Photographs by Elena Dorfman. Text by Elisabeth Alexandre.
Channel Photographics, New York, 2005. 128 pp., 80 spot varnished four-color illustrations, 10x10".
Since the beginning of human history dolls have served as symbolic
selves, as icons for religious fervor, effigies that represent different sides
of the psyche, as surrogates in therapy sessions, as child’s play and adult
fantasy. They are the vehicles of our cultural imagination, proxies we animate
with our ideas and ideals. In Still Lovers, Elena Dorfman explores
the complex relationships between life-sized, synthetic sex dolls and their
owners. For many, the idea of the sex doll conjures images of the kitschy
inflatable, but these expensive, highly realistic dolls, which owners customize
to the smallest detail, are far from silly, and they perform more
than a sexual role for their owners. What started for Dorfman in 1999
as a playful curiosity - a project about 'men having sex with 125 pounds
of perfectly formed synthetic female' - rapidly became a serious exploration
of the emotional and psychological ties between the owners and
their dolls. Her candid wonderment and non-judgmental approach present
a fascinating glimpse into the personalities that owners invest in their
dolls and the zest with which they attire them. The dolls become sculptural
beauties, sex kittens, companions, and family members. One
woman owns several dolls that represent different aspects of her personality
and sexuality, while another owner, a military officer, dreams of marrying
his 'Rebecca.' A suburban owner drinks coffee on the couch as
'Taffy' lounges nearby in her crotchless negligee. A family goes about
their morning routine with 'Valentine' at the table in a demure cardigan
and straw hat. Dorfman’s deft treatment of the subject and neutral color
palate keep the images firmly grounded in a documentary tradition and,
thus, depict the subjects outside of the visual schema associated with fantasy.
The result is that we as viewers –though we know the dolls to be
passive and inanimate – begin to believe in the owners’ vision of these
dolls. Though the dolls’ flesh may be synthetic, the love and attachment
for the doll is very real, and the roles these surrogates perform are active
and fruitful. Dorfman’s images confront the concept of the ideal woman
and her place in the home. They also challenge our notions of love and
show the imagination’s powerful function in achieving and sustaining it.
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