Sally Sharpe. B.A Photography Level 5.
Rationale. Brief 523.
Living Doll is a series of images exploring the strange world of sex dolls, from the dismembered body parts that you can buy on any high street to the high-end silicon robots with A.I.
I started this project with the intention of creating series of images that display a filmic quality heavily influenced by photographers such as Gregory Crewdson, Philip-Locca DiCorcia, David LA Chappell and Cindy Sherman. These large-scale productions not only have the most amazing lighting they have a real sense of the theatrical. I too like Crewdson and Sherman, looked at the films I grew up with the wonderful worlds of Spielberg, Lynch and Coppola. I spent weeks’ binge watching 80s movies from Star Wars, Goonies, ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Lost Boys I could go on. What struck me about most of these films, apart from the awesome sets, mise en scene and lighting the real story centred around the relationships between a cast of young characters. The notion that if they stuck together everything would be okay.
There seems to be a revival going on, as this year with the remake of It, Blade Runner and especially the Netflix series Stranger Things, which relies heavily on the nostalgic look and feel of so many of these 80s films. It’s not only on screen I’m seeing this. Grunge music is cool again and fashion is always taking influence from this era.
After watching the remake of Blade Runner along with the news of Harvey Weinstein’s allegations and the medias sexualisation of the young cast of Strange Things, I began to look into the theory of objectification of the body and the humanisation of objects and the dehumanisation this leads to.
My work previously centred around teenagers and youth culture the amazing intimacy that teenagers have with each other, as in the films I watched as a child. Even in this digital world, with social media and dating sites teenagers still seem to have a closeness.
I believe I captured this, I photographed my subjects not with the male gaze, although somewhat voyeuristically but with the gaze of a 40 something-year-old wondering where the intimacy goes. I wanted to continue that with this work, this idea of lost intimacy and sparked by the idea of replicants from Blade Runner I began looking at objects that resemble human form.
Whilst on a trip to Hong Kong I visited Head office of Loveflowerbud. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed photograph but I was shown into a room by a young man named Li, it was full of various sex toys of every shape and colour you can imagine, I have to admit I had no idea what most of them were. Along one wall behind glass doors stood 4 full sized silicone dolls. They were so realistic they actually took my breath away, all of them were Asian looking with dark hair and big brown eyes, that seem to stare at me the entire time I was in there. At 5 foot 2 I’m not exactly tall and yet these dolls were quite a lot smaller than me, one was wearing a schoolgirl outfit, one a Chinese dress, one dressed as a cheerleader and the other in white lingerie.
Once I told Li I was photography student he didn’t seem overly enthusiastic about talking to me, he told me not to refer to the ‘girls’ as sex dolls as they were much more than that. That most of the men who buy them don’t do so for sex but for love and companionship and that many men who lead very busy lives just don’t have time for dating or to find love, so this is where doll companions can help. I left feeling a little unnerved, they looked so real if not a little on the young side. I found out once I was home that child sex dolls are legal in China and there was a case of an English man being arrested for child pornography trying to bring one home. I also read about the incident of Samantha the sex robot at the Arts Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria, it was badly soiled with broken limbs, including fingers and was so severely damaged they had to send her home to be cleaned and repaired.
This story really bothered me, I understand that sex dolls or robots are meant for sex even rough sex but why the hell would they break its’ fingers. Sian Norris put it well in the New states man.
‘There will be some who argue that this "attack" proves the need for sex robots as an outlet for male aggression. However, rather than shrugging our shoulders and accepting that male sexual violence is inevitable, we must instead challenge the causes and try to end it.’ Norris, 2017 newstatesman.com
Now I’m questioning the ethics behind these dolls.
Sophia the robot has been given citizenship in Saudi Arabia and has appeared on many TV shows, she’s becoming a celebrity and yet she is owned by a man and her primary function is to please.
With these images’ I wanted to show these dolls may look like the ideal woman, they may even feel like a woman. In some men’s eyes these dolls are in fact better than a real woman as they never complain, never say no and you can’t physically hurt them because they’re not human. And yet many men have replaced real relationships with them. This loss of real intimacy and struggle with real relationships is something I feel can be explored more.
I didn’t want to objectify anyone else, so I took a leaf out of Cindy Shermans’ book and put myself in the images. I didn’t so much think of these images as self-portraits as it wasn’t me, I was playing a character, I wasn’t even human. This allowed me to take the risks I took, with the help of Photoshop and an amazing make-up artist, I was transformed into a living doll.