Since she was introduced in 1959, Barbie has been an icon and a household name, both a staple of the toy aisle and a hotly debated representation of femininity. You’ve probably seen so many versions of Barbie that you can immediately call to mind what she looks like: blonde, blue-eyed, impossibly proportioned and utterly plastic.
But Paris-based photographer Hamid Blad’s new photo series “Barbie Blad” looks at the doll in a completely different way—employing a unique photographic process to ‘play’ with the idea of how we perceive Barbie-esque beauty. It’s a way of questioning the problematic idea of the doll as the pinnacle of attractiveness.
“My objective is not so much to challenge [beauty] standards, but as an artist, I try to make art around the subject of appearances to make you question these images,” Blad told Hello Giggles.
In order to do that, Blad used a process that involved a very cold UV light and collodion, a 19th century method of photography that brings out dimension but is very unforgiving to faces. Blad said that he used that method “to bring out a new dimension in these pretty women’s objects.”
If Barbie comes out of the box looking virtually Photoshopped, Blad has, through a technical process, un-retouched her.
“Barbie dolls as iconic representations of beauty are nothing but beautiful faces on plastic mannequins, artificially smooth and sparkling,” Blad told Slate. “When I photograph these dolls, I want them to come to life. I try to give them a real face with imperfections.”
The photos, close-cropped, are eerie: They make Barbie look almost real and imperfect. At the same time, they’re more synthetic looking than ever.
They also reference an earlier era of high-fashion modeling and beauty contests. Blad, who collected his dolls from eBay, flea markets and friends, assigned each plastic model a name inspired by a ’70s fashion model, and then styled each one with a nod to a past era of windswept hair, popped collars and heavy make-up (which he did apply to some of his “models”).
“Replacing a person in the flesh by plastic objects aims in a sense to denounce the fake aspect of identity.” he told Slate. “I like to build on ‘beauty’ to question social stereotypes.”
Certainly the stereotype of Barbie as the gold standard of beauty comes under scrutiny under the harsh lighting of Blad’s technical process. At the same time, his subjects, with their frozen expressions and heavy make-up, mirror images of real women who’ve been retouched into oblivion. The result is both chilling and impossible to ignore.
View the entire project and more of the artist’s work at his website.