Since the success last fall of the film "Tiny Furniture," artist Laurie Simmons, whose work has appeared at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among other institutions, has found herself recognized in new ways.
"I went to see some films at MoMA and I sat down next to a young man the other night, and he said, 'Excuse me, are you Lena Dunham's mother?' " said Ms. Simmons, who is best known for her photographs of dolls and dollhouse interiors. "So that's been happening more and more."
In the film, which was written by and stars Ms. Simmons's 24-year-old daughter, Lena Dunham, protagonist Aura (Ms. Dunham) moves back home to her family's TriBeCa loft after college. Ms. Simmons plays Siri, Aura's artist mother. Aura's sister Nadine is played by Ms. Dunham's actual sister, Grace Dunham. (Their real-life father is the painter Carroll Dunham, who isn't in the film.)
Much of "Tiny Furniture" was shot at the actual Simmons-Dunham apartment downtown, with fake art made for the film on the walls of Ms. Simmons's studio downstairs. "Since the character of Siri wasn't really me, I didn't think it was appropriate for the art to be mine," Ms. Simmons said.
Photographs on the wall included empty rooms with dollhouse furniture—"sort of facsimiles, very simplified versions of things that I do," Ms. Simmons said. In the opening scene, her character photographs Nadine in a pair of shoes made of cake icing, standing in a miniature living room.
Now, with her daughter's first artistic breakthrough in the rearview, Ms. Simmons is having another one of her own with a new photography series. "The Love Doll: Days 1-30," which opens Tuesday at Salon 94 Bowery, features images of a high-end Japanese sex doll photographed in day-to-day scenarios—looking out at the snow in a parka and boots, lounging with a book, taking a bubble bath—all shot at Ms. Simmons's house in Connecticut.
A video shows the doll in full geisha makeup, set to a woman's voice singing Marlene Dietrich's "Falling in Love Again" in Japanese-accented English. This is Ms. Simmons's first show of new work in the city since 2006.
"I felt that it was incredibly fresh even though she was using a language and a practice that she has owned and scavenged for some time, doing it in an entirely new way and [with] a new intensity," said Salon 94 owner Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, who previously co-produced Ms. Simmons's film "The Music of Regret."
Though the Salon 94 show chronicles the doll on specific days—"Day 6 (Winter)," "Day 8 (Lying On Bed)"—creating the pictures sometimes took multiple days and often was unexpectedly challenging. Ms. Simmons spent one late fall day in a wet suit in the pool, trying to keep the doll underwater.
"It's kind of like my dream come true to have a life-size doll," the 61-year-old Long Island native said. "But really my dream come true would be to have a life-size doll that I could move around the same way I could move a six-inch doll—the same mobility and plasticity."
Ms. Greenberg Rohatyn noted that the doll's size and uncanny looks can elicit a greater sense of empathy for the viewer than Ms. Simmons's miniatures might.
"You know that her earlier work, that those are dolls are supposed to be conceptual surrogates. [Here] there's a confusion," she said. "Is it a real girl or is it a doll? And its purpose is for that confusion. The moment of suspended disbelief plays into all these kinds of tricks."
Ms. Simmons began the series in the fall of 2009 while filming "Tiny Furniture," parts of which were shot in the Connecticut house. She joked that her family tends to be private by nature, but that Lena has gradually worn down the others' inhibitions.
"I think she acts more resistant to it than she actually was," Ms. Dunham said of making the film. "I just assumed it was going to happen."
Plus, having grown up with parents who are established artists, Ms. Dunham noted, being in "Tiny Furniture," "it's almost to me that it's a cool side project that she did."
In fact, "Tiny Furniture" has been a self-reflective experience for Ms. Simmons. In the film, the character of Aura discovers and reads her mothers post-college diaries—which happen to be Ms. Simmons's actual diaries.
"Seeing what Lena's going through and having Lena conjure up memories for me of what I went through makes me understand how important tenaciousness is," Ms. Simmons said. "Sometimes when you're young, the journey from one place to another, it almost feels prescripted. But from the point I am now, the only thing I can see is somehow I never gave up."
The amazingly lifelike doll pictured opposite arrives in a box, in a gauzy chemise, with her own set of genitalia, a tube of lubricant, and an engagement ring. For those who order her, there’s no question of how to exploit the various possibilities. For artist Laurie Simmons, it took a little longer. “That she was a sex doll was secondary to the fact that I had finally found a Tales of Hoffmann, life-size doll that I could work with,” says Simmons. “I don’t want to deny that it is used as a masturbation tool. I just chose not to address it. I am amazed that a doll made for this purpose could be rendered so exquisitely. The lines of the body are so refined; it’s a beautiful sculpture.”
Simmons began by dressing the doll in ordinary clothes—a bridal gown, swimsuit, down coat—then positioning her around her Connecticut home as an Everygirl, a kind contemporary sister of the Lonely Doll of Dare Wright’s fifties children’s book. The result is “The Love Doll: Days 1–30,” a series of large-scale, full-color photographs, which is the inaugural show at Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn’s renovated gallery, Salon 94 Bowery. It also marks the first time Greenberg Rohatyn has represented Simmons. “I came to her studio and saw this body of work, and I said, ‘I have to show this—it’s so exciting and weird and profound and beautiful,’ ” says Greenberg Rohatyn, who will seduce viewers into her space with a traffic-stopping, ten-foot-wide video of the doll as a geisha.
Simmons—who is married to the painter Carroll Dunham and the mother of two daughters, including Lena Dunham (writer-director-star of Tiny Furniture, in which Simmons appears)—has always used props in her work: miniature figurines, male ventriloquist’s dummies, objects embellished with mannequins’ limbs. Her pieces are frequently given “a complicated feminist read,” which is not, according to Simmons, her primary intention. “My work is not a manifestation of a political thought. It is almost one hundred percent intuitive.”
The “Love Doll” series notably lacks the sense of nostalgia informing Simmons’s past work, which was due, in part, to the materials she used: quirky props often staged in retro-looking settings. The sex doll has, in effect, liberated her. “I have finally found a full-scale, articulated doll that isn’t really doll-like. I can shoot in the contemporary world and in the present moment,” she says. “This is definitely the closest I’ve skirted to realism. Even I’m confused [by the images] sometimes.”
Day 25 (The Jump) is one of only two shots set outdoors. “For most of the pictures, the doll was placed around the house, and there was something essentially passive and feminine about it,” says Simmons. “It was really hard to figure out how to activate it.” To transform the doll into a “Ninja girl in sneakers,” the artist borrowed Keds from her assistant and clothes from her daughter Grace. “I went out with the idea of turning her into a tomboy, which is what I was when I was a kid.”
For both Simmons and Greenberg Rohatyn, the “Love Doll” images are an artistic leap forward. “Laurie has gone from using dolls as a kind of plaything to creating something that we have real empathy for—the doll is empowered, free. She has her own integrity,” says Greenberg Rohatyn. “The life-size scale changed everything. It isn’t child’s play anymore. Laurie has really breathed life into her.”
Simmons’ most recent work ‘The Love Doll’ follows in the footsteps of several exhibitions and accolades, which the artist has been involved with over the course of her forty-year career.
Though she is an incredibly successful and an influential artist in her own right, it would seem that Laurie Simmons is currently better known as being the mother of the mockingly self-acclaimed ‘voice of a generation’, Lena Dunham. Despite the sudden fame her daughter has received through her Golden Globe-winning TV show Girls, Simmons remains a respected figure within the realms of art and photography. Recognised for her use of mannequins and dolls to substitute humans, Simmons’ work tends to have an eerie feel to it that soon immerses you in a whole host of themes such as the surreal, memories and voyeurism.
The New York-based artist who graduated from the Tyler School of Art with a BFA in 1971 has been consistently working on creating the haunting and uncanny photographs of which she is famed. Works such as ‘Early Color Interiors’ and ‘The Instant Decorator’ exemplify Simmons’ use of puppetry and interiors within photography as a way of commenting on domesticity. Dark undertones lie beneath all of the series that Simmons has produced, exploring what is hidden behind the curtain of one’s home.
Simmons’ most recent work ‘The Love Doll’ follows in the footsteps of several exhibitions and accolades, which the artist has been involved with over the course of her forty-year career. The series has been exhibited across the world, from New York to Paris and London to Gothenburg. Lifelike dolls are used in order to document the everyday tasks and events in the life of a doll. Treading on familiar territory, the series of photographs featuring Japanese Love Dolls (dolls which are indeed created for sexual use) constructs a poignant blend between fantasy and reality. As ever in Simmons’ work, these parallels are blurred to evoke an uneasy experience for the audience.
Whilst a lot of her past work has featured miniature dolls, Simmons experiments with the impact and increased surrealism by using life-size ‘real’ dolls. If dressing a child sounds fiddly and somewhat stressful, then Simmons’ difficulty with manoeuvring the dolls for each photograph seems all the more enraging. Their immobility and finite facial expressions can be compared to capturing humans in photographs, emphasising Simmons’ fascination with blurring the line between fantasy and reality. Another feature that stresses this surrealism is the lack of nostalgia in ‘The Love Doll’. The dolls are all photographed in contemporary surroundings, sporting modern hair styles and of-the-moment clothing. The proximity to reality creates an even eerier and discomforting effect upon the spectator.
Alongside commentary on the fantasy and the domestic, it is impossible to not view this series without acknowledging its observation on femininity and passivity. Sold as a substitution for a sexual partner, their lack of vitality in Simmons’ photographs mimics their existence as a device for the pleasure of men. These dolls are inside the home for most of the series, going about their day-to-day in the constrictions of a domestic environment. However, Simmons does play with this inactivity by featuring two photographs where a doll is placed outside.
Unlike previous works, the protagonist is liberated and freed from the constraints that the home infringes upon her. Whether or not this is a comment on feminism can be debated, but it does certainly inspire a valiant cry as the housewife is furthered removed from her shackles.
From the discussion of commodifying women to the restrictions of the home, Simmons’ continues to explore the blend between realism and fantasy as well as the psychology of desire. Her creations may distress, but they do so for a reason which we must acknowledge in order to overcome.
Keeping a life-sized sex doll in your house for a year might make for some uncomfortable questions from house guests, but not in the case of artist Laurie Simmons. For decades, her work has largely focused on dolls, so this latest was nothing new. (The curious can view the results of this latest project starting today at Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn’s Salon 94). Visitors to Simmons’ Soho home/studio are used to unusual goings-on anyway, since her daughter Lena Dunham shot most of her 2010 film “Tiny Furniture” there, starring none other than Simmons and her real-life sister, Grace. It may have been the beginning of a starry career: Simmons will next appear on an episode of “Gossip Girl” as herself, but photographing living subjects this time — the Van Der Woodsen family.
HB: What made you want to work with life-sized dolls?
LS: It was more like I accidentally found one. I was in Japan, in the summer of 2009 for a show I had in Tokyo and I did a project with Commes des Garcons. And I was sort of at a point with my work where I was looking for something to tell me what to do. And in searching book stores, and looking for manga stuff, and looking for anime stuff, I started to see some photographs of this thing and I found this life-size sex doll.
HB: So the show at Salon 94 is about your first month with the doll? How did you get comfortable with it?
LS: Well, it’s a series of days. All together now 31 shooting days that happened over the course of a year. Usually what happens is that I need to get to know a prop and maybe by the hundredth picture I’m comfortable. But I was really impatient and I thought, Well look, I know how to take a picture. Maybe the pictures the first day are as interesting as the picture on the hundredth day. And maybe the chronicling of this relationship I have with this prop would be as interesting as the pictures that come from just being comfortable with the prop. So that’s what I’m looking for in my own work, to see how things progress.
HB: People are normally kind of creeped out by dolls. How did you handle having the doll around?
LS: Well it’s interesting you mentioned it because I just went down to the basement this afternoon having not worked in a while and the doll was sitting in a chair. I just jumped. It scared the daylights out of me. So when I’m not working I’m still really startled by the presence of the doll. I try to keep it out of the way.
HB: Where do you hide her?
LS: In a closet on a chair, and sometimes covered with a sheet. You know I just can’t help but imagine what people would think. Its not like I’m ready to put the doll in the car and drive it somewhere and do that sort of thing.
HB: So she’s not in your kitchen or anything like that?
LS: So not! It’s just a prop.
HB: How did your family react to having her in the house?
LS: Well, you know, at first there were a lot of jokes. But then people just accept that this is just another one of my series. And you know, I mean I accepted the fact that my father was a dentist and that his office was off the kitchen and there were a lot of molds of peoples teeth. You know. You grow accustomed to what’s around you.
HB: It reminds me of the Ryan Gosling film, “Lars and the Real Girl.” Did you ever see it?
LS: Of course, yes. I feel like they needed me to style the doll in the movie because that’s what I feel like I’ve done now for so many years. I just kept thinking Oh my god, they didn’t light her correctly; they didn’t make her up well. I was so disappointed. Thinking she won’t elicit sympathy from people or empathy. I was so focused on the doll it kind of wrecked the movie for me.
HB: And what about Lena, her new show ‘Girls’ with HBO, what’s like for you to watch her career take off?
LS: It’s really great. I am so happy. Because I feel like the whole family took part in Tiny Furniture and Tiny Furniture seems to be the thing that led to all of these opportunities for her. So I’m just thrilled that for better or for worse our family became the subject for her movie and that seemed to open the door to all of these opportunities. I’m beside myself. Really thrilled.
HB: Would you ever let her film you again?
LS: Oh Yeah! I sort of feel like Lena could pretty much tell me to do anything and I could do it.
HB: What do you think about the fashion world? You’ve worked with Thakoon among others.
LS: I also worked with Peter Jensen, I did projects with Commes des Garcons. I really love fashion. I love what designers do. I’m glad I don’t do it. You know, my last show of new work was 5 years ago. I think about my designer friends having to turn out these collections, major collections twice a year—it gives me heart palpitations. I have so much sympathy and compassion for them. Because as an artist I can wait for the new work to percolate. So that’s the thing about fashion that probably intrigues me and horrifies me—is that you have to produce on a schedule. I think for a fashion designer its pretty grueling.
HB: What’s next for you after this show?
LS: Well, I have a show coming up in London at Amanda Wilkinson’s gallery. And I’m doing a project at Basel. It’s a two-person booth with an artist who was my dear friend who died in 1999 called Jimmy DeSana in the “Art Feature” section. I’m working on another music project with [Jeanne’s brother-in-law] Michael Rohatyn, who wrote the music for the movie I made in 2006 called ‘The Music of Regret.’
To create her latest series, the artist Laurie Simmons ordered a high-end Japanese love doll—a life-sized, anatomically correct synthetic female, designed for use as an inanimate sex partner. Her photographs document an evolving friendship, ending with the arrival of a second, new doll.
There is a haunting sense of inner life that distinguishes these photos from other recent works involving similar dolls, such as Elena Dorfman’s “Still Lovers” series, the film “Lars and the Real Girl,” or the 2007 BBC documentary “Love Me, Love My Doll,” which chronicles the relationships four men have with their dolls. In Simmons’s work, the dolls’ erotic function lies latent beneath a more demure fascination with the unnervingly lifelike, sculptural quality of their human form.
Loneliness is like a disease that infects every waking moment of a person’s life with melancholy. Some cope by heading for the nearest bar or by creating imaginary friends. Others have pets. The more adventurous, perhaps, opt for a love doll — a life-size latex sex partner who never cheats, has just the right look and is always ready to play.
Now Laurie Simmons has cast a couple of love dolls in a delicious new role — as the nubile subjects of the photographs that make up her first exhibition with the Salon 94 Bowery Gallery, where they do not appear to be dolls at all. Pictured outdoors in the snow, diving into a backyard pool, lounging at home in their underclothes, napping in the afternoon sun and toying with the family dog, they seem to be young girls amusing themselves in the privacy of their own home.
It’s impossible to tell their age or that they are not actually made of flesh and blood. If sex is the air, what comes across most clearly is their undisturbed innocence, which is the most unreal thing about them. Otherwise they seem utterly lifelike, with full breasts and dewy complexions, and seem sensitive to very human moods.
Photographed in Simmons’s 14-room, Cornwall, Conn., country home and in gorgeous natural light, they look like models posing for the pages of a fashion magazine. A doll in one picture is nude, save for her makeup and the 20 pounds of costume jewelry draped over her body. In another, she reclines on a window seat in a wedding dress. But the most telltale picture in the series, titled “The Love Doll: Days 1-30,” shows one doll in the cardboard box that brought her to Simmons’s studio from a factory in Japan.
“It was both stunning and anti-climactic to open the box,” Simmons said of its arrival. “I didn’t know what I was going to do with it — the doll is the size of a person. All I knew is that I had to animate it in some way, and document the process from Day 1, until I got comfortable with it. And I’m still not.”
Simmons has made a career of photographing dolls of all sorts, from tiny figurines to ventriloquist dummies, setting them in the color-coordinated interiors of a dollhouse (or a brothel) or outdoors in backyard swimming pools. Her dolls, both male and female, function as human surrogates dreaming their way out of situations they would rather not be in — cleaning the toilet or looking for love in all the wrong places. But after she made “The Music of Regret,” a 2006 film that brought to her life her iconic “Objects on Legs” pictures and featured Meryl Streep as a speed dater whose suitors are Simmons’s ventriloquist dummies, she wasn’t sure what direction to go in next.
She discovered the love dolls a couple of years ago during a visit to Tokyo with her daughter Grace (then a teenager), the younger of her two children with the painter Carroll Dunham. The showroom, she said, was an unsavory place to take her daughter, who took it in stride. “If you grew up with a mother who took pictures of dolls since you were a child, you don’t ask too many tough questions,” Simmons noted. The factory customizes each doll to suit individual tastes. “You can choose everything from the face to skin color to breast size and hairstyle,” Simmons said, “even the genitalia,” which came separately wrapped.
Her first doll had a face that appealed to her most. But working with it wasn’t all that simple. The dolls weigh nearly 60 pounds, and though they have joints and limbs that move, proved to be not all that pliable. “This is the most excruciating work I’ve ever done,” Simmons said. “It really wasn’t fun. All of these years of making setups that are smaller in scale, I had much more mobility. It was easy to change things around. But the love doll is so heavy that it’s difficult to dress. I had my assistant, who’s the same size, lie on the floor and then I tried to duplicate the position. A slight move of a foot or hand could change the whole picture.”
After working with the first doll for several months, Simmons ordered a second, one with a face she felt was less specifically Asian. Each required a great deal of preparation. It took time to shop for the right bathing suit, the right swimming pool. She completed the series only last week, when she made the short video now playing in the gallery’s street window. It provides dreamy front and back views of a doll made up and dressed as a geisha. Its soundtrack, a version of the Marlene Dietrich classic “Falling in Love Again,” is sung in nasal, accented English by a Japanese vocalist.
Like the rest of the show, it’s entrancing. But Simmons is definitely on a roll. Earlier this year, she made her feature film debut as an actor in “Tiny Furniture,” a critically acclaimed, semi-autobiographical movie by her elder daughter, Lena, in which Simmons plays the obsessive artist-mother of a recent college graduate longing for love and direction – kind of like one of her mother’s dolls. Simmons also has a cameo on an episode of “Gossip Girl” that will be broadcast in April. But it is the love dolls that consume her now, and the project is far from over.
“I wanted to do something in every room of the house,” she said, “and I’m not nearly done with that. That’s why the first photo is called ‘Day One.’ And these pictures feel so much like a continuation of what I’ve always done that I haven’t caught up to what they mean yet.”
“Laurie Simmons – The Love Doll: Days 1-30″ continues through March 26 at Salon 94 Bowery, 243 Bowery.
Photographer Laurie Simmons has created a life of capturing dolls, ranging from ventriloquist puppets to figures cut out from vintage illustrations. Though staged in nature, her body of work revolves around animating these life-less subjects, providing a lively environment and often a comical narrative to the scene at hand.
With her most recent series, ‘the love doll’, she has upgraded to a life-size model custom-ordered from Japan. Shot in a range of scenes–reclined on a bed, jumping onto a stone wall, playing with a small dog on the floor–the silicone dolls are alarmingly realistic save for the unflinching expression and vacantness of their face. The overall mood of the series when coupled with the knowledge that the inanimate models are simply playing a role in a world that they don’t belong in, is one of loneliness and solitude. By personifying these dolls, Simmons illustrates and abstracts the very human concept of feeling like you don’t belong.
“Laurie Simmons – The Love Doll: Days 1–30,” an exhibition of the series, is currently on display at Salon 94, New York until March 26, 2011.
Looking at the delicate, sad-eyed star of Laurie Simmons's newest photographic series, it's hard to imagine that such a conflicted soul is actually "made" of silicone. Yet it's only fitting that the American artist, who has experimented with a variety of puppets and cutouts throughout her long career, decided to take on one of her most realistic models to date: a love doll created in Japan, where entire brothels thrive solely on its realistic desirability. Here, Simmons chronicles her first 30 days with this seemingly timid sex toy.
The figure's melancholic gaze might seem a bit too empty for a sexual partner, but it imbues the prints here with a level of contemplation that even living actors could aspire to emulate. Whether staring off into the distance in a snowy wonderland—The Love Doll/Day 6 (Winter)—or lying still in her original carton—The Love Doll/Day 27 (New in Box)—the anonymous beauty appears both innocent and afraid, too young for her unmentionable role in life. Works like The Love Doll/Day 8 (Lying in Bed) and The Love Doll/Day 11 (Yellow) find her lying flat, oozing the loneliness and isolation of someone lacking in any sort of meaningful human connection
As the days go by and Simmons becomes more comfortable with the doll, so, too, does the doll seem to become comfortable with its surroundings. Both The Love Doll/Day 25 (The Jump) and The Love Doll/Day 29 (Nude with Dog) depict a far more joyous, albeit still childlike, young woman, free to leap onto walls and frolic nude in the daylight as she pleases. This understated transformation can only be credited to the adept skill of Simmons herself, for while her inorganic subject can't actually think or feel, her photos will make you believe otherwise.
Salon 94 Bowery, through Mar 26 (see Lower East Side)
New York-based photographer Laurie Simmons’s show opened on February 15th and will continue through Saturday, March 26th. Simmons, who began photographing doll houses in 1976, has since mainly worked with puppets, ventriloquist’s dummies and various other sorts of dolls. Laurie Simmons starred in the indie film “Tiny Furniture” directed by her daughter Lena Dunham, which was recently chosen as winner for best feature film at the South by Southwest Media and Music Conference. For her latest exhibition at Salon 94, entitled “The Love Doll: Days 1 – 30″ her subject of choice is none other than one “Love Doll”, a surrogate sex partner created out of silicon and other “life-like” materials.
Laurie Simmons’ daughter, Lena Dunham, has recently been thrown into the spotlight with the success of her new HBO series, Girls, but Simmons herself has been a well-known New York photographer for over 30 years. Both women seem to enjoy blurring fact and fiction, with viewers of Simmons’ work wondering if what they’re seeing is real or simulated, and viewers of Girls questioning how much of the show is from Dunham’s own biography.
Much of Simmons’ work has involved shooting small figurines in dollhouse scenes meant to resemble, or at least comment on, real life. Simmons says the work was originally designed as a way to challenge the perception that photography always tells the truth.
“My concern was to tell the most realistic lie I could,” she says.
As for Dunham, she takes her mother’s notion of a “realistic lie” and runs with it in her own work. The title of Dunham’s first feature-length movie, Tiny Furniture, which she both wrote and starred in, was inspired by Simmons’ dollhouse photography. In it, Dunham plays a character, Aura, who is a recent college grad living at home and trying to make it as a writer in New York, all of which was true of Dunham at the time. Upping the reality stakes, Dunham casted Simmons as Aura’s mom (who is a photographer) and her real life sister as Aura’s sister in the movie. The film is even shot in the family’s actual apartment in New York.
In the movie Simmons plays a cold and severe mom, which she says is not the case in real life.
“That wasn’t me,” Simmons says. “Those were just lines that Siri [the character] read.”
The biggest difference between the movie and the real world, says Simmons, is that unlike the movie where it is just a house full of women, their family also includes a dad — the painter Carroll Dunham.
“The really huge difference is that there is a very present father, a very involved father,” says Simmons. “The house is also a lot messier and there is a dog.”
Girls takes a different angle on the struggling-writer-in-New-York theme, but still makes one wonder about how much the real-life Dunham represents Hannah, the character she plays on the show. The most surprisingly true parallel to Tiny Furniture is that, like in the movie, Dunham, 26, lived at home up until a couple of weeks ago. Even though she is a growing television star she just recently found her own place in Brooklyn.
“I think it’s time, but I would have never complained [about her living at home],” says Simmons. “I really am crazy about her.”
Simmons’ most recent body of work uses a life-size Japanese sex doll as her newest model. Instead of dollhouses, Simmons has been photographing this figure in the real world and the work inches even closer to that line between true and false she’s been skirting for years.
“I realized that I could take this doll and put it into the landscape and suddenly I was on scale with everything else,” Simmons says. “It was like the entire rest of the world got unlocked. After 25 years or whatever it was of shooting on table tops it was a dream come true.”
The series, which is called The Love Doll, blurs the line so closely that Simmons says a crowd of visitors at the work’s first opening in Paris believed the doll in the photos was a real person.
“I’ve taken this to a really different place and people were quite confused,” she says.
While Dunham’s writing is gaining mainstream attention, Simmons’ work has had a far-reaching impact mostly in the world of art and photography. Barbara DeGenevieve, the chair of the Department of Photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, says she has long admired Simmons’ work both for the way it’s examined gender but also in the way that it’s been so consistent over the years. By using dolls as her subject throughout her career, DeGenevieve says that Simmons in many ways created a unique niche that could never be filled any other way.
“She was a revelation because she was able to do with dolls these things that might in some ways would have been cliché if she worked with real people,” DeGenevieve says. “That’s what’s nice about working with inanimate objects, you can make them do things that are metaphorical and symbolic, things that you would never ask a human to do.”
DeGenevieve says she’s also fascinated with the dynamic between Simmons and Dunham and credits Simmons for helping her daughter build a successful career. Growing up around a photographer and a painter exposed Dunham to two people who were willing to struggle and prioritize their work and she also saw the ebb and flow of the art world.
“You have to take a lot of shit as an artist, and you can’t really hide it from the kids when things aren’t going well,” Simmons says. “This show didn’t sell so therefore you can’t go to camp. [Lena] understood that there are peaks and valleys.”
That’s been useful because while receiving a fair amount of praise from some, Dunham’s show Girls has also been criticized by others. Some critics have called it out for having an air of privilege because it’s about a group of fairly well-to-do young white women. Mostly, however, the show has garnered a lot of attention for Dunham’s unique way of filming and thinking about sex, body image and female sexuality.
Dunhman, who is not as skinny as your cliché Hollywood actress, is not afraid to put her body out there, nor is she afraid to tackle the weird intimacies of what happens in the bedroom between consenting partners.
“It certainly hasn’t emerged quietly,” Simmons says.
Simmons admits to keeping tabs on her daughter’s reviews — she has a Google alert set up — but says she’s not worried about Dunham’s ability to handle the pressure.
“Lena has a really healthy body image and healthy sense of who she is and I’m really proud of that as a mother,” Simmons says. “You don’t have to be a Hollywood starlet to express yourself.”
Artist Laurie Simmons is famous for off-kilter photographs staging inanimate objects, like diminutive dolls and ventriloquist dummies, shot in domestic, often surreal settings. For her newly released book, The Love Doll, Simmons introduces a new, larger scale into her work by photographing a life-size human doll — an “excruciating” process, as she explains it, due to its weight. She first discovered her latest subject while on holiday in Japan with her daughters, Grace and Lena Dunham, and the book captures the interaction between the photographer and a doll for nearly five weeks over a two-year period. As time passes, the portraits grow increasingly intimate, much like a human connection between two strangers. We spoke with Simmons about that relationship, plus how she handled the sexual context of the doll, especially as a female artist. Read on, then click through for exclusive photos from her series.
Throughout your career, you've shot dolls, ventriloquist dummies, and other various inanimate objects in a humanistic light. Where did the idea of shooting these sex dolls originate from?
It wasn't something I was consciously looking for. I spent most of my summer in 2009 in Japan; first with my daughter Lena, and then I went back with Grace. [Grace and I] were in a bookstore and she found this little poster of a sex doll. I got really excited because I realized it was a life-size doll, but beautifully articulated. We tracked it down and went with a Japanese friend, who acted as an interpreter, and I had to have one to photograph. I wasn't looking for this doll, it kind of found me.
Aside from the sheer size of the doll, how is this a progression from your early works from the 1970s?
The most striking thing was how much I'd wished to shoot this fantasy of a life-size doll. The doll wasn't light as a feather and it was really difficult to move around, which meant that I had to have more people in the studio with me. The photographs look really dreamy, but making them was really excruciating, it was more challenging than when I was alone in the studio with a couple pieces of doll furniture, one light, and a tiny doll.
Why did you decide to move onto shooting a larger figure?
All these years of shooting small things and dolls; I was frustrated every time I tried to turn the camera to a human subject. It never was quite right for me. There was something missing, always training the camera on these smalls things, so having a human-sized doll was kind of a dream come true. Although, I don't know if I consciously articulated that dream prior to finding that doll.
Is there a reason why you refer to these dolls as love dolls in the book and not sex dolls?
That's what they were called in Japan. I didn't make that up. They were never called sex dolls on the website, they were called Love Dolls.
So, this book highlights your "relationship" with the doll over a specific period of time, what were the parameters of this "relationship"?
I looked at the doll and I thought about how long it always takes me to get comfortable with a subject, and how long I have to shoot before I get a photograph that I'm really satisfied with. I had this awareness that I already know how to take a picture, so the documentation of getting to know the doll would be more interesting than just waiting until I was totally comfortable with the doll to see what kind of pictures I would get. I decided there was something to look at from day one, and when I made that decision, I started to document the days of shooting. And then I thought, I could also understand what was different between day one and day 100 [of photographing it]. I'm not at day 100 yet.
Over time, your images with these dolls become increasingly intimate; how did you time this development?
It just unfolded. In the beginning, I really was treading around the thing delicately. I really didn't know how to work with it, how to move it, how to relate to it, and I became more and more comfortable and the pictures became more elaborate in the situations. I would wake up and I had to dream up what the scenarios would be for the day. As I moved through different rooms of the house and bought or found different costumes, it became more and more complex. Also, maybe in a sense, more and more real. Basically, it arrived naked with no identity and it was up to me to do everything — to decide what clothes the doll wore, introduce the doll to various household, daily tasks or situations. Everything was up to me. It was kind of like building a house from the ground up instead of renovating it.
It sounds like you approached these dolls as if they were almost like real humans.
Only in my work. My relationships with the dolls existed in the pictures. I absolutely had no interest in the dolls outside of [my work]; they didn't become members of the family.
I hope not.
People have very odd ideas what it would be like to have a life-size doll in your house. Also, people do anthropomorphize their dolls and objects. Kids do that in childhood and some adults do that. People put funny hats on their dogs, people do all sorts of things. This was a prop. And it was only when I was working that this kind of stab at reality for this character happened. When the shoot was over, it was over.
You did a good job at creating an atmosphere around these dolls, I could almost sense personalities. Color also played a big role in the images.
For the yellow picture, I grabbed [the] Donald Judd book; it was a beautiful shade of yellow and a couple of people who wrote about the [photograph] thought it was a heavy-handed reference to a certain period of art, [but] it absolutely was — sorry to say — about the beautiful yellow book.
As the book progresses, you introduce a second doll into these images.
I thought as soon as I introduced another character, there could be a kind of human interaction. Before it was one woman, but suddenly I was thinking about friends and sisters. The interesting thing is, there was only one photograph with two of them together that I actually used [for this book]. That's something that is out ahead of me [to photograph the two of them together]. I found it really difficult. I tried lots of scenarios and setups. The dynamic of the relationship was crowding the photos.
On day nineteen, you also dressed one of the dolls in a pair of Peter Jensen knee-high boots. Was there a reason behind bringing the element of fashion?
Peter had given me the boots and I just loved them so much. It came from a collection that I was the muse for. They were just something I could never figure out [how] to wear; they're white, over-the-knee, the heel is four-to-five inches high and they just were not viable for my wardrobe. Putting it on the doll, number one, on a formal level, allowed me to shoot a very white picture, which I wanted to do. Number two, it gave me a way to almost live vicariously through the doll wearing those boots.
Again, it goes back to your interest in capturing color. I'm curious to hear, how did you traverse through the sexual context of the dolls, as a female artist?
I really, in the end, had to turn a blind eye to it. I found what I wanted in terms of prop. I both ignored and denied what the doll was created for. The box that arrived with the genitals and lubricant were put into deep storage. We would laugh in the studio, we're not a love doll rescue organization; we have two of them. I had to really think of the love dolls the same way about dolls I had used [in my work].
The book ends with a series of the dolls dressed in Geisha attire. What was the meaning behind these images?
I felt like I brought these dolls from Japan, and I was Americanizing them, putting them in my life, doing what I felt comfortable with. But I felt like the lure of where they came from — in my whole childhood fantasy about Japanese Geishas — overtook everything. It's almost like the powerful pull of where the dolls came from and my own history, my own personal mythology of all things Japanese, I just had to go there.
The final image is of your studio manager, Rachel, and her gorgeous geisha back tattoo, alongside the doll dressed in traditional Geisha attire. In the book, you mention that it was first time you felt like a human could be shot alongside the doll, could you clarify?
I had worked in Connecticut with an assistant, Joanna, who is Korean and the same size as the doll and very beautiful. I tried to shoot the two of them together, [but] they were exactly the same height; when Joanna had stepped into the picture, she was so much more beautiful and human and stronger-looking than the doll, so I had kind of given up. But somehow, when I discovered Rachel had this tattoo of a young geisha, I felt like I could do something.
Do you have plans to continue your "relationship" with the dolls?
Yeah, there are more pictures coming. The Asian love doll has been in the water and done all these things, [so] that the body of the doll is becoming degraded in some way. I'm in the process of having this amazing tattoo put on its back and it seemed like the next step of the journey.
Friends, fans and family of Laurie Simmons gathered this Wednesday evening at Dashwood Books in SoHo for the signing and launch of Simmons' new book, The Love Doll, published by Baldwin Gallery / Salon 94 Gallery / Tomio Koyama Gallery / Wilkinson Gallery. Notable guests, including Glenn O’Brien, Bill Powers, Anne Christenson, Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn, Lisa Phillips, Ari Marcopoulos and Simmons’ daughter, the recent Golden Globe winner Lena Dunham, were in attendance to celebrate the book, which collects Simmons' photographs of one, then two, life size surrogate sex dolls from Japan.
Laurie Simmons is known for her photographs and films using human surrogates like puppets, toys, dolls, and magazine cut-outs, among other props. Simmons has long investigated human performance as it relates to specific environments through a deep documentation and profound choreography of dolls and objects in and on a stage. The boundaries between fiction and reality are often blurred, and the artist’s tableaus are evocative of a sincere humanity, emotion and character.
In this exhibition, 14 works from Simmons’ new body of photographs entitled “THE LOVE DOLL” will be paired with the artist’s new film “GEISHA SONG”. In 2009, Simmons discovered a poster advertising a plastic love doll dressed in a school girl’s uniform in a comic shop in Akihabara. “I had a strong sense I’d find something that would change my work and move it forward – a book, a prop, a background,” she said later (Laurie Simmons, The Love Doll, p.10). Simmons immediately ordered two of the customized, high-end and life-size Japanese Love Dolls. Originally intended as surrogate sex partners, the dolls arrived to her New York studio in a crate, clothed in a transparent slip and accompanied by a separate box containing an engagement ring and female genitalia.
Simmons began to document her photographic relationship with this human-scale “girl”. The resulting photographs depict the lifelike, latex doll in an ongoing series of “actions”, shown and titled chronologically as the artist’s relationship with the prop evolves. Simmons selected clothes, accessories, props and settings for the dolls, taking various portraits of them in the living room and the kitchen, inside the pool and in the garden, among other domestic sites. She documents the figures in various moments, under changing light, and through all seasons. The series has been published in the book “THE LOVE DOLL” and has been exhibited in New York, London, Paris and Aspen and Gothenburg Sweden.
Laurie Simmons was born in Long Island, NY in 1949. She graduated from Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia with B.F.A. in 1971 and lives and works in New York. Her works are collected in major institutions in the U.S. including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Walker Art Center, as well as The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, The Israel Museum, The National Museum of Art, Osaka and Hara Museum, and 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa in Japan. She recently had a solo exhibition of her major works including the Love Doll series at Gothenburg Museum of Art in Sweden in 2012. This year she will participate in Venice Biennial with Allan McCollum, showing “Actual Photos” series in 1985. She has extended the scope of the artistic practice to collaborations with fashion brands such as COMME des GARÇONS and Chanel.
Artist Laurie Simmons is joined by writer Glenn O’Brien to discuss various subjects including dolls and artifice, sexuality and identity, imagination and physicality, fetishism and the evolution of gender identities, archetypes and taboos, as well as the specific processes of taking photographs and making movies.
In 2009, Simmons opened a new chapter in her work and ordered a custom, high-end “Love Doll” from Japan. Simmons documented her photographic relationship with this human scale “girl,” depicting the lifelike, latex doll in an ongoing series of “actions”—each shown and titled chronologically from the day she received the doll, describing the relationship she developed with her model. The first days of somewhat formal and shy poses give way to an increasing familiarity and comfort level. A second doll arrived one year later. This new character—and the interaction between the two dolls—reveals a new formal and psychological dynamic. In search of a stage for her Love Doll, Simmons turned to her own home, transforming it into an artfully staged, oversized dollhouse. A tale of disquieting adult fantasy, desire and regret, The Love Doll accompanies the complete photographic series with the artist’s diary entries.
Copies of the book are available for purchase and signing at the event after the audience Q&A.
Laurie Simmons is an artist who lives and works in New York and Connecticut. Staging photographs and films with dolls, puppets, ventriloquist dummies and dancers as “living objects,” Simmons animates a world immersed in memory, longing, and regret. Her work appears unsettling as characters struggle with identity. Widely exhibited, Simmons has had solo exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Walker Art Center, and The Gothenburg Museum in Sweden, among others. In 2006 she produced and directed her first film titled The Music of Regret, starring Meryl Streep and the Alvin Ailey 2 Dancers. The film premiered at The Museum of Modern Art, and has been screened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Centre Pompidou, and the Tate Modern. She is currently working on her second feature length film. This fall, the Arnold and Marie Schwartz Gallery at The Metropolitan Opera will show new work inspired by the Nico Muhly opera, Two Boys. Simmons will have a solo exhibition at Salon 94 in New York in March 2014.
Glenn O’Brien is a writer, editor and creative director. He writes a monthly column for GQ and contributes to many publications including Purple, Harper’s Bazaar, and Ten. His recent book, How to Be a Man SaveFrom.net (Rizzoli) is in its fifth hardcover printing. He worked as creative director for Barney’s, Island Records and Calvin Klein, and has created advertising campaigns for Chanel, Dior, Calvin Klein, and Dolce & Gabbana. He has written extensively on art, with essays and monographs on such artists as Jean-Michel Basquiat, James Nares, Richard Prince, Tom Sachs, Dash Snow, Christopher Wool, and Andy Warhol. He has edited an anthology of hipster literature, The Cool School, which will be published by the Library of America in the fall of 2013.
Initiated and organized by Arezoo Moseni in 2004, Artist Dialogues Series provide an open forum for understanding and appreciation of contemporary art. Artists are paired with critics, curators, gallerists, writers or other artists to converse about art and the potential of exploring new ideas.
On the evening of Wednesday the 18th, writer, editor and creative director Glenn O’Brien and photographer Laurie Simmons engaged in an eclectic artistic dialogue at the New York Public Library about dolls. Laurie Simmons has been photographing dolls since 1976; except now they are life sized and appear hauntingly realistic. The two primarily spoke about Simmons’ recently published book, “The Love Doll,” which is comprised of a chronological series of staged photographs, starting upon the arrival of a box of two Japanese “love dolls”.
The conversation began with O’Brien expressing genuine curiosity about the reason why love dolls exist. Simmons referenced a documentary called “Love Me, Love My Doll.” The film chronicles stories of men in Japan who have formed intimate relationships with these synthetic figurines, which are essentially produced for sexual purposes. She describes the Japanese men’s relationships as unsettling and horrific. The doll itself is incredibly life-like, and as described by Simmons, “Beautifully sculpted.”
O’Brien asked, “What’s the appeal?” Simmons replied that she didn’t know, but feels that if in a photograph you’re able rise an emotion out of an inanimate object it is much more impressive than doing so with a real person. Her love doll series is more than impressive. Each image evokes a visceral reaction. Somehow, through stunning composition and a unique, original style, Simmons creates an image that draws the viewer to adopt an impression of sympathy for the photographed doll, as if the object were expressing real, live emotion. The feelings perceived to be emitting from the doll range from struggling with gender roles and stereotypes, to simple emotions like loneliness and frustration.
Even with such inventive and spectacular images of the love doll, which many paralleled Simmons’ early photography with regular sized dolls in terms of subject matter and color scheme (often blue or yellow), there was still a lingering curiosity about the physical doll itself. It was expressed by O’Brien, I felt it, and you could sense the listeners did too. It was also wondered if Simmons had developed any type of relationship with the love dolls. She bluntly stated, “I don’t anthropomorphize them.” Simmons doesn’t even handle the dolls. They are handled by assistants and stored in closets and under sheets, merely props.
Despite the strangeness that is presented in the idea and existence of a “high-end Japanese love doll,” Laurie Simmons has managed to create a tasteful, intriguing, and compositionally elegant collection of photographs that are sure to leave anyone who views them visually and emotionally moved.
10. April 2014 Ausstellung Das Neue Museum Nürnberg widmet der amerikanischen Fotokünstlerin Laurie Simmons die umfangreiche Einzelausstellung "Die fabelhafte Welt der Laurie Simmons". Es ist ihre erste Museumsschau in Europa
Manche erinnern sich vielleicht an die Studio-Szenen im Debütfilm "Tiny Furniture" von Lena Dunham. Da liegt die planlose College-Absolventin Aura auf dem Fußboden ihrer Mutter (gespielt von Laurie Simmons) und rückt – sichtbar beleidigt – winzig kleine, wunderschöne Möbelstücke vor sich hin und her. So lange bis Mama kommt, Aura ungelenk auf ihren Schoß hüpft und die beiden sich innig umarmen.
Dunhams Filmgeschichten leben von einer ungewöhnlichen Echtheit ("Tiny Furniture", "Delusional Downtown Divas", "Girls") und funktionieren deshalb so gut, weil Lena Dunham aus ihrer eigenen Erfahrungswelt schöpft. Sie ist wahnsinnig gut darin, autobiografische Erlebnisse unmittelbar zu verarbeiten. Klar also, dass auch Künstler-Mama Laurie Simmons immer wieder eine Rolle spielt. In der "Tiny Furniture"-Szene ahnte man schon, dass sie in ihrem Tribecaer Loft – dem Zuhause der Familie – Großes schafft. Sinnbildlich gesprochen. Denn ihre Kunstwerke sind eigentlich winzig klein. Miniaturen aus dem Leben.
Nun widmet das Neue Museum Nürnberg der Amerikanerin – endlich! – ihre erste Einzelausstellung in Europa. Die Retrospektive versammelt Werke aus der Sammlung Goetz, die dem Neuen Museum seit Jahresanfang zur Verfügung stehen, ergänzt um Leihgaben der Künstlerin. Zu sehen sind Zyklen wie "In and Around the House" (1978/79) – eine Art Tagebuch einer Hausfrau, aber auch Simmons erster Film "The Music of Regret" (2006).
Seit den 1970er-Jahren inszeniert Laurie Simmons (Jahrgang 1949) in ihren Fotografien Alltagswelten. Ihre Protagonisten sind Spielzeugfiguren, die in künstlichen Räumen agieren. Oft erzählen die immer seriellen Fotoarbeiten Geschichten von Menschen, die in gesellschaftlichen Konventionen gefangen sind und gängige Klischees bedienen: Der Cowboy im Gelände, die Frau Zuhause als Hausfrau.
Unter anderem im Neuen Museum ausgestellt sind die Fotografien von "In and Around the House" (1978/79). Die Serie erzählt von dem Leben einer Hausfrau, die in ihrem 1950er-Jahre-Interieur mehr erlebt, als man zunächst vermuten würde. Das scheinbar aufgeräumte, langweilige Heim verwandelt sich bei genauerem Hinsehen in absolutes Chaos. Ähnlich sozial-kritisch: die Serie "The Love Doll" (2009-2011). Die Fotografien dokumentieren das Dasein lebensgroßer Liebespuppen aus Japan und verweisen auf reale Inszenierungen von Frauen zugunsten männlicher Phantasien.
Weniger "real" wirken die Arbeiten aus "Walking Objects" (1987-1991). Hier ersetzen Sanduhr, Sahnetorte, Pistole oder Parfum-Flakon, den Oberkörper einer Puppe. Nur die langen Barbie-Beine erinnern noch an die menschlichen Züge des, aber endlich emanzipierten, Zwitterwesens. Ein Highlight der Ausstellung ist Laurie Simmons erstes filmisches Werk "The Music of Regret" (2006). Der Film ist ein dreiteiliges Musical in dem das Alter Ego der Künstlerin von niemandem geringeren als der amerikanischen Schauspielerin Meryl Streep verkörpert wird.
Creativity definitely runs in Girls star and creator Lena Dunham's family. Her mum, Laurie Simmons, has been nominated for the prestigious Prix Pictet photography award, along with 10 other leading photographers from all over the world, who are competing for the prize of £67,000. The winner will be announced on 21 May at London's Victoria & Albert Museum, followed by an exhibition of their work.
Apart from having had a guest appearance on Gossip Girl in 2011, New York-based Simmons, 65, also starred in her daughter Lena's feature film Tiny Furniture, filmed in 2009, playing her fictional mother. It was set inside Simmons' Tribeca apartment, which doubles as her studio. And this summer Simmons is directing a feature film, My Art, about an ageing woman artist, with a small role for Lena, which she will start shooting in August.
"I have little part for Lena in the film, which she seems excited about," says Simmons. "A very little part." But first Simmons is taking the limelight with her 2009-2011 series of photographs, The Love Doll, which she submitted to the prize, which this year is centred around the theme of consumption.
The Love Doll series features a lifesize latex sex doll from Japan and documents the ongoing days in the doll's life from the day she received the doll. The Love Doll/Day 27/Day 1 (New in Box. Head), 2010, consists of a doll's head in a cardboard box, surrounded by bubble wrap; The Love Doll/Day 20 (20 Pounds of Jewellery), 2010, sees the glamorous doll weighed down with costume jewellery, while sitting on a sofa; The Love Doll/Day 31 (Geisha), 2011, shows the doll sitting elegantly on the floor in a silk kimono. In The Love Doll/ Day 26 (Shoes), 2010, the doll is photographed crawling on the floor, surrounded by heaps of shoes, in an Imelda Marcos moment.
This project began after Simmons ordered a custom, high-end love doll from Japan and began to "tease out a personality" and "allowed her persona to emerge" in a series of staged shots. "I had been on two trips to Tokyo, first with Lena and then with my youngest daughter, Grace. I wanted to go to Japan my whole life, but I had no idea it was going to be an ongoing provider of inspiration."
It was on the second trip to Japan that Grace saw a poster for a love doll and they ended up at the showroom full of love dolls in "many shapes and sizes". "We realised it was a super high-end sex doll. But the thing that struck me was that it really was a life-size doll. It was beautifully crafted, unlike the sex dolls that they sell in the US, which have a crass appeal. This was like looking at a beautiful sculpture. For me, finding a life-size doll after working with small figurines was like a dream come true because it meant that I could work in human scale for the first time."
Simmons was immediately "fascinated" and "disturbed" by this life-size, life-like body that "could be bought and arrived packaged in a box, a woman/girl entering your home as a commodity ready to be used and fetishised. The love doll is originally produced to be a muted surrogate body, a substitute for a human being manufactured solely for pleasure and desire."
Since 1977, Simmons has staged scenes with dolls, ventriloquist dummies, figurines and sometimes people, for her camera to create photographs that reference domestic scenes. Her first works in 1976 were black-and-white interiors of doll's houses, but she would toss out the figurines. "One day on a whim, I picked up a female doll and put her in a kitchen situation in different poses," says Simmons. "I felt so embarrassed and thought 'I can't show these pictures to anybody,' as it seemed so connected to doll play; juvenile and not serious."
In 1979, she turned to cowboy figurines that she put on horseback in a style similar to television Westerns. Her Under the Sea series (1979-1980) consisted of figurines immersed in a fish tank to create diving scenes with goldfish, followed by her Tourism series (1983-1984), in which groups of dolls were shot visiting hotspots such as the Pyramids and Stonehenge.
The Love Doll series is her first attempt at using life-size dolls, which she keeps in a storeroom in her studio. She usually shot one scene a day with the Japanese latex doll: "I have people get them camera-ready – brush their hair and dress them. Frankly, I couldn't move them around on my own. They are not that light".
Apparently, her two daughters Lena and Grace who grew up with a mother who photographed toys, ventriloquist dummies and figurines, are used to it. "You get used to what your parents do. It doesn't seem really odd," says Simmons. She started to use ventriloquist dummies in her photographs after Lena was born in 1986. They can be seen in her Talking Objects series (1987-1989), which includes Girl Miami, Florida (1988), of a girl wearing a spotted dress while sitting on a chair. "The dummies were basically the size of a small child," says Simmons. "I'd leave Lena and go to a ventriloquist museum in Kentucky and look at dummies that were pretty much the same size as the child I had at home. It was really life mirroring art."
Simmons also photographed her parents, in mid-1970s, dressed up in costumes and dancing in pictures titled Sam and Dottie Dance. "A lot of artists turn their lens towards their parents as a way to understand who they are. It is like a growing process. I'm super sympathetic to that – I could understand Lena's desire to put me in Tiny Furniture because I'd done it myself with my parents."
There were 700 nominated photographers who submitted work dating from 2000 to the Prix Pictet prize, before the list was whittled down to 11 photographers by the jury.
"I was surprised at how well my series fits the theme of consumption because for me moving a love doll around the house and inventing a personality for her was as if she had fallen to earth and was discovering her environment. The pictures became so much about excess with the piles of shoes or candy and jewellery. It is about a character who has an overwhelming abundance of choices and about how these choices can be paralysing. How do you make a decision? When I went out to the cheap chain store to buy the love doll clothes, I thought about the crazy number of choices people are confronted with."
Now Simmons is making new work for her Kigurumi series, which she started in 2013. This time it is humans wearing doll's outfits and masks, and photographed in various settings, which will also be exhibited in a London show, Kigurumi and Dollers, later this month. "My characters are like living dolls: they move like dolls, they feel like dolls, but they can move on their own."