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Auto-Ethnographic Portrait: Fashioning the Self

Lab Assignment

I shall never forget witnessing a friend’s husband returning home from a business trip. She and I were having coffee in the enormous sunny living-room overlooking the Seine. We heard his key turn in the big iron door and then a firm, masculine footstep in the corridor. Finally, the man himself appeared. “My feet are killing me!” he exclaimed with a veritable sense of pain. The shoes – striking, shiny, black, exquisite – were by Gucci.


We might think that these are modern follies, which only today beset men as much as women. Yet, surprisingly, neither my friend – whose modest breast implants were selected with equal care – nor her husband, would have seemed very much out of place in Europe around 1450. Early modern men wore long, pointed Gothic shoes which not only looked uncomfortable but also made walking downstairs a special skill: indeed, in the Franconian village of Niklashausen at this time, a wandering preacher drew large crowds by urging men to slash the tips of their shoes. And, like my Parisian friends, men and women in this period aspired to an elongated, delicate and slim silhouette. In Italy, books on cosmetic surgery were being written (from the Greek cosmein, meaning to order). Very small people were perceived to be deformed and were given the role of grotesque fools. Proportion was the order of the day.


So, at what point did it begin to matter what you looked like? Or, to put it another way, how and why have fashion and image become embedded in how people feel about themselves and others? It is an intriguing historical problem.


Ulinka Rublack, CAM 62 (2011), pp. 25-26.

Background images from the work of Christian Tagliavini (2018).


For this lab, our focus will remain on personhood and identity, but we will consider the issue of representation, particularly from the perspective of ‘self-fashioning’ and ’writing the self’.


For the lab assignment, you will work create an item of clothing and a photographic portrait of yourself – a visual auto- ethnographic portrait.


The lab will form the basis of your second mini- ethnography on the subject: ‘Fashioning the Self: What do your clothes say about you?’


Auto-ethnography’ … auto-ethnography [also spelled ‘autoethnography’] is a genre that places the self of the researcher and/or narrator within a social context. It refers to works that provoke questions about the nature of ethnographic knowledge by troubling the persistent dichotomies of insider versus outsider, distance and familiarity, objective observer versus participant, and individual versus culture. Moreover, it reflects a view of ethnography as both a reflexive and a collaborative enterprise, in which the life experiences of the anthropologist and our relationships with our interlocutors should be interrogated and explored. (Deborah Reed-Danahay) LINK:

History of Fashion and Self-Fashioning obo-9780199766567-0162.xml?rskey=KNA1bv&result=1&q=autoethnography


“autoethnography” or “autoethnographic expression”… refer to instances in which colonized subjects undertake to represent themselves in ways that engage with the colonizer’s own terms. If ethnographic texts are a means by which Europeans represent to themselves their (usually subjugated) others, autoethnographic texts are those the others construct in response to or in dialogue with those metropolitan representations.


Autoethnographic texts are not, then, what are usually thought of as “authentic” or autochthonous forms of self-representation … Rather autoethnography involves partial collaboration with and appropriation of the idioms of the conqueror … Autoethnographic texts are typically heterogeneous on the reception end as well, usually addressed both to metropolitan readers and to literate sectors of the speaker’s own social group, and bound to be received very differently by each. (Pratt, Mary L. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturization, Routledge, 1992. ProQuest Ebook Central) LINK:

1. For this lab assignment, you will begin by reading/viewing/listening to the lab resources on eclass, and compile all the materials you will need for the lab: fieldnote pad to keep write notes; paper to draw sketches; materials to make a piece of clothing or accessories such as cardboard, scissors, pins, clips, tape, stickies, etc.; cellphone/camera/computer camera.


Note: you can use anything in your home to create your clothing/accessory and be able to take a photograph of it.


2. Your second task is to create a list of any aspects of clothing style and clothing that appeal to you or that you like to own/wear. Here you can list out materials, colours, textures, shapes, etc. While you are exploring you should jot down words and phrases that come to mind.


Important Note: You do not have to mention or discuss or talk about any aspects of your body that make you feel uncomfortable or uneasy.


3. After completing the list, you should select one item of clothing that you feel best represents you and begin to sketch it out.


4. Begin to make your clothing item/accessory. You can use any materials you find at home to do this. Keep your fieldnote pad close by. Stop periodically to reflect on your process and write these reflections in your notepad.


5. After you have completed making the clothing item/accessory, take some images of yourself wearing the item or the item on its own you have constructed. You will require a cell phone to do this.


6. Select one of the images you have taken and write a photo title and an extended/narrative/additive caption about you and the item of clothing/accessory. Your caption should be a maximum of 500 words and should include at least two reflection statements from your process work (i.e., things you noted down as you were making the item). To help you write the caption, you can ask yourself if the item of clothing could speak, what questions would ask of it? What does the item of clothing remind you of? What memories does it evoke, if any? How does relate to your style? How does relate to your sense of self?

i. You should write down a title (name you want give the item), date (you completed it/took the photo), name of the maker (you), materials you used.


ii. Then begin describing the item by using specific visual cues from the image you have taken that will encourage the viewer to look more closely at the object.


iii. Your text should focus on one to three essential points you want your viewer to know and provide context to help them see it the way you want it to be seen.


iv. Use quotations from your reflections and ensure your reflective voice comes through in your caption.


v. If you use terms and concepts, then you should try and ensure their meaning is evident in the way you write the caption.


vi. Minimize information in parentheses.


7. Submit your lab report: Picture with extended caption and fieldnotes via Turnitin on Sunday, December 5, 2021 @ 12pm.

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