- Vol. 04
- Chapter 04
Inside OutAre you here for the guided Lacroix tour? Is this everyone? Fine. I’ll begin. Welcome to the National Museum of Photography.
Let’s begin with this photograph. This has to be one of the most significant photos you’ll find in this collection. Taken by Henri Lacroix when he was only 24 years old. The Japanese woman in the image, has been known for years as The Upside Down Girl.
In fact this girl with the penetrating gaze you see now, became his muse and within this collection you will see her face in dozens of photos by Lacroix, in various positions, some even bordering on the explicit. But this one, with her peculiar pose and commanding stare became iconic of Lacroix’s work.
We were only recently able to identify the model as Daiki Ito, a young book maker’s apprentice from Nagoya, thanks to newly discovered letters exchanged between Lacroix and the model.
These letters have completely exploded our thinking around Lacroix’s work.
Originally famous for his use of light and his quirky and compelling portraiture, his whole career it transpires, was incredibly subversive.
The photo you see before you is in fact one of the earliest examples of Japanese transgender cross-dressing. The discovery of this has upended the whole academic study of Lacroix, prompting new investigation into his work.
Now art critics believe that many of his subjects are not as they seem. Man or woman? As you look around the collection today I think you’ll agree that we can now never be certain. The androgyny is subtle in some photographs and striking in others.
His whole body of work has traditionally been associated with challenging the viewer to rethink norms of portraiture by presenting the body in challenging forms, but now we can understand he is in fact challenging the very nature of how we present identity in gendered terms. Note the symbolism of the silk screen in the background, behind which we all hide a part of ourselves.
I’m going to read you an extract from a letter to Lacroix from Daiki which we believe is about this photograph.
“…you see me as I see myself; not quite woman, yet no longer man. From all the photographs you have taken of me, this one has captured something that both excites and frightens me. The strength it took to hold that pose for so long, well, I am glad I had a man’s strength to do so, but with my body wrapped in silks and my hair scented and topped with a waterlily, I see a fragility about myself that I had not realised was there before. I thought a long time about this photograph to find the word it stirred in me and this morning I found it. I am uragaeshi – it means inside out. Your uragaeshi girl.”
Any questions at all?