Artist Tim Piotrowski is a period photographer. For years Piotrowski has been taking and printing photographs, inspired by images of women from both the 19th and early 20th centuries. He especially likes poses that might have been risque at the time, but seem wholesome and innocent compared to ads in today's fashion magazines. He uses special paper and printing materials to capture the soft edges and sepia tones of the old pictures.
"If I hit a picture, that even I, after looking at lots of period images, if I hit one that could fool me if I didn't know better, then I really feel like I've done something. It's like my time machine camera."
Often Piotrowski's biggest challenge is finding garments and props to make a complete and accurate picture. So you can imagine Piotrowski's reaction when the Hennepin History Museum in Minneapolis contacted him and asked him if he'd like access to it's historical garment collection.
"I hadn't dared even dream of such a thing as that," says Piotrowski. "I never thought that I'd have an opportunity like this. So when it came up I'd like to say that it's out of my wildest dreams, but it's really not; I hadn't even fantasized about it."
Jada Hansen is executive director of the Hennepin History Museum. She says the museum only gave Piotrowski access to pieces of clothing and other objects that weren't too fragile to be handled or worn. She sees it as a way of extending their value.
"No matter how hard we try to keep them around, no matter what kind of archive boxes we put them in, they simply won't be around forever," says Hansen. "So this does sort of allow them to go forward a little bit, and not just sit in a box and waste away without anybody ever enjoying it."
Hansen says the Hennepin History Museum knew of Piotrowski's work, and they also knew that by day he works as a security guard at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. So they felt comfortable trusting him with pieces from the collection.
At a recent photo shoot, Piotrowski guides a hip young 21st century model in how to apply make-up that will make her look like she's from another time. He poses women on chairs, or has them driving period cars. Often they're depicted helping each other dress, as would be common in the Victorian age.
"The biggest challenge with Victorian clothes has been to find sitters small enough for them," says Piotrowski. "They're so small! Some of the shoes I would have needed children to photograph in order to get them on them."
Piotrowski says working with the clothing from the Museum's extensive collection has been an honor, and allowed him to create scenes and images he could never have done if he had to rent all the items from a costumer.
Hennepin History Museum Curator Jack Kabrud is in large part responsible for the museum's extensive clothing collection. He says the results of the collaboration with photographer Tim Piotrowski has led to great things for both the artist and the museum. "There's a tremendous difference in seeing these beautiful pieces on living people. There's no question about it and it did change my perspective," says Kabrud. "I believe the families that contributed these pieces would be happy to see that they've been used in such a beautiful way to promote our history, their history and art in our community as well."
The exhibition of Tim Piotrowski's photographs runs at the Hennepin History Museum through next spring. The photos have been hung next to displays of the items used in the photographs. Once the exhibit closes, one set of prints will become a part of the museums permanent collection.