Intriguing ‘doll baby’ photo series is one of the highlights of the forthcoming Angkor Photo Festival. Miranda Glasser reports.
Hollywood actress Carrie Fisher snuggling up to a freakishly lifelike baby doll, and a photo of a large black dog gazing forlornly from behind the steering wheel of a car feature in some of the highlights of this year’s Angkor Photo Festival.
In its ninth year, the international festival – running from November 23-30 – has no established theme. Rather it celebrates the work of both established and up-and-coming photographers worldwide. Collections will be shown in a series of indoor and outdoor exhibitions plus eight evenings of outdoor slideshows.
“This year I’ve had around 1200 submissions,” says program director Francoise Callier, who is curating the festival. “We’ll have around 130 photographers and this year the submissions came from 75 countries which is really good – it increases every year.”
She adds that the photographers can be from anywhere, but the work has to tell a story.
Callier is particularly excited about a collection by London-based photographer Martin Usborne, who will be exhibiting his series Mute: The Silence of Dogs in Cars at the McDermott Gallery. Usborne, whose work over the years has featured in the Sunday Times magazine and Time magazine and has been exhibited at London’s National Portrait Gallery, was inspired by childhood angst-ridden memories of being left in a car.
“I don’t know when or where or for how long, possibly at the age of four, perhaps outside a supermarket, probably for fifteen minutes only,” his press literature reads. “The details don’t matter. The point is that I wondered if anyone would come back.
The fear I felt was strong: in a child’s mind it is possible to be alone forever.”
At around the same time, he says, he developed a strong affinity with animals and was particularly affected by the sometimes cruel way they were treated by humans, hurt but unable to speak back.
“When I started this project I knew the photos would be dark,” he writes. “In a sense, I was attempting to go back inside my car, to re-experience what I couldn’t bear as a child. What I didn’t expect was to see so many subtle reactions by the dogs: some sad, some expectant, some angry, some dejected.”
In Mute, Usborne snaps various mutts sitting inside cars, from the handsome, black pedigree-looking dog behind the wheel to the scruffy Old English Sheepdog-type staring through his fur through a grubby windshield.
Callier also enthuses about a “very beautiful” exhibition by Japanese photographer Herbie Yamaguchi called Hatachi No Shokei
“The photos were taken between the ’60s and ’70s when Japan was recovering after the war,” she says. “It’s a bit like those old Japanese movies, very nice atmosphere.”
As for the slideshows, one particular artist has caught Callier’s eye: American photographer Rebecca Martinez, who shot a photo-story titled preTenders, about women who own dolls that look like living babies. In some of the series her subject is actress Carrie Fisher, who posed in character with the dolls creating different scenarios such as “haggard homemaker, bored mother and a beautiful, sophisticated housewife.”
Martinez writes, “Who and what we fall in love with comes in many forms. Babies create strong emotions for the bearer, holder and observer. I have discovered this holds true even when it is known the baby is not real. This series documents a subculture of women who create, adopt, and love dolls that look as close as possible to living infants. It is called preTenders as one pretends the dolls are real, one tends to the babies and there are tender feelings involved.”
Callier says the lifelike appearance of the dolls is quite extraordinary, and it is something of a shock when you see the photo depicting a multitude of ‘babies’ lined up on shelves.
“This is quite an interesting story,” she says. “Rebecca Martinez made a story about a community of people in the States, mostly women, who want a baby but can’t have one so they order plastic babies – and they are exactly like real ones. When you see the first picture in the slideshow you can’t guess that they’re fake babies and suddenly you have an image with 100 babies made of plastic!
“It’s incredible. You can choose if it’s a crying baby, a smiling baby – whatever you wish. It’s quite a crazy project. The ‘babies’ even have toys. There is one picture that’s quite amazing; it’s a pregnant woman and she already has twenty of those plastic babies so you can’t imagine what’s going to happen to the real baby, I don’t want to know,” laughs Callier.