I have been focussing my photographic attention on dolls for quite a while now. They are uncomplaining, co-operative & many seem to take on quite a personality. They don't talk back! I like working with them. Many photographers have used dolls to express their narratives - Cindy Sherman, Hans Bellmer, Louise Bourgeois, Gregory Crewdson, David Levinthal, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Dare Wright, Loretta Lux, Morton Bartlett, to name a few. Their work is powerful, & on the whole, transcends the mere fact of the inanimate object as the surrogate subject. Knowing this, I was shocked to find how many friends & colleagues, even my own family, find dolls creepy & some even frightening.
Pediophobia is the unwarranted, irrational and persistent fear of dolls. It is a specific phobia belonging to the category of ‘automaton phobia’. This is a type of phobia where the individual is afraid of all humanoid or “human-like-but-not-quite” objects including mannequins, marionettes, ventriloquist’s dummies, wax figures, animatrix or robotic figures etc. The word Pediophobia originates from ‘Paidion’ which means ‘little child’ in Greek and ‘Phobos’ meaning fear or deep dread.
I guess I have pediophilia because I like them. Careful, now, how you say that! In my search for suitable dolls to photograph, I have discovered a whole new world - grown-ups who collect dolls & the gobsmackingly enormous range available. My first series with dolls, "Thinking about the Master & Disciple - Joel Peter Witkin" used antique broken dolls. Collectors of modern dolls go for BJD's - ball jointed dolls. On the whole the collectors are women. Many are professionals, buying eyes, wigs, clothes for custom-made ball jointed dolls, having parties for them, matchmaking for them. There are gay versions. There are even BJD congresses to attend with makers, vendors, collectors & the whole shebang in attendance. Why do they get hooked?
"At heart, collecting has to do with the prevention of loss, which is a universal and painful part of the human condition," Gottlieb observes. "It's an effort to stop time in its tracks, to hold on to things and the people that they symbolically represent, to make us feel less stricken and alone."
It is possible, I suppose, that collectors of BJDs want to hold onto childhood - lost youth, lost beauty, lost innocence, the protection of family - & keep it safe. It is conceivable that they live vicariously through the fantasies they create for their dolls as they did when they were children.
I am not in this realm of the serious collectors (yet!) The recent NYC exhibition by Flagart Foundation “Disturbing Innocence” resonated with the drivers of my current use of dolls in photography. The art is regressive, bypassing realism but nonetheless confronting. It evinces a place, our childhood, which is less toxic & aggressive, & allows a more direct depiction of difficult themes. Perhaps even the pediophobia, for those who have it, helps to convey the darkness.
I am working on a series “Urban Playground. I admit to having fun dressing the dolls, but once they are wired/clamped into position & the work begins the “collectors fantasies” disappear. I have produced some images in the process of exploring the techniques I will employ. Here they are for your enjoyment . Pediophobes beware!