Timothy G. Piotrowski takes on women's objectification through fashion

<i>The Changing Erotic Zones, 1825</i> (Lisa Marie Hoffmann) (Detail) 

The Changing Erotic Zones, 1825 (Lisa Marie Hoffmann) (Detail) 

Opening this evening in the dining room of the Woman's Club of Minneapolis is a fascinating and rather unsettling look at women's fashion from 1800 to 1945. A collaboration between clothing historian Dr. Colleen Gau and photographer Timothy G. Piotrowski, a 2011 Minnesota State Arts Board recipient, the project illustrates the changes in what body parts women have accentuated during different time periods. The photographs, made to look like archival prints, have a detached, almost scientific quality to them while Gau's descriptions provide an analytical explanation of the way in which women have objectified themselves over the years through different styles of clothing. 

Each of the photographs are taken from what appears to be the same location, with an old-looking wooden floor and the model standing between a wall and a hallway, making the background half dark and half light. The models sometimes look directly into the camera and sometimes look off to the side, but for the most part they don't ham it up in any way, despite their costumes at times being ridiculous. (Public Functionary's director Tricia Khutoretsky does look darling but quite silly in her bonnet from 1820.)

Gau's descriptions of each dress clearly outline the changes in fashion through the lens of how women were putting themselves on display. She talks about the empire waists accentuating the bosom in 1800. Twenty years later, there's the corseted waist with multiple petticoats, which which contrasts with the earlier idea of the main erogenous zone being the waist and bosom. 

Another photo from 1880 shows a ruffley white dress, with Gau's description narrating how in the period where bustles and trains were in fashion the point was to call attention to women's legs.   

Gau's writing and Piotrowski's images are never over the top. There's never a feeling that they are hitting you over 
the head with the message. The photographs themselves are well done, and Gau's narration is straightforward and to the point. The overall message of this body of work, however, is impossible to ignore, and they've done a good job making a pretty profound statement in an engaging and fun manner. 

Piotrowski says that the costumes came from the Guthrie and Children's Theater costume shop, as well as a costumer in Rochester, Minnesota and a commercial costume shop called Create Costumes and Clothing. The owner of that last in that list, Marann Faget, was so committed to the project that she made costume pieces on the spot when she didn't have something already pre-made. 


"The Changing Erotic Zones: A 150 Year Photographic Illustration of the evolution of Women's Gowns"

Opening reception 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday, January 23

The Woman's Club

Though March 2

Nonmember viewing hours: 9-11 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 2-5 p.m. Sundays

Call ahead on Saturdays to confirm the dining room is available for viewing at 612-813-5300.