In this research, I commissioned fashion atelier, Theresa Parker, to pattern cut two key archival outfits (using the archival images) belonging to my great aunt Nita Harvey – the 1930s Wool Suit and the Hollywood Casting Bikini. I wore Nita’s remade outfits to embody her experience and create a series of performance photographs and 16mm films, performing as Nita in the archival sites she visited in 1933. Through this process I am facilitating new exchanges with the historical past and establishing Nita’s hidden history.
This practice-based PhD draws directly from the heterogeneous archive of my British great-aunt, Nita Harvey, who was selected by Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille in a worldwide Paramount beauty contest, and signed to Paramount Studios in 1933.
Drawing directly from the archive, using feminist film and photography theory together with theories including oral history, radical empathy, trauma, archival studies and studies of early Hollywood cinema to underpin my approach, I am excavating Harvey’s hidden history and repurposing archival materials to facilitate new exchanges with the historical past.
My methodological approach as: Archivist, Familial member, Artist and Academic, combines a self-reflective positionality allowing for meaningful engagement with Harvey’s archive and the audience of my research and practice.
Entering the archive through the prism of Harvey’s story, “I didn’t make it in Hollywood. I refused to go on the casting couch,” repeated in childhood conversations with myself (1977-1987), I am arguing to embed Harvey’s oral history posthumously, as an unpublished narrative positioning Harvey’s voice to align with the body of her existing archive, establishing significant findings of marginalised women’s history and experience in 1930’s Hollywood, puncturing 1930’s Hollywood mythology by providing an alternate history compared to now. My practice is mediated through my body in genealogical dialogue with Harvey’s archive, establishing a dynamic between embodied subject and archival object. Using photography and film to capture my performances and positioning Harvey’s oral history as an overarching narrative frame, I have collaborated with atelier Theresa Parker to pattern-cut Harvey’s archival outfits, 1. The wool suit, 2. The casting bikini. Performing the archive through Harvey’s outfits, in the U.S sites that she visited in 1933, I embody her experience, inhabiting her archive, through my radically empathic exploration of her story. Using this process, I am offering a new model for archival research, practice and findings.