Arts & Culture

One dress, many photographers: Traveling Dress Project grows beyond Idaho

One dress, a bunch of photographers — and a plethora of interpretations

The Traveling Dress Project, based in Idaho, involves one dress and photographers around the world, who each get to interpret the dress in their own way.
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The Traveling Dress Project, based in Idaho, involves one dress and photographers around the world, who each get to interpret the dress in their own way.

It was the week Jenifer Alvi was waiting for.

She finally had the traveling dress, and her daughter, Samantha, a student at Portland State, was home for Thanksgiving, so the two spent the week making their artistic creations come to life by submitting two prints to The Traveling Dress Project, a photo competition that originated in Caldwell in 2014 but has grown into an international event.

“What drew me to this one was the creativity of having one inspiration,” Jennifer Alvi told the Statesman. “Everybody sees the world differently, and being able to have a prop, like a dress, that can be translated to whatever your creative eye is, I thought that would be a fun way to see what people create. That’s what drew me to it.”

Here’s how it works: There’s one dress that travels from photographer to photographer, a list that is weeded down through an application process. It costs $100 to participate, and artists are responsible for paying for their own prints and compensating their makeup artists and models. Hopeful photographers submit their photos, and organizers try to draw from an even pool of professional and amateur photographers.

“We were all amateurs at one time,” organizer Christy Smith said. “We all deserve a shot at this. When I started this project, I was an amateur, and I know what it’s like to want something that’s bigger and better.”

Most of the artists live in the Boise area, but this year the dress was sent to Hawaii, South Dakota and Texas, and Smith says the project already has received a 2020 applicant from Alberta, marking the first year that the project has grown outside the U.S.

Once photographers have the dress, they have one week to make their creations. The only commonality between the prints is the dress itself, and the only rule is that the model has to be wearing the dress.

After the week is up, the dress is sent to the next photographer. All of the prints are put on display for the public to see in early June, and awards are presented in two categories: a judge’s choice and a public vote. There is one winner in the judge’s choice and as many as five artists place in the public vote. Placing first in the public vote means you are the grand champion.

This year’s competition just wrapped up with a show last Saturday in Boise, but the 2020 dress will be on display at the Chateau des Fleurs in Eagle on Wednesday from noon to 3 p.m. Applications are being accepted for 2020, which will be the project’s sixth year.

The 2014 dress was worth $14; the 2019 dress was worth $500. This year, there were 16 photographers and 39 prints, with all of the prints displayed June 8 at Studio Boise.

“We had a goal to build camaraderie between local photographers,” Smith said. “That’s how this project came to be, but it has grown into something much larger.”

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