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The White Shirt Project

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Sorting through my photographs recently, I noticed a theme emerging. It seemed that I was drawn to the photos of people in white shirts, Both men and women. Both could look handsome, sexy, masculine, feminine, innocent, determined — all in this one garment that could be formal or informal. All genders and ages have worn a white button-down shirt. It is a universal garment in many ways.

In a classical history museum, I also noticed a pattern — the statues and portraits that I spent more time being entranced by also had a theme. Was it because of the poses? Was it the formal decor or loose semi-nude dressings? It then occurred to me it was the same. In previous times, the toga was portrayed in the same way — a loose white cloth unisex garment for all ages and occasions.1

The white shirt, the modern toga!

Now that I understood a little more about my theme, I could envisage taking this further. I continued to ask friends to wear a white shirt and be photographed in the way they felt comfortable. I started using it as a standard set when working with a model as well to get into the flow. This was a peak in the project and then it started going a bit downhill.

It all seemed too easy to take photos of people in white shirts. Some of the photos started to lack the sizzle to hold my interest, so I started looking for ways to make them a bit more different. If they had a story or could relate to the project, I wanted to know. Kristina Lao was excited to be in the project and shared her thoughts. It gave the idea a boost for the next session and a lesson was learned about the amount of energy just a few words from a friend can make. Says Kristina:

”I grew up watching the business world buttoned into white shirts and choked up by ties. This was a time where women in higher-level roles were overwhelmingly few and far between. Working in the entertainment industry, being critiqued, coerced and passed over by suits and shirts and power struggles, I have found it increasingly important to retain my femininity in a male-dominant industry.

“I don’t need to compete with a man. I want to wear things my way. I own a white shirt-dress by my dear friend Lennard Taylor, who designs a ‘modern day uniform’. It buttons down, it cinches at the waist, and it flares out at the hips. A white shirt, to me, is not dissimilar to our working landscape. It may have been shaped for a man, but it looks just as great on a woman, and I’m going to celebrate that in my own, feminine way”Kristina Lao, Canada based actor/musician/song-writer

While I could see my way through the project, I continued to challenge myself on where this was going. Luckily, just doing the project was reason enough. As I began to feel more this way, however, the photographs started inspiring other ideas. It takes reaching a certain point in a progression to see what will come next. I now have another concept to work on, plus a second set of images using the white shirt more artistically. This was completely inspired by an expression a model made while making this series.

Click on the gallery below to see the images full size, you can then scroll through

The concept of a project has continued to bring focus which allows it to grow. It is a stepping stone to connect with articles, such as this, exhibitions and talks. Through sharing, it has become a way to articulate and understand what we may often take for granted. Most importantly, simply doing a project pushes us into discovering the next theme.


See more about the White Shirt Project here

Social media connections (Twitter: @danbachmann, Instagram: @danbachmann, Flickr: danbachmann)

If you want to know more about my friend Kristina, check here website here.

Almost all photos were taken with Leica M digital cameras

There are two from a Canon 5D and one from a Panasonic GX7 with a Leica DG lens.


  1. Actually, it was not that simple, there was some protocol and a class system governing the wearing of togas toga, but, for the casual observer, it is universal to all. Even with today’s white shirts, there’s a formal code on the collar and details which are appropriate for the right occasion

15 COMMENTS

  1. Great idea, Dan. The origins of the shirt are interesting. The alb, which is the long white garment worn by most Christian priests and ministers is said to come from the Roman toga. The name was derived from ‘albus’, the Latin word for white or so our parish priest told us just yesterday. I believe that the short white shirt is of more recent origin, as is the detachable collar shirt which is said to have been created by an American woman who was fed up washing her husband’s full shirts. As I looked at your article the 1960’s song ‘Where’s Me Shirt?’ by Ken Dodd and the Diddymen kept running through my head. Having checked that song out again on You Tube, my only reaction was ” how can I ever have liked that?”.

    Have you thought about doing the series in black and white only to reduce background distraction?

    William

  2. So many striking images, and people to shoot in a white shirt. I see this as having been great fun to do.

    Thank you for sharing with us all.

    Dave

  3. Dan, these really are very well crafted photos and what an interesting project.
    It is not something I would attempt personally as I have an aversion to white shirts having lived through an era when a dark suit, white shirt and tie were de rigeur in the workplaces I found myself.
    Ignore the suggestions to do it in black and white. Ironically the use of colour makes the photos IMHO.

  4. Hi Dan, this concept really showcases your creative and technical talent. You have inspired me to explore and learn more about using lighting. Your article also demonstrates the value of pursuing a concept. Personally, I find going out with a concept in mind has helped me see things I would not normally see. I went out with the concept of 3 things and could not believe how many interesting images I captured that I would not have noticed. I would love to see another post with some of these fantastic images in both colour and black and white. It would be interesting to see if some are even more evocative in black and white.

  5. A great project, Dan!

    Some may benefit from monochrome, but I find the colour tones are the important aspect in some too. The gent in the hat at the typewriter , for instance, is beautifully lit and the tones add to the feel of the picture immensely.

    Great work.

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