Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Old photos

"All right, so it's grandmother; but in reality it's any young girl in 1864. The girl smiles continuously, always the same smile. The smile is arrested yet no longer refers to the life from which it has been taken. Likeness has ceased to be of any help. The smiles of plastic mannequins in beauty parlors are just as rigid and perpetual. This mannequin does not belong to our time; it could be standing with others of its kind in a museum in a glass case labeled 'Traditional Costumes, 1864.' There the mannequins are displayed solely for the historical costumes, and the grandmother in the photograph, too, is an archaeological mannequin which serves to illustrate the costumes of the period. So that's how women dressed then: chignon, cinched waists, crinolines, and Zouave jackets. The grandmother dissolves into fashionably old-fashioned details before the very eyes of the grandchildren. They are amused by the traditional costume, which, following the disappearance of its bearer, remains alone in the battlefield - an external decoration that has become autonomous. They are irreverent, and today young girls dress differently. They laugh, and at the same time they shudder. For through the ornamentation of the costume from which the grandmother has disappeared, they think they glimpse a moment of the past, a time that passes without return."

Kracauer, Siegfried (1995), The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays, translated, edited and with an introduction by Thomas Y. Levin, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England, p.48/49


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