Transvestism is a fashionable topic these days and I approached this exhibition with some trepidation. I was unprepared for its emotional impact. The images range in date from the late nineteenth century to 1960 and are arranged in categories such as ‘mock weddings’ and ‘anti-feminist backlash’. Small black and white photos, taken by amateurs and always anonymous, they are both touching and inspiring.
A large proportion transmit a wonderful sense of confidence and security. The people in them seem to really enjoy the roles they have chosen to play. Even the melancholic are gentle and not fraught. The world today is supposedly much more sophisticated and tolerant of sexual ambiguity and diversity. But it is not, on the whole, a tender place. These little photos, often technically inept, are a revelation in this respect.
‘Undercover: a secret history of cross-dressers’ is at The Photographer’s Gallery until 3 June.