“Tableau Vivant, which was a type of amateur performance,” Coleman said, “is also a type of photography where adults would dress up in costume, make sets and hold a pose to form a scene from history, literature, allegory or other paintings.”
This type of performance was done by people from all works of life, from lower middle class all the way to upper class. Tableau Vivant, in this instance, was an album done by the royal family, at the house were Queen Victoria spent a lot of her time.
Most Victorian photography took place in highly controlled settings such as the photographer’s studio. In the reenactment of King Arthur, Julia Margaret Cameron uses a cloth as water and scratches a crescent moon on the negative to illustrate the images from the actual photograph.
“Julia uses her chicken coop as a photographic studio,” Coleman said. “She is upfront about her process because she knew that the people who would see it would understand that it was all done from her imagination. These photographs speak volumes about the Victorian period. Yet they also possess an immediate appeal to today’s audience.”
“Dress Up” can be seen at the Ransom Center Galleries Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended Thursday hours until 7 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays the galleries are open from noon to 5 p.m. Visitors can take their own portrait in the exhibition’s photographic studio, complete with a scenic backdrop.