R.S.V.P. is the French abbreviation of réspondez s’il vous plaît and is invariably written on formal invitations to request that the recipient please respond.
Photography for me started out, perhaps as an aid to counteract my innate inhibitions, as a wonderful excuse to sneak into places where I didn’t belong or explore environments in which I was otherwise ill at ease. It was in this vein that I found myself in midtown Manhattan one evening, following a small group dressed in black-tie and shimmering ballgowns into the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria. Intrigued, I rushed home, dusted off my dinner jacket and returned, camera in hand to follow the guests into the Grand Ballroom as if I was invited.
Over a period of six years I epitomized the quintessential ‘party crasher,’ infiltrating a milieu of ‘old-money’ and privilege to observe the social rituals and traditions of a part of society historically populated by the aristocracy and the social elite. The European-inspired classical architecture of Grand Residences, Ballrooms, castles and private clubs around the world provide little geographical sense of place. Men, women, guests and the help alike are essentially reduced to wearing a uniform. An event in New York might look indistinguishable from another in Paris if it weren’t for the cultural vagaries of fashion, etiquette, gesture and body language. Through an exploration of relative cultural and nationalistic stereotypes, I sought out formal gatherings in Ballrooms and Palazzo’s in cities in over 16 countries around the world.
Rather than evoking a sense of timelessness, it’s the way in which this world appears so profoundly out of time that interests me. It’s as if one had passed through gilded doors to sometime in the early part of the 20th century. However, nostalgia gives way to surprise when armed with the knowledge that this is not from some bygone era – it is today.