I found it hard to engage with this exercise mentally until a co-student posted an image of a pair of salt and pepper shakers on the OCA board. That reminded me of a set we were given by a neighbour – a curvy, interlocking, un-gendered pair with more than a passing resemblance to Mexican wrestlers; only one of them appears to have a voice. I took a photo on my phone, of them in my daughter’s dolls house, and posted it to the same thread. That got me thinking about gender representation, which led me back to dolls houses, which is a concept that’s been languishing on my mental back-burner waiting patiently for a context to turn up. All of a sudden a creative pathway appeared.
I looked up dolls houses on Bing Image search and found a very forensic, sales-oriented sea of pinkness. We see the houses, often in cross-section, sometimes we see children (girls) in the image too. Every one is different though, different houses, different children, different dolls. There’s little in the way of detail. There’s no continuity from one house to the next, whereas in life we know a number of homes in detail. What I want to do is photograph my non-gendered wrestlers in a series of different dolls houses. Not massively staged – I don’t want involved scenarios, there’s plenty of work like that out there already. Just something that gives a sense of continuity between the houses and possibly an opportunity to question gender “norms”. And of course the oddness of a salt and pepper set in a dolls house. I might play around with some lighting too, there’s that nice idea of a theatre set from a dolls house.
So first up is finding people who are happy for me to photograph their dolls houses. to be continued.
Continuing… the ceramic figures were too big and a bit menacing, they distracted the attention too far from their surroundings, and I need this to be about the houses, after all. After trying a couple of Lego figures I’ve settled for a Tombliboo figure and a cat from a construction set. They are not too big and don’t immediately suggest streotypes. I put a phone photo onto Instagram, converted it to black & white and instantly saw a way to mitigate the pinkness. B&W filters are widely used to suggest nostalgia, a happy past, a rose-tinted childhood, but ironically not in dolls house sales. Often colour is more creative a choice over B&W but I think the inverse might be true here. I also played around with the toy/miniature concept by photographing part of a dolls’ house with an Instax instant print, then putting the credit-card sized print onto the table that I’d just photographed, and then re-photographed it on my phone.
… b&w was nice but not the way to go. I had too broad a range of shades to get consistent b&w across the set, and the finished set was less pink than I expected so it wasn’t the problem I’d anticipated. Some images just worked much better in colour and it was a shame to sacrifice them.
Images were made in daylight, indoors, with a tripod and remote shutter release. I worked with my dslr, though I did consider making a set with different cameras (instant, dslr, phone etc). The work highlit that a miniature tripod would be very useful and that my supposedly cleaned sensor still has a whopping great splodge in one corner. Here’s a set of some of my selects.
How does my set differ from the original image search screengrab at the top of this post?
Well, my objectives were different. Most images in the Bing search are scraped from commercial sites who need to show the entire dolls house as accurately as possible. Children are sometimes included for context or scale purposes. My objectives however were to show the same pair of figures in a sequence of different dolls houses, and to show the houses as they are in their current lives. So a house may be gently gathering dust, it may have been tidied up after being dropped the week before, it may be full or empty. I think the main thing that struck me in the screen grab was the lask of continuity- these are different houses, photographed by different photographers on different cameras and scraped from different websites. There’s no sense of continuity. I wanted to see if inserting my own narrative via two figures would bring a more cohesive set, more possibility for the imaginative play that a dolls house enables and provokes. I accidentally left these figures in one of the houses where I photographed, I returned moments later to collect them and my friend told me how her four year old was happily playing with the new arrivals.
I wanted to look at the houses in use. They often have bits missing, one friend glued a wooden staircase back in place with nail glue as I worked. They can be surreal, slightly creepy sometimes, joyful at others but always to me with the air of a movie set, suspended and ready for animation. I like the cross-section-ness that is a feature of dolls’ houses, and the way you can use the walls and floors to partition the frame. Somehow it makes me think of Rachel Whiteread’s House (Tate.org.uk, 2017), even though the principles are quite different. Dolls houses are all about the inside with the outside lifting or opening away, whereas House was a concrete casting with only the outside visible, with the walls and roof lifted away like a jelly mould. Whereas the sales images are necessarily perfect.
The search engine images are only together by coincidence and tag, there is no perceived or intentional desire to make a set or series. I like to think that my set works as a set – it was my idea and I made all the images. I would like to explore this further – I think that a Beecher inspired set could work, always face on, and looking at structural details. I didn’t use my figures in the same position for all images, this is also something that I could revisit.
My choice of single image is the one taken in a room that is empty bar a standard lamp. It was late afternoon when I took it and the light was quite special – I liked the shadow, and the warmth of the light of the grain of the laminate, the glow of the lampshade in the background. This was the house of a family who had recently moved and the dolls house was going through a similar process with some rooms close to empty, others waiting to be unpacked and reassembled.
I put quite a lot into this exercise and enjoyed doing it. I believe that I have considered the creativity criteria of imagination, experimentation, invention in making this work and I hope it demonstrates a nascent personal voice.
Tate.org.uk. (2017). Rachel Whiteread: Biography. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/unilever-series-rachel-whiteread-embankment/rachel-whiteread-0 [Accessed 22 Mar. 2017].