I found these photographs taken for Vogue Paris by Swedish photographer, Mikael Jansson. What attracted me to them was how much they reminded me of Barbie dolls. The models (Diana Dondoe and Missy Rayder) appear so casual about being naked it is almost as if that is all they know. Much like Barbie, it seems their own bodies are desexualised and their nakedness is made very secondary. This is why the photography works so well – the product is emphasized through the very casualness of the naked bodies, and in doing so the product has nothing to compete with. Very clever work in my opinion. The models are shinned up to add a lovely glossy sheen to their skin which looks flawlessly beautiful, and very much plastic (hence the Barbie connection). In this first image the poses of the models (especially the one on the left) look rigid, as if the models (dolls) have been positioned manually and are unable to move themselves. And despite the models having beautiful figures, it is not their skinniness or shape that really makes them look like Barbie dolls, but rather how they are positioned, the colour choice, the way the light hits the skin making it shine, and how disconnected to their own bodies they appear. I think it is a wonderful accomplishment from Jansson.
On another note, I found a black and white image (above) from the series which despite being more beautiful (in my eyes), completely loses the doll-like aspect. I find that without the colour, and with the shine diminished, that the models’ human quality returns and they appear as two naked girls hanging by the pool (seductively, of course). So I suppose in this instance colour photography really achieves something that is arguably otherwise unachievable through a black and white image. Normally I prefer black and white photography, so it is great for photographers like Jansson to impress me with the accomplishments of colour.
Barbie is an iconic figure that seems to cast debate around the ideals of what a woman should look like. We all know that her proportions are, in-fact, impossible to achieve in real life (unless one gets extreme surgery). But is it really such a big deal? My mum can have some feminist tendencies, and growing up was not all too keen on me having barbies. However, at some point I acquired a few (to which I mainly played hairdresser – with devastating results) and sincerely believe they did me no harm. As a child, I never recall thinking about her figure or whether I desired to look like that when I grew up. She never made me want to dye my hair blonde or wish I was tanned. But, perhaps that was just me. Because somewhere along the line a lot of people started hating poor old Barbie, which leads me to these three pieces of art shown below.
I’m not sure who the artist is, but they are clearly juxtaposing the ideas of plastic and flesh. The plastic doll-ness is made clear through Barbie’s recognisable face and the unnatural, but distinctive, Barbie joints. The general painting style is not overly refined, in that the paint work is very visible. One might think that a glossy, sheeny ‘perfect’ finish might be more appropriate, but the point seems not to be to realistically portray Barbie. Instead, we have a mutilated portrayal of Barbie, made blissful by the sheer fact of its own impossibility. Barbie is plastic and we know that when we harm plastic we will not reveal muscle and bone and organs. And yet, here, we have this exact effect. The artist refuses to go into too much detail of the inside(s) of Barbie but simply uses painterly looseness to suggest such a thing. I think this works perfectly as it leaves a raw, confrontational nature to the pieces. I would argue that had we had the ‘glossy’ Barbie I spoke of earlier that the whole nature would move into a pop art, dark humor type genre and be more of a light-hearted laugh than a serious and somewhat disturbing series. Can we really feel for what we know is an inanimate plastic clone when shown to have been brutally murdered? Are these pieces just simple irony? Or are they (almost predictably) challenging ideals of beauty and ‘fakeness’? To me, I get a more sombre vibe. The irony for me is that we can feel sadness for the destruction of something that could never feel to begin with. What do you think? What is it that you see in these pieces?