The Dowry: Federica Armstrong

Federica Armstrong’s personal narrative The Dowry uses cyanotype process, a technique as old as the history of photography, from a time when capturing an image, freezing a moment, would have felt like magic and required time and care. Armstrong’s haunting images radiate with this sense of reverence and significance. They explore memories, remembrance, and family, and the joyful, melancholy mystery of love and loss and the passing of time.

The Dowry explores my family photoarchive; it’s an examination of memory, family connections and the role we hold as witness to our past.

In Italy the old tradition of the dowry refers to the practice of families giving their daughters linens and other household textiles at the time of marriage. The textiles were often custom made and the dowry was a symbol of status but also a reminder and a connection to the family of origin.

In the project The Dowry, images of my parents’ early years together are transferred to vintage textiles through the cyanotype process and further toned using natural dyes such as green tea, giving the images the sepia color of the original prints. Through this alchemy, the fabrics that were originally used in the course of family life acquire new meaning. Blending the materiality of the fabric with the ephemeral nature of memory, the dowry becomes the final inheritance after my parents’ passing.

The process also raises questions: who were my parents before I was born? How do relationships change in the course of a lifetime? How do we hold on to memories when our loved ones are gone?

The dowry becomes a cathartic process of mourning, remembrance and consolation.

Federica Armstrong is a visual storyteller born in Italy and currently residing in Palo Alto, California. Her storytelling practice includes documentary and fine art works focused on environmental and social issues as well as personal narratives related to intimacy and belonging. Armstrong works as independent photographer on editorial assignments and has collaborated with many non-profits in the San Francisco Bay Area covering issues of homelessness, affordable housing and healthcare.  Her work has been exhibited in numerous venues in the US and Europe including the Harvard Art Museum, The Griffin Museum in Boston, and Filter Photo Gallery in Chicago, among others. Armstrong images have been featured on the New York Times Lens Blog, Corriere della Sera’s Sette Magazine, The Hand Magazine and several other books and publications. See more of her work at and on Instagram @federicaarmstrong

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