My Pie Town

4 Aug

My Pie Town is a project by Debbie Grossman, who reworks and re-imagines a body of images originally photographed by Russell Lee for the United States Farm Security Administration in 1940. Using Photoshop to modify Lee’s pictures, Grossman created an imaginary, parallel world – a Pie Town populated exclusively by wom*n (editor: only white wom*n though it would seem). The images are revised in subtle ways, making the reading of them very complicated and compelling. The sixteen images  in the series are both color and black and white, and are all based on Lee’s unpublished series on Pietown, a homesteaded community in New Mexico.

The original  photographs are available either through the Library of Congress or through the Web. Grossman says of the project “I’ve begun to think of Photoshop as my medium – I’m fascinated by the fact this it shares qualities with both photography and  drawing… I enjoy imagining My Pie Town working as its own kind of (lighthearted)  propaganda”.

Grossman told The Morning News about the purpose of the project: “I thought it would be fun to remake the whole town in a way that reflected my own family, and I imagined a Pie Town filled with wom*n. The main reason for doing so was to give us the unusual experience of getting to see a contemporary idea of family (female married couples as parents, for example) as if it were historical. But I am also very interested in using Photoshop to create imaginary or impossible images — this is something I have done in other work as well.”

From “I first read about the Pie Town project on The Hairpin. The comments on their article started to convince me that maybe this was weird; if maybe editing the historical record of real people in the name of art and representation was an interesting investigation or an overstepping of boundaries. Of course, there’s the ever-present discussion of whether Photoshopping historical photographs is “art” at all (more on that later). Beyond that, retroactively changing someone’s gender identity without their permission seems a little, well, appropriation-y, for lack of a better word.

But the more I look at this stuff, the more I like it. It’s an interesting thesis, using modern technology to make a revisionist version of history that reflects a queer reality. Grossman has won me over, as it turns out… And I don’t have much of a problem with her taking old photos and making the people into someone new. We should really be over the sanctity of the photograph at this point, shouldn’t we? If the fashion industry is going to use Photoshop to destroy our notions of ‘normal’ wom*n, then I don’t have a problem with Grossman using it to highlight a new conception of what family means.”

There’s a great discussion that’s worth a read in the comments section after the article on Autostraddle (just maybe skip the one about Megan Fox!), debating, amongst other things, whether this complements or erases actual queer histories. I’d argue that it is complementary, as these are governmental documentation photos, not personal/family ones, and as such there may have never been wom*n-centric images taken in a comparable context. In this way it is subversive.

What do you think?


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