Why photograph dolls? Because I felt that they asked me to. They called to me, mutely seeking my attention. Over the past few years, I have found myself trolling yard sales, flea markets, and street bazaars all over the world, in search of their strange stories. From every table or pile of odds and ends they stared back, unblinking, asking to be recorded before they disappeared forever. The more I didn't want to see them the more I noticed them everywhere.
This 304 page book contains 280 full page color images, forward by photographer and author Randall Whitehead, and 14 strange and wonderful inner dialogs with Lost Dolls. It's a perfect coffee table tour, suitable for all ages, and makes a unique and entertaining holiday gift.
The second gallery image is the one that started my curious journey through the strange world of dolls. I always have my camera with me and on one particularly bright Sunday I was taking pictures at a flea market in Alameda, California. Towards the end of the day I came across this specimen - from a distance she looked any baby-faced doll hardly worth a second glance. Then it struck me. Her eyes were wild. They were absolutely frightening. This doll looked truly possessed.
She couldn't possible have come this way from the manufacturer. Someone had done this terrible thing to her eyes. I was transfixed with a mix of repulsion and fascination. Who would perform such a disturbing operation? What was the story behind the act?
Then I thought...were there others like her out there? From that moment on I decided to seek out dolls wherever I went. Not to own them, but to record them. In reality, they sought me out. What I discovered over the years is that there was something very unsettling about most dolls. And that I was not the only one who felt this way. This doll in particular haunts me still.
Dolls confuse me - they tend to bring up so many conflicting emotions. Little kids are supposed to love their dolls, but some dolls made me wonder how they could possibly be loved, and what kind of parent would select such an odd or scary doll for their child? I was amazed by the variety of expressions on the faces of the thousands of dolls I encountered. We tend to think that all dolls are made to look happy and bright, but this is far from the case. Dolls seem to evoke any and every possible emotion: hurt, despair, regret, sorrow, lust, ecstasy or surprise. I wondered about the people who design these dolls. What of themselves went into the faces they fashioned? Which of their own emotions did they transfer to these small inanimate creatures who seem to be endowed with so much magical power? Could doll making be a healing process? Before I started this project I was naive to the world of dolls. Over the years I discovered that dolls come in all ages, from the newborn with barely distinguishable features to the ancient crone whose face bears the marks of a lifetime's experience. Not all of these images depict dolls in the strictest sense. Some are puppets, marionettes, stuffed animals, or mannequin heads. But for me they all come from the Land of Dolls, a place that is often far from serene or pretty.
I never moved or repositioned the dolls to capture these images. I always photographed them exactly as I found them in their original context. Often it was their juxtaposition to other dolls, toys or household items that created what I found to be touching, poignant, or bizarre interactions. Some arrangements may have been conscious on the part of the sellers, but it was the random compositions that made the most compelling vignettes. My mind would immediately begin a story about a certain doll as I saw him or her through the lens of my camera. I have written some of these narratives within the pages of this book, but only a few. I don't want what I saw in my mind to shade how you see these images.
The dolls, perhaps like us, are all lost in one way or another. They exist in a kind of doll limbo where the past is forgotten and the future inconceivable. The tables at flea markets or the blankets laid out on the driveways at garage sales are their waiting places. They can never return to wherever they came from. The random lucky doll will be adopted and have a new life, a new purpose, a second chance to be loved and valued. Others will not so be fortunate - I will see them again and again, month after month, year after year, continually passed over, silently waiting.
People who really know about dolls, the collectors and experts, may recognize many of the ones I have photographed and see them from a totally different perspective. I don't pretend to know much about the dolls' history, economic value, or desirability in the market. To me they are all strangers who I am meeting for the first time. Their faces tell me stories. Some are in pristine condition, never touched or loved by a child, forever on display. Some have been loved so hard that their features are practically worn away. And others bear the cruel scars of neglect, exposure to the elements, or various forms of experimentation best left to the imagination.
Like pets, dolls are perhaps magnets for abuse as well as for love. Some of these dolls seem to have emerged from a place without light. I couldn't help thinking: what of the children who played with these dolls, who inhabited the same dark world? I remember seeing late nineteenth century photographs of dead infants lying in cribs or open caskets. These images are eerily reminiscent of some of the dolls I would find lying on tables in their boxes at flea markets. Dolls reflect so much about human behavior. Take doll clothing for example. The porcelain dolls dressed up in stiff party dresses evoke the same discomfort that any child might feel in such an outfit. For me, the handcrafted dolls made from simple materials like sackcloth seemed more comfortable in their own skin, and perhaps more open to be loved.
Dolls can be the perfect ideal of who we want to be, or the damaged reality of a childhood gone terribly wrong. The stories that you read in the faces of these dolls are yours. Each of us will see something different - we project onto them our own emotions and life experience. Please enjoy these images, and please forgive me if a few of them show up in your dreams.