When London-born photographer Annie Collinge traveled across the globe to Manhattan, she could not have predicted that she would discover in one of the city’s many flea markets a discarded doll that undeniably resembled her faraway aunt Yolanda. The likeness of the 1960s antique figure, masked in goggles and outfitted for a day of skiing, to a true—if tiny— human being was what first compelled the photographer to embark on Five Inches of Limbo, for which she paired real, live sitters with their porcelain doubles.
For the photographer, the original muse for each sitting could come in the form either of a doll or a person. Just as she searched the streets for cherubic, doll-like faces, she turned to online retailers, antique stores, and junk shops for anthropomorphic toys. Once she found either her model—be she flesh or plastic— the hunt for her mirror image would begin.
While approaching strangers on the streets of New York City to sit for such a peculiar and specific purpose may have seemed daunting at times, Collinge channeled Martin Parr, who advised her during a college lecture never to linger in the peripheries. Instead, she marched right up to her would-be subjects, setting up a time to correspond over email and ultimately to arrange a sitting. In the end, few souls rejected the prospect.
Although Collinge admits to always being somewhat disturbed by dolls, it wasn’t until she picked up Margaret Atwood’s Five Poems for Dolls, which she ultimately included in the publication, that she put her finger squarely on why they held such a sinister allure. While the miniature effigies closely mimic humanity, they lack the essential principle that animates us: our mortality. While we develop, metamorphose, and ultimately pass away, the dolls made in our image remain fixed forever in their infancy. In some ways, the photograph serves a similar purpose, preserving our likenesses long after we have gone.
After shooting, Collinge cannot bring herself to toss or discard the dolls, explaining that instead she has (perhaps reluctantly) accrued an impressive collection. Although she cannot part with the figures, she doesn’t like the idea of having them on view in her home, watching her. “ I don’t really want to have them on a display shelf like a mad old lady,” admits the artist.
All images © Annie Collinge