When photographer William Zuback acquired a Polaroid camera, he decided to try it out by shooting photos of a dress that his daughter wore to prom. He took the dress into his home studio and hung it in the corner where he already had a hook from a past photo shoot.
"The Polaroid print created this beautiful muted pink in the dress that really articulated the dress's softness and elegance," says Zuback.
Zuback scanned the photo and posted it to Facebook, where it received many "likes" and compliments. Shortly after, during his morning poetry-reading ritual, he came across the poem "A Dress of Fire" by Dahlia Ravikovitch.
"Reading through the poem, I began to visualize using the dress as a series. I was already doing many nude portraits of both women and men. I started to ask my subjects if we could finish the portrait session with the dress," he says.
Over the course of two years, Zuback photographed 32 people for a new series featuring 27 black and white photographs. In all of the photos the models wore or interacted with the prom dress.
The photos are now compiled in a book and an exhibition called "The Dress: A Photographic Exploration." The exhibition, which contains nudity, runs from September 14 through November 25 at UW Parkside's Foundation Gallery. The gallery is located in the new Rita Tallent Picken Regional Center for Arts and Humanities, 900 Wood Rd., in Kenosha.
An artist reception will be held on Thursday, Oct. 15 from 6 to 8 p.m.
People interested in ordering an exhibition book / catalog of "The Dress" can email Zuback directly.
"The dress is present in all of the photographs for this series. As you can imagine, it didn’t fit everyone. The challenge became how do you express the personal and societal feelings and experiences women have and that the formal dress symbolizes?" says Zuback. "My goal throughout this project was to make each portrait unique and individual, yet speak to a large audience."
Zuback has been a professional photographer for almost 30 years. He is currently an adjunct instructor at Carroll University.
Recently, OnMilwaukee asked Zuback in depth questions about his upcoming book and show.
OnMilwaukee: How does being a man affect or not affect the decision to shoot a traditionally female article of clothing?
William Zuback: It is interesting that you ask this question. I’ve wondered how others, mostly women, would think about this same thing. It bothered me enough to do some research.
One document I found was really interesting. It’s a piece by Griet Vandermasssen titled, "Woman as Erotic Object: A Darwinian Inquiry into the Male Gaze." It speaks more about the movie industry, but it applies to other visual art forms as well. She delves into the male gaze that has been studied and recorded. She also addresses the fact that women enjoy looking at other women's bodies. They prefer looking at women's bodies over men’s. Playgirl is rarely purchased by women. Its readership is mostly gay men.
Another interesting fact, from her findings, is that attractive women in varying states of dress, and in often highly erotic poses, are featured in magazines designed exclusively for women. So, there really is a thing called the male gaze. It exists in all human societies. To deny it exists would be naive.
What is equally interesting is how universal the gaze actually is among both males and females. Does the marketing of this sort of imagery help to create a solidarity with women or does it create a competitiveness resulting in women not supporting women?
The meaning of this series, for me, is the celebration of these women to bravely express themselves, for themselves. I've been affected by seeing my wife and daughter not always enjoy the process of clothes shopping. It can be a very unpleasant experience. When your physical size doesn't fit the designer's clothing, or the pressure from society to look a certain way, the results can be disappointing, at best. The dress is a symbol of that struggle. The results are not always pleasant and the expectations high.
These constructs create situations and anxiety that leave many women questioning their own beauty, confidence and sexual independence. The dress is a symbol, for so many, of the expectations that women deal with, based on their physical and social attributes.
OnMilwaukee: How long did you work on the project?
Zuback: I started this project in earnest two years ago. Each subject was photographed using a 4-by-5 view camera and black and white film. The portrait session took two or three hours. I would do numerous portraits along with the dress photo. The sessions were always bigger than just being about the dress.
The film then had to be processed and scanned. It was a long, laborious, process. Each process helped slow the whole experience down. This added time allowed for a lot of reflection, which helped formulate future sessions.
OnMilwaukee: Where did you shoot the photos?
Zuback: The portraits were all created in my home studio which is where I create most of my artwork.
OnMilwaukee: Where did you find your models?
Zuback: I find most of my models through postings on Facebook, word of mouth, modeling websites, and asking people that I've met in social situations.
OnMilwaukee: Are all of the models women?
Zuback: All of the subjects for this series were women, or people who identified themselves as a woman.
OnMilwaukee: What did you learn or discover from this project?
Zuback: This project is a continuation of the Identity Project I exhibited in 2013. That series focused on how we label people based on their physical appearance. "The Dress" series continues that theme, but focuses on the female gender and their personal and societal struggle to fit a certain physical and emotional standard.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.