When you photograph the same mannequins through every season over a period of years, you begin to feel like Tom Hanks talking to his Wilson ball; that is, you can’t help naming them and even thinking of them as having a secret inner life. It’s this magical thinking that pulls me into the process of photographing them in the first place: somewhere in the mix, I have to temporarily invest the inanimate objects with sentience, like Pygmalion to Galatea. In many cases, it’s critical to get the line of sight correct so the subjects seem aware of the viewer’s presence; but it is a far more complex task to find that right angle that suggests a wistful awareness without the attendant flavor of voyeurism.
Over the course of this peculiar trajectory, I have been kicked out of stores or simply had irate proprietors wag their fingers at me. That’s because the clearest shots are in the actual display, where there is no glass barrier. However, much is to be said about them being unapproachable if not untouchable, like a saint’s holy remains contained in a reliquary. A window adds this dimension, and in the case of “beautiful” figures allows one to engage in detached type of cathexis. Yet here it is sometimes important to amplify the figure’s vanity as a counterweight. In the case of “ugly” figures, I have my work cut out for me: with no libidinal subtext, it’s more about revealing a hint of the sublime. And this can only occur if one can ferret out an element of grace, perhaps even suffering, in the subject matter. I tend to look for the telling details of mutability: damage, tears, chipped paint, layers of dust. In short, a palimpsest of identities that have traveled through time in the same frame, like Cezanne’s landscapes that show signs of winter and spring on the same canvas. Sometimes this layering can be augmented by reflections in glass or packaging, though this poses different challenges altogether, for now one must consider the interposition of the outside world on the subject.
Unfortunately, effigies are loaded with context, particularly in regards to consumerism. I see this as just another layer to remove. A cursory review of any culture’s dolls, figurines, mannequins, and so forth will reveal its social mores and core values, as well as its overall economic well being. Any such narratives which show up in my work are secondary, as I am more interested in expressing the story of the object itself: who made it, purchased it, clothed it, arranged it in a display, discarded it, etc. In rare instances, I will construct narratives between live models and simulacra, but most of my work is about recovering the invisible spirits that come in and out of an object's space over time.