,  on the books themselves and through their websites and design blogs.  Book design is a good enough paying gig not only for the designers but for the artists and photographers whose work they often feature. Here are some  book covers featuring work by artists who have shown at Pine Street Art Works, or who are related in some way.

First, a photo by Cara Barer, whose work is always available at Pine Street Art Works. What can I say? Cara's work is stunning. Nicely featured here, with no distractions. Image relates  to the book topic  in an almost metaphysical way. Although it is a book of theory, the cover itself is lyrical.

 Cara Barer, ted striphas,
The Late Age Of Print. Photo by Cara Barer. Design by David Drummond. Columbia University Press.


Next, Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel. Alison's original ink drawings from her comic series, Dykes To Watch Out For, are available here at PSAW.


 FunHome, Alison Bechdel
Fun Home, Alison Bechdel. Illustration by Bechdel.


Next, a photo by me, Liza Cowan, for Laurie Essig's Queer In Russia: A Story of Sex, Self,and The Other.  I took this picture in Moscow in 1994.  The publisher made it blue and photoshopped it so that the figure of the author stands out. I'm satisfied with the cover, which I didn't design, although I would have right - justified  the subtitle and changed the line spacing to make it closer together. Would have made the Q smaller too, since it's huger than the head, but still, I'm proud of it. Not so pleased that they never paid me, but I was new to the field, and didn't understand that cover photos actually pay quite well. They said it would be good publicity for me. Hah. Fool me once.


  

 Queer In Russia, Laurie Essig, Liza Cowan photo
  Queer In Russia: A Story of sex, self, and the other. Laurie Essig author. Photo by Liza Cowan. Duke University Press.


Next: American Photobooth by Nakki Goranin. Nakki exhibited images from this book at PSAW in March 2008. We look forward to exhibiting images from her next book on Tintypes. In this cover images sell the book. Anything but a simple title would diminish their power. 

 American Photobooth, Nakki Goranin
American Photobooth, Nakki Goranin. WW Norton, publisher.


Next, Connie Imboden, Reflections, 25 Years Of Photographs. Another photography book, the image is left to speak for itself, which it does eloquently. Connie showed her work at Pine Street Art Works in September 2007.


  

 Connie Imboden
Connie Imboden, Reflections, 25 Years Of Photography. Insight Editions, 2009


Next, Alix Dobkin's My Red Blood. Alix will be doing a book signing here at Pine Street Art Works in May. This cover uses an old snapshot of Alix in her girl with a guitar folkie phase. I saw the original mock up for this cover with a very different typeface, and it was weak. With this the title in bold caps, right justified, the cover becomes a symbol of strength, played against the sweetness of the muted rainbow tinted image. I would have made the subtitle shorter (not the designer's job) used upper and lower case of the same font family as the title. I don't really like the juxaposition of the two typefaces, but on the whole, the cover works well for me. In case you are interested, Alix writes about me in the last chapter. 


 Alix Dobkin, my red blood
My Red Blood, Alix Dobkin. Alyson Books, 2009.

 

If you are interested in book cover design here are some great resources. Enjoy!

blogs and websites about book design.

Caustic Cover Critic

Book By It's Cover

premiere de couverture

book covers anonymous

The Book Design Review

Faceout books

Book Cover Archive

Jacket Mechanical

Readerville Journal

covering photography

some designers:

My Book Covers: Megan Wilson

Good is dead: Chip Kidd

Helen Yentus

Elsa Chiao

Beyond The Covers: Ian Shimkoviak

Chin-Yee Lai

Everyday design goodness:

Design Observer


 


Letters from: Lily Tomlin

Writing letters to people I admired became a kind of habit for me in my young, pre computer, pre-internet years. While I sometimes wrote to elected officials about pressing issues, mostly I was consumed with pop culture and the fuzzy boundaries of pop culture and fine art. Hmmm...guess I haven't changed much.

The great thing about writing letters to people, unlike sending emails, is that sometimes they write back. And you have a genuine piece of history in your hands. There's just nothing that exciting about saving a print out of an email, but a letter on someone's stationery: a thrill and an artifact.

In this  example, I didn't actually write to Lily Tomlin - she wrote me me in a response to a review I review I wrote in the New York City newspaper, The Village Voice.

Lily had been on the TV Show Laugh  In since 1969. I was a big fan of Lily and Laugh In. In 1973 I was writing  occasional free lance reviews for The Village Voice, and seized the opportunity to see her one woman show in NY at The Bitter End. I was smitten.

 Lily Tomlin, Liza Cowan, review, village voice 1973 

Review of Lily Tomlin at The Bitter End, February 1, 1973

 

"Last night I saw Lily Tomlin at The Bitter End. She was so wonderful that I haven't stopped thinking about her. Every so often she stands back, looks calmly at the audience, then move on. She's in perfect control. At one point she fell down on the floor and lay there for a few minutes saying nothing, just looking at us, then said, "I see you're all still in your seats.""Part of her beauty is that she's not afraid to make herself look ugly, to identify herself with the most grotesque characters: she's an an aging beauty expert, mouth falling down into her chin, who reveals her secret beauty regime; she's Ernestine, the pushy switchboard operator from Ma Bell who contorts her face and body...She's a a gum snapping 1950's teenager at a dance talking to her girlfriend waiting to ba asked to dance; she's an alcoholic ex-rubber addict whose habit grew from pencil erasers to doorstops and rubber mats; she's a woman waiting on line at a redemption center watching another woman try to return a used cookie jar. Her characters remind me of diane Arbus Photographs."

 Lily Tomlin, signed photo, Liza Cowan, Alix dobkin
Lily Tomlin. The publicity picture she gave me at the show. "Nobody likes a pushy woman. Keep pushing! To Liza and Alix. Love from Lily." Alix is the singer Alix Dobkin, my partner at the time. Alix has recently published her memoir My Red Blood, which includes fascinating stories about singing in the folk clubs, including The Bitter End, in Greenwich Village in the sixties.

Seeing Lily in person, in the intimate club atmosphere of The Bitter Endwas exciting enough. The fact that she took the time to write to me was even better. And look how the piece of mail had to travel to find me:

 lily tomlin handwritten envelope 

click on a smaller image and it will enlarge

  • Blog letter-lily 1
  • Blog letter-lily 2
  • Blog letter-lily 3
  • Lily letter 4312
Lily Tomlin, Liza Cowan, handwritten letter

"Dear Liza, did I ever write and tell you how amazed I was that you would mention Diane Arbus and me in the same paragraph? It was a comparison I was very happy about. And flattered. And I had been telling someone just that night before your piece came out how I felt I was doing something similar in my approach to whatever it was I was doing. And since you were the first and only person besides me to make that observation and I think is is a good and interesting one, I want to mention the use of it in a piece done on me in "The New York Times" and tell you that we are on a couple of the same wave lengths. Love, Lily"

 

So my advice is not that you should write reviews, although you might, but to take the time to write a real letter, on real paper to the people you admire. One, they will appreciate it. Two, you never know what you will get back.

Next time I will show you  letters I got back from Bea Arthur and from Lorenzo Music from the show, Rhoda, after I wrote to them.  And you know I'm kicking myself for never writing to Soupy Sales.

PS: If you like reading historical letters, here's the website for you:  Letters Of Note, Correspondence Deserving Of A Wider Audience.  Endlessly fascinating.
 
 
I welcome your comments.


THE END OF POLAROID AS WE KNOW IT

The Boston Globe announced that Polaroid Corp. is shutting down its film manufacturing plants in Massachussets and abandoning the technology that made the company famous. They are interested in licensing their film technology to an outside firm, but if that doesn't happen, the company intends to make only enough film to last into next year. According to the Polaroid website, they have exciting new inkless, ribbonless digital printing technologies to introduce, but as exciting as this might be, it still might mean the end of another great film format. Such is the way of the world.

In light of this, I've dredged up some ancient polaroid images of my own. I took these in 1983 at The Michigan Women's Music Festival. I had a booth (with no tent, so it was actually just a bit of ground)  in the craft area selling the greeting cards and buttons that I manufactured in my business, White Mare, Inc. In addition, I made photo buttons.

Images1 In order to make buttons from Polaroids, you have to use paper-only technology. Not plastic laminated photos. I bought a used Polaroid - maybe a Land 250 or 215. It looked like this one. It was totally manually operated, meaning I had to set the aperture and  shutter speeds, using a hand held light meter. This is something every photographer should know how to do, but in the field like that it was a bit stressful, at least at first. Once the image was processed, which took place outside the camera, the paper parts had to be peeled  apart and then you had to apply a gelatinous fixative. The timing of the peeling operation had to be exact. I spent the day or two before the festival officially opened setting up my outdoor studio. I had to build a backdrop and test the light conditions.

This was in a clearing in the woods. It was hot and dusty by day. Cold and damp by night. I didn't have a tent or awning, and I was using professional grade button makers, which rusted each night. I kept a spiral bound notebook for field notes of camera settings, weather conditions and backgrounds. These images are from that notebook. It blows my mind that they are now almost 25 years old.

Polaroid_adrian_at_table_blog
Smack dab in the clearing. I didn't have a tent or awning. My graphics were awesome though. This is my 13 year old step daughter, Adrian Hood, the best assistant I've ever had. On the table is an assortment of my wares, including my American Sign Language "I Love You" card and buttons.

Polaroid_jhane_set_up_blog
This is what a notebook page looked like. This was the beginning of the tests. Still working on the backdrop. This is Jhane, my other assistant. She was great, too.

Polaroid_linda_balloon_blog
The backdrop was quite small. This is a later photo, in which I've changed the backdrop to white. 

Polaroid_alix_bonni_blog
My backdrop was a yellow and white checked plastic table cloth. This is Alix Dobkin and Bonni Cohen.

Polaroid_ruthie_blog
Ruthie. with balloon.

Polaroid_clsuf_yolanda_blog
Sometimes i'd take the camera out to document what was going on at the craft bazaar. Here is artist and graphic designer Clsuf, with a young friend, Yolanda. No, that's not my mannequin.

Polaroid_go_with_the_flo_blog
At the Red River Menstrual Pad Booth. One of my favorite pix that I've ever shot.

Polaroid_mask_making_blog
Mask Making.


Polaroid_bonni_blog
Bonni Cohen, craft fair director. Wearing a Clsuf Women in Art T-Shirt. I've turned the tablecloth around to have the white backing show. Better for photos.

Polaroid_adrian_blog
Adrian Hood wearing one of my American Sign Language "I love you" buttons.

Polaroid_sashe_blog
Sashe

Polaroid_timothy_morgan_blog
Timothy Morgan. We must have seated her on a tarp for this one.


This was one of the most satisfying photography experiences of my career. The quality of the film was wonderful, the people I took pictures of were excited, happy, curious and radiant.  I learned on the job to  bring some people out of their shells, to overcome their shyness and express themselves in front of the camera, while I was taking care of the technical details of shooting and then cutting the paper and pressing the buttons.  All this fun, and for only a couple of bucks a pin.

Not bad for a rustic photo op.