Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mannequin Mania

Mannequins are not new – not here, on this blog, nor anywhere in modern culture. They’ve been around for centuries – as far back as the time of the Egyptian pharaohs, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and beyond – and I for one, can seldom go passed them. I have files filled with mannequin photos and the stranger they are, the better I like them. I’m not entirely sure what draws me to them – sometimes it’s a matter of colour, or expression; other times it’s a body angle, an eerie similarity to reality, or the comical way shop owners have dressed them in unexpected costumes and used them for marketing purposes. Interestingly, it seems just as many people are repelled by them; and their presence in horror movies, like Stanley Kubrick’s “Killer’s Kiss” for instance, seems to confirm what many see as a disturbing presence. I’m amused to discover in fact, that there is a recognised irrational fear of mannequins called pediophobia.
I, meanwhile, was in mannequin heaven a couple of weekends ago when I stepped into The Village Junk Shop in Sumner, here in Christchurch. I love this tiny den of second-hand cast-offs. It’s one of several I frequent and as soon as I was through the door I fell upon a wooden box filled with mannequin’s hands. “There’s more out in the back room,” the owner said, with what turned out to be unbelievable understatement.
The shop’s back room is one of those tiny, low-ceiled cottage affairs that makes you wonder how small people must have been a hundred years ago. And there it was, jammed full with a jumble - an orgy in fact - of body parts. ‘A stand’ of undamaged models looked on, their ‘skin’ a wonderful mottled, peeling shell for what seemed to me, quite separate personalities. That’s the element of duality that intrigues me – for no matter how stiff and ‘cloned’ they are supposed to be, they almost always have an individual character. Maybe that’s why people find them creepy. Of course for others (women mostly), mannequins can also represent all that is wrong with fashion and its portrayal of perfection as the ultimate goal. My interest is actually quite in keeping with my love of anything slightly quirky or bizarre, anything that creates an unexpected visual juxtaposition that makes me stop and look twice. If you want to see any of the others I’ve photographed, click on the word mannequins in the label line below this post.

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