For the past year and a half, I have been photographing the Boston order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. They have graciously accepted me into their lives as a friend, chronicler and witness to their ministry. I support their efforts to fundraise for different charities while at the same time promoting social change.
If, as the American novelist Mark Twain wrote, clothes make the man, then costumes allow us to instantly convey something more about ourselves than is ordinarily apparent. Costumes give us permission to alter our behavior, to passionately explore other personalities and lifestyles, and to bring wholly new and original identities to life.
‘Person/persona’ is a series of diptych portraits exploring the creation of alter egos and the transformative power of costume-wearing. I visited each subject on two different days to create environmental portraits that explore the subject as their alter ego and again in street clothes. My intent was to show not only the costume but each person as a whole.
When I first started working on this project, I thought that I was fascinated simply with the performers performing. I hoped that I might discover the unifying element that these people have in their personal makeup (that I do not), which enables them to take bold personal risks in public. I may not answer that question, but I have realized that the camera is my alter ego and this photography project has unwittingly became a positive lesson for me in the infinite ways of finding community and building personal connections.
Some of these personae are the individuals’ original creations, some are familiar historical figures, some appear only on paper, and some only on stage. I found each person, one at a time, by reading local papers, attending historical reenactments, going to performances, and by talking to friends.
Each person was invited to write a paragraph or two about the chain of events that led to the creation of their particular persona and about the impact it has had in their lives. Some people have shared inspiring stories of overcoming very personal struggles, and most feel that costumes have been the bridge to a changed, more fulfilled and happier life.
Meg Birnbaum is a graphic designer, educator and photographer living in the Boston, MA area. Her work is held in the permanent collection of The Museum of Fine Art, Houston and the Museum of Photography in Lishui, China. Meg has had solo exhibitions of her work in Kobe Japan, Lishui China, San Francisco CA, Boston MA, Hudson, NY and Buenos Aires Argentina.
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