Tony Bannon of George Eastman House challenged me to dig deeper into my dark side with the Spirits of the Secret Keepers series. He suggested I inflict damage on the dolls, and although that defeats the purpose of the series, or at least how I've thought of the series, I decided to give it a try.
The bin of yet-to-be-photographed doll heads is in my studio. They are all looking at me expectantly. Is it my turn yet? Try as I might, I cannot view them as inanimate objects but rather as personalities with various levels of worthiness. Usually some are more worthy than others of being photographed but now I'm having to decide: who is worthy of being abused? With hammer in hand, here I am choosing whose head to smash and it feels really unnatural.
Get over it and choose you big wuss!
Ah, there's a candidate.
The head is placed between a folded towel on the coffee table in my living room. This is a safer way to hammer, right? Don't want any pieces of her skull flying around the room and putting someone's eye out. (Plus, I won't be able to see her face as I strike.) I'm wanting to feel angry about something but can't conjure anything. I turn on the television thinking that some Law & Order or Cops episode will put me in the mood and Farrah's Story is about to start. As a cancer survivor, perhaps I can get pissed off that I got cancer and had to endure chemotherapy. But I was never pissed off in the first place, just frightened. Besides, that was nineteen years ago and I'm a survivor, how angry can I be? Still, watching the needle go into her arm reminds me of how sick I felt whenever the chemo drugs flowed into my veins and I use this as an excuse to smash the doll.
Boy, what a wimp. I'm hitting her but she's not breaking. Peeking into the towel I see her cheerful little smile and the glint in her eyes. It takes several times, but the only thing that breaks is the back of her head, and her eyes fall out. That's it. I'm done. If I were living a Twilight Zone episode her smile would have turned into a frown and she would have been whimpering "Mama, mamaaaaaaaaa."
A couple of days later I catch a glimpse of a recent Ebay purchase. What was I thinking? It's one of those porcelain bisque doll heads that looks fresh out of the factory. She never had a body, if indeed it's even a she, and was surely never loved. I hate it.
A towel isn't necessary here, I just smash her head for instant success. Big pieces of her skull break off and I get slightly giddy. The flicker of a candle catches my eye so I hold her face down over the flame. A steel brush, some blueberries thawing in a bowl, a red crayon...time to get painterly! (Still undecided how I feel about that word.)
My fascination with the dolls I choose to photograph has as much to do with the mystery behind them as the way they look. Momentary giddiness aside, nothing felt particularly satisfying about altering them for photographic purposes. There are no kept secrets here; I know a blueberry stain when I see one. That being said, I love Michael DeMeng's approach to altering dolls for assemblages, and I do have some dolls set aside for that purpose. What's the difference? Still pondering that question.
Blueberry (this is what I've nicknamed the porcelain doll) is still "cooking." When she's done I'll photograph her as I've done the others, turning her head this way and that, chin up, chin down, from above and from below, and see if she holds a candle to my other pieces, if you catch my drift.