|All photos in this post are Meg Cowell's, from her series To the Surface.|
"This," say my friend's preteen nieces, making emphatic circular gestures in front of their faces. “This,” they say, "doesn't just happen!"
Femininity has always been lovingly and laboriously constructed. As has gender in broader terms. And beauty, in the broadest terms possible.
Meg Cowell's series of photographs entitled To the Surface were made by submerging antique ball gowns in large vats of water, the vats themselves lined with expensive fabric -- black velvet. The dresses were photographed as they moved -- fluidly, playfully, inexorably -- toward the surface. But the dresses were also manipulated prior to their being submerged. Tucked and basted and shaped by Cowell to create the forms she wanted them to take on. As they had been by their original creators, and possibly even by their wearers.
Cowell’s photos focus our attention on the surfaces of things, on elaborate women's clothing carefully elaborated. Our second skins, nipped and tucked. Finding form, finding second life, in Cowell’s constructed second womb; in the amniotic waters, reborn with an unnatural beauty.