mysterious mannequins and abject objects

Leonor Fini by Henri Cartier Bresson,Paris-1933

Leonor Fini by Henri Cartier Bresson, Paris (1933)

Mannequins, E1 by John Claridge, 1968

Mannequins, E1 by John Claridge (1968)

There is something about undressed, outdated mannequins than renders them automatically unsettling. It’s not quite the same feeling as seeing someone undressed you shouldn’t be (and we all know I’m not that much of a prude). Rather, it’s the unnerving sentiment of witnessing an object rendered obsolete. Naked, a mannequin is stripped of its intented purpose – a plastic object whose sole purpose it is to mimic the human body, created for consumers.

Abandoned, unused, immobile – they also happen to make for fabulous photography subjects.

Oct. 16, 1970: The Times chronicled the sale of used display stock at a warehouse on Long Island, an event that the reporter said “would have made a swarm of locusts look like a bunch of lazy butterflies.” The complete dummies cost $10 and $20,  “but the parts were a bargain,” the caption said. “You could get a hand for five cents or buy an arm for a dime.”

José Alemany - Mannequin Head Studies, 1920s -1930s

José Alemany – Mannequin Head Studies, 1920s -1930s

Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Maniquí tapado (Mannequin covered), 1931

Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Maniquí tapado (Mannequin covered), 1931

Don’t these two next photos, by John Vachon and WeeGee respectively, look as though they could be the same mannequins?

Two female mannequins stand undressed in a windowshop front in the 1940s. Photographed by John Vachon

Department Store Models, Chicago, Illinois by John Vachon (July 1940)

Mannequins by Weegee (1942)

Mannequins by Weegee (1942)

Leonor Fini by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Surrealist artist Leonor Fini by Henri Cartier-Bresson (1933)

Last year marked the first time I had the pleasure of seeing some of Leonor Fini’s pieces when the exhibition In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States was in Quebec City. What a fabulous woman, what strange photos. If only I could have been a fly on the wall when Cartier-Bresson and Fini concocted these images…

Some of the more talented photographers took an interesting spin on the idea that mannequins were designed to be looked at. Designed to stand still, in glass in storefronts, to elicit curiosity, excitement, and desire – hopefully, the desire to be wearing the clothes they were modelling. But when these mannequins are in various states of undress, or better yet missing limbs and wigs, the visual impact packs an even bigger punch.

Being watched…

Hans Mauli

Hans Mauli

…or  watching.

Wilmington, North Carolina, 1950 by Elliot Erwitt

Wilmington, North Carolina, 1950 by Elliot Erwitt

Mannequins, Thieves Bazaar, Bombay by Ferenc Berko, 1938-47

Mannequins, Thieves Bazaar, Bombay by Ferenc Berko (1938-47)

As I researched some of these photographs, spanning fifty years and several countries, I wondered why mannequins are such a compelling subject. There is just so much to explore in the idea that an object, designed to mimic the human body, serving consumers. There is also the simple fact that one of the main reasons mannequins have been a popular subject for photographers and artists is that they are motionless, and hold their poses effortlessly – as opposed to their living, breathing counterparts.

We could easily get into some of the more controversial elements – how mannequins present an idealized version of the human body, how female mannequins are often sexualized, how they have evolved over the years, etc. I could also join the crowds of feminists who have ripped into famous fashion photographers, namely Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin, for the visual ways in which they objectified women, and often involved pairing live models with dopplegänger plastic mannequins.

There’s also the curious fact that the word for model in French is, in fact, mannequin.

But really the main purpose me sharing these images with you is the fact that I find them beautiful and intriguing.

Recommended Reading:

About these ads

5 Comments

Filed under art, photography, Uncategorized

5 responses to “mysterious mannequins and abject objects

  1. bea

    This isn’t a comment in direct response to this post, but I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate and enjoy your posts. The balance of personal and critical is really lovely, and I really enjoy the “Recommended Reading” you share at the end of every post. The hours I’ve spent following link after link from your posts have been some of the most entertaining and informative. Thanks, Julia.

  2. A story that you might find interesting: in Taiwan, it is common to see glass booths with scantily-clad young women inside, selling betel nuts to truck drivers and day laborers. (Such nuts possess stimulant properties.) However, I’ve also seen older women in these booths – but with a scantily-clad mannequin inside to accompany them. I have no idea if this setup actually works.

  3. Mannequins are definitely intriguing and unsettling! I came across a Barbie collector on Flickr who collects mannequins – as creepy as some people find my doll collection, I couldn’t imagine living in a house full of mannequins…

  4. Picking up on your “idealized version of the female body,” I remember thinking, when a bike shirt was removed from an “athletic female mannequin” that was way too big breasted to correspond to a female bicyclist’s physique (endurance athletes are often flat chested), that somebody could make good money making and selling mannequins shaped more realistically. Because, for instance, a racing swimsuit fits and looks better on a mannequin shaped like a swimmer, not a runway model.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s