"Nonstop imagery is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite....
In an era of information overload, the photograph..is like a quotation, or a maxim or proverb."
(Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others 2003)

14 April, 2008

Teenagers in Victorian Fancy Dress? Or Fortunate Escapees from Abuse in Eldorado?

Religious news of most types usually comes relatively down-page on this side of the Pond. Consequently, it was only last weekend that peopled images of the extraordinary developments at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas found their way to our front pages, notably in the foreign coverage of the broadsheet Sundays. More than 500 women and children have now been removed from the ranch, set up by polygamist Mormon sect leader, 52-year-old Warren Jeffs.
What really struck me about these particular images was the nature of the demure clothes, or rather costumes, worn by the women and, in particular, their extremely elaborate and doubtless, time-consuming hair styles. There seems to be every possible variant of the Victorian chignon, French pleat, braid and bun on show, suggesting that personal appearance and grooming remained extremely important for these females - presumably in the stiff competition to attract the attention of the relatively few men in their midst?
I found the initial image above extremely disturbing and distressing. These young, practically pre-pubescent, women look as if they have wandered out of a Victorian novel, or an early Laura Ashley catalogue. There is more than a hint of Grant Wood's seminal 1930 painting 'American Gothic' while the girls themselves seem to have slipped somehow out of a Thomas Eakins portrait. Presumably, these demurely clad and elaborately coiffed Henry James' heroines are now among the 400 children who have been taken into state custody for their own safety?