According to the iconic phrase coined by the great American novelist, author of Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk, and immortalized in pop culture by Brad Pitt, aka Tyler Durden, "the things you own end up owning you."
"You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world."
You've probably seen it printed on posters, written on bathroom stalls, emblazoned over t-shirts and smeared over mugs and other worthless crap that the quote itself tries to oppose. Truth is, the consumerist machines that we are, we can't help but accumulate stuff while at the same time praising the minimalist way of life.
It's such as paradox we don't even see it. We justify our consumption as a means to define who we are, to describe ourselves, to communicate to others what's underneath. But at what point does the line become too blurry and the things take control?
This and other fashion and consumerism-related questions stand at the forefront of Canada-based photographer Libby Oliver's portrait series, Soft Shells. As the artist states herself, clothing is an integral part of communication between modern human beings and is used to "describe our culture, environment, class and status, religious affiliation, occupation and gender identity, to name a few."
"Clothing grounds us to our notions of self and works to cue others to our chosen identity narrative."
However, we choose to delude ourselves into thinking that when it comes to fashion, our choices come purely from within and communicate outwards, when in reality, most of them are heavily influenced by outside factors. Oliver writes:
"Our garments work to project the uniqueness of our identity while simultaneously seeking approval and acceptance into various social groups.
What we wear is thus both an exercise in our creative individual autonomy and a system of social surveillance and categorization."
Intrigued by this inherent duality, Libby set out to explore it through a creative lens and started the Soft Shells project that captures individuals with every single item of clothing they own.
With all the rags covering them head to toe, all that's left of the models are mere body parts sticking out here and there. The person is completely gone – all that's left are the clothes they've so carefully chosen to define their being. "You can understand maybe how they want to represent their gender or their culture or whatever, but how much can you really understand about the true person underneath?" Oliver tells CBC Canada.
Check out more photos from Libby's Soft Shells project below and be sure to follow her on Instagram for more.