In How We See, Laurie Simmons draws on the “Doll Girls” subculture of women who alter themselves with makeup, dress, and even cosmetic surgery to look like Barbie, baby dolls, and anime characters. Evoking the tradition of the high-school portrait — when teenagers present their idealized selves to the camera — Simmons photographed fashion models seated in front of a curtain, cropped from the shoulders down.
Despite the banal pose, each portrait is activated by kaleidoscopic lighting and small, surprising details that produce a nearly psychedelic effect. The girls have preternaturally large, sparkling eyes that are painted on each model’s closed lids, a well-known Doll Girls technique, and stare out at the visitor with an uncanny, alien gaze.
How We See draws an arc between portraits traded among classmates to the persona play that Doll Girls rapidly execute on smartphones, where the continuous feeds of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter allow alternate versions of the self to appear, morph, and disappear.
Laurie Simmons: How We See is organized by Assistant Curator Kelly Taxter.
Laurie Simmons: How We See is made possible by the Melva Bucksbaum Fund for Contemporary Art. Additional generous support is provided by Toby Devan Lewis, The Alice M. and Thomas J. Tisch Foundation, Ann and Mel Schaffer, and Vera Schapps.
How did you end up working with Laurie Simmons? Who made the connection?
I ended up working with Laurie Simmons through JV8INC, my casting company. I had previously modeled for Barney’s New York.
Were you familiar with her work? What did you think of it?
Prior to this project, I was not familiar with Simmons’ work. However, after researching her, I loved it. Her work really resonated with me. I was particularly excited about this project. As a transgender woman, the doll girl community played an important role in my transition. When I was younger, I used to dress up as Japanese anime. These were mostly female characters and doing so helped me grew into my own identity. So for me, Laurie Simmons’ work brings back childhood memories that I hold dear.
How did it feel to pose with your eyes closed?
It felt like I was blind. It increased my empathy for people who cannot see. At the same time, I was in a meditative zone with heightened awareness. I listened to Laurie’s directions.
What kind of directions did Laurie give you in the studio?
She directed me throughout the entire shoot. She asked me to move my eyeballs around, raise my eyebrows, and my eyelids. She turned me into a glamorous doll.
What was your reaction to seeing the photos?
I was very shocked. I’ve never seen myself looking so surreal. Even with my eyes closed, or especially with my eyes closed, the photos show and evoke different emotions.
(interview for ARTnews.com)