Under Cover. A Secret History of Cross-Dressing
shows French director and filmmaker Sébastien Lifshitz
’s collection and is produced by Les Rencontres d’Arles. The precious collection spans 120 years of queer history through the amateur photographs Lifshitz gathered over several decades. The pictures tell an intimate journey into self-exploration, where the subjects attempt to free themselves of gender expectations. Luckily, they discovered their identities in front of the camera, and we can now bear witness to their personal, queer ways of presenting themselves through style and clothing. Since most subjects are unidentified, we don’t necessarily know the histories or motives for such portraits and can’t do anything more than speculate. In a way, anonymity gives a universal quality to the pictures: it could be any of us or any of our queer predecessors. Through this collection, divided into various sections, Lifshitz also fills “a blank in cultural memory” by tracing a global history of the cross-dressing phenomenon in everyday settings, in the theatre and cabarets, the forerunners of today’s drag culture.
The collector asserts, “I am trying to construct a legitimate memory, to make visible what was kept secret or hidden […] These photographs offer documentary evidence of personal resistance and resolution. They remind us that identity is not unitary, or fixed, but something that evolves and is multifarious”.