Dandyism at The Photographers Gallery

‘Made You Look’, currently on at The Photographers Gallery has the strapline ‘dandyism and black masculinity’

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‘Dandy’ is defined by the Oxford dictionaries as ‘A man unduly concerned with looking stylish and fashionable’ and, in white European culture at least, has connotations of effeminacy if not homosexuality (cf. popular portrayals of Quentin Crisp) as also suggested by definition 2 from the online Urban Dictionary. It is, therefore, an interesting inversion to see dandyism presented as a provocative response to the stereotype portrayal of black men, of ‘maleness as performance’ and a deliberate transgression of a social order that would otherwise render them invisible (this sentence paraphrased from an exhibition wall note).

There seem to be two different forms of dandyism. A set of images by an unknown photographer in 1904 has its subjects dressed in very formal ‘Sunday best’ with bow ties or cravats, and later images also show the business suit and tie but with a sharp edge and attention to detail.

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The second form is characterised by (to my eye) outlandish patterns and colours, which are clearly intended to be seen and make a statement.

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The overall impression is of subjects displaying style and confidence, definitely masculine and by no means invisible. This fits well with the stated premise of the exhibition.

References

Oxford Dictionary (s.d.) ‘Dandy’ definition [online] at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/dandy

Urban Dictionary (s.d.) ‘Dandy’ definition [online] at: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=dandy

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