Original photograph: Identical Twins, Roselle, N.J., 1967 by Diane Arbus rendered in Play-Doh, 2015 © Eleanor Macnair


Original photograph: The Damm Family in Their Car, Los Angeles, California, 1987 by Mary Ellen Mark rendered in Play-Doh, 2016 © Eleanor Macnair

In the beginning, London-based artist Eleanor Macnair never meant for Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh to be anything more than her own personal endeavor. It started years ago when after long days of work as a photography press consultant, she retreated back into her favorite images at night, devoting hours to recreating them in the children’s sculptural material.

The idea first struck during a pub quiz night; players were asked to sculpt famous artworks using Play-Doh, and the notion stuck with her. The pieces each require three to four hours to create, and Macnair makes them using basic household tools. A rolling pin, for instance, is replaced with an old wine bottle. It’s funny, but it’s also earnest.

Where photography is usually immediate, sculpture requires extending periods of concentration, but in keeping with the fleeting and ephemeral nature of the original photographs, Macnair dismantles each of her creations after she’s photographed them. The pieces themselves survive only long enough to be captured, then the Play-Doh is taken apart until it can be used to make something new.

Here, Macnair is not only mimicking but connecting— and entering into a conversation— with the images we have come to take for granted. Here, blacks and whites and grays become so many colors; everything is pared down to its fundamental parts.

There’s a tactile, material quality in Macnair’s Plah-Doh images that proves once and for all that photography is not purely mechanical medium. The folds of the skirt on Eggleston’s Girl on Grass have clearly been etched there, and the remnants of a fingerprint lingers over Cindy Sherman’s cheek.

Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh is on view now until April 22 at Kleinschmidt Fine Photographs in Wiesbaden, Germany and will open at Kopeikin Gallery  in Los Angeles on March 18. Follow the project on Instagram.


Original photograph: Untitled, 1975 by William Eggleston rendered in Play-Doh, 2016 © Eleanor Macnair


Original photograph: Untitled film still #21, 1978 by Cindy Sherman rendered in Play-Doh, 2015 © Eleanor Macnair


Original photograph: Nan, one month after being battered, 1984 by Nan Goldin rendered in Play-Doh, 2015 © Eleanor Macnair


Original photograph: Carmen Dell’Orefice by Irving Penn rendered in Play-Doh, 2016 © Eleanor Macnair

sander farmers final

Original photograph: Young farmers, 1914 by August Sander rendered in Play-Doh, 2015 © Eleanor Macnair


Original photograph: Self-portrait, 1959 by Seydou Keita rendered in Play-Doh, 2016 © Eleanor Macnair


Original photograph: 2008_02zL0189, from ‘Broken Manual’ by Alec Soth rendered in Play-Doh, 2015 © Eleanor Macnair


Original photograph: Subway Portrait, 1938 by Walker Evans rendered in Play-Doh, 2016 © Eleanor Macnair

Discover More

Give a Print
Receive a Print
Receive a print