Plastic Friends

by Sarah Hayes

I have worked as a fashion merchandiser for many years and have a passion for using mannequins within my photographic work. There is something fascinating about these fiberglass human forms, from their vacant expressions to the interchangeable limbs that are used to construct a variety of unnatural poses. I have always found the absence of character and personality that these forms radiate fascinating to work with. I decided to research the subject further to see how dolls and mannequins have been used within contemporary photographic work; to my delight I found one documentary series entitled ‘Jenny’s Soul’ by German photographer Sandra Hoyn.

The series is based on the true story of a man’s emotional relationship with a silicone doll named Jenny. The images are thoughtful and non judgmental, Hoyn describes that she wanted “to put both subjects on an equal level.” Hoyn realized that she had to see Jenny the same way that her partner Dirk saw her, in order to create a true representation of their relationship within her photography.

There is something beautiful within this series and I feel Hoyn achieves her empathetic approach sincerely and honestly. While viewing the work I became fascinated with Jenny and even found myself wondering what she was thinking, even though I know she is a doll. Hoyn experiences a similar sensation when she finds herself whispering as Dirk lays Jenny down for an afternoon nap.

This series is deeply human and allows viewers to understand that behind closed doors we all have emotional needs and achieve them in a variety of ways, some more accepted than others. Jenny is not just a doll to Dirk, but a companion and Hoyn presents her respectfully just as she does Dirk. Dolls have been seen in photography as a cliché, but I feel Hoyn breaks this tradition in ‘Jenny’s Soul’ due to the approach she takes to such a sensitive subject matter.

Dolls and mannequins will always be of great curiosity to me and foresee them featuring within my work for many years to come.