Walking around Paris, with no particular place to go, is one of my favorite pastimes (flaneur). It is a city that oozes beauty and surprises. Paying attention to the nuances that creep up on you like a ghost with no agenda, is crucial. There are revelations not just about the city—but about the observer. What we see and pay attention to says as much about the voyeur as the object.
One fine morning I took off from our hotel to wander in the fashion district northwest of the Tuileries, the area that included workshops, warehouses and companies that sold goods to the fashion industry. As I rounded one corner, I came upon a store that only sold linen covered mannequins. The light was soft. The space was closed and strangely silent. I stared for a long time at this mannequin—like listening to “What’s New?” from Sinatra’s 1958 album Only the Lonely.
I was caught in a strange moment when I was feeling like I was caught between two centuries. One century allowed me to enjoy the beautiful form of the mannequin. The shapes and curves of the form were sensuous. I found myself transported. Yet the other century tried its best to censor me for liking the forms. Luckily I did not give a damn about the other century. I opened to my inner feelings and just let things evolve.
I raised my camera and began to think about photographing the form. As soon as I lifted my camera, a little voice deep inside said “why?” I whispered to myself “am I a willow bending to the wind or a free soul longing?” At some point I decided to click away. I took several pictures—all the while wondering if I should be asking for permission. The results were exactly what I wanted. I captured the balance between form and object.
In the study of semiotics, forms can be signifiers of something else. In the case of a mannequin, it represents a support for a designer as he/she crafts and shapes a dress or blouse. It also, simultaneously, represents the female form. Without the design process, alone as in this case, it represents primarily potential. Like our own lives, our potential is manifested if we use our form to reach our intent. We live between the form and the result. Knowing one without the other is nothing.