Weekly updates:

Art
Posted by

Weekly updates


Doll collections are nothing new, but Stacy Leigh’s definitely flips the script on the Barbie dream house cliché. Since discovering life size sex dolls a few years back, the New York photographer has drawn on them in her artistic practice. Her portraits of the dolls are captivating and disturbing, walking the line between intimacy and voyeurism, fantasy and reality, brutality and tenderness. So naturally Stacy was our number one choice to shoot the cover for our latest issue of ACCLAIM, The Authenticity Issue.

Do you want to introduce yourself?

Stacy Leigh, I’m a photographer from New York city.

When did you get into photography?

About seven or eight years ago, I got frustrated with painting so I decided to pick up a camera and give it ago. It’s less personal than painting in my opinion.

So you came to it kind of late then?

I did come to late in the game, but the truth is I’ve always taken photographs of my friends, and still life, and things of that nature. I’ve always set up scenarios and photographed my friends. It’s always been one of the many platforms that I get my art out on.

You photographed Barbie dolls as a kid, is that right?

 Yeah, when I was about seven years old my mother gave me a small camera. I was an only child so I was bored and in a room full of adults there was nothing else for me to do but kind of play with my dolls – I still have the photos.

When did you first come across real dolls?

It was probably about twelve years ago, I was watching HBO, which is where I think a lot of people heard of Real Dolls. It was a television show called Real Sex. Did you ever see that?

No, I missed that one.

 There were only two models of doll back then, so it was really the beginning of Real Dolls. Being a doll collector as a child, and being always interested in photographing the dolls, I kind of vowed that one day when I could afford to buy one of those oversized life size Barbie dolls I was going to get one. So years passed and finally I could afford one. My first doll wasn’t a Real Doll, it was a competitor.

How many brands are there in the market?

When I first started photographing love dolls there were two companies in Japan, an American company, and a French company. There were some other manufacturers in the United States, but they were very low end – not uber realistic looking dolls. Fast forward to 2013 and there’s probably 15 or more manufacturers that make the really high end ones, and then there’s an entire range that’s lesser priced. Even China is getting into it, and I’ve gotta say, in a years time China has gone from being non existent in the doll market to having like 15 different manufacturers. The world better be prepared, because love dolls are coming.

From that first purchase, was it just a natural extension of your practice? 

Well when I was younger I modeled for men’s magazines. Back in my twenties, which is more than 15 years ago, I used to model for Playboy Magazine. I stayed friendly with the photographer who shot me and I had opportunity to shoot, so I enjoyed shooting women in kind of that glamorous, nudey style. So shooting dolls was a natural extension for me. It was the dolls as a child and then the whole glamorous Playboy thing, plus who the hell was I gonna get to get naked for me?

When you can just buy a bunch of dolls and undress them anyway?

Yeah, and really put them in some compromising positions that I don’t think you could ever, ever do with human beings.

What is it about using dolls as models that you find so appealing? There’s a really disconcerting feeling from those images.

That’s one of my goals. I have people who tell me I look at your photographs right away and I can tell it’s a doll, and I’m thinking “Great that’s the point” because if you saw this photo and it was a human being you’d probably walk by it and not give it a second thought. I feel like with dolls there’s this…I hate to use the word ‘creepy’, but they are creepy! And they’re beautiful, so you look at a doll and you think “Shit that is really good looking” but it’s gross because it’s not alive. I just really feel like photographing the dolls is a challenge, I like to breathe life into them. I’m not a man who’s in a physical relationship with the doll, so I view them totally different than the guys that buy them.

There’s really a kind of uncanny valley moment. So how many dolls do you own now? 

Right now there are 12 in the house, and I know that [Real Doll] are going to send me a second of their newest body – which is killing my neck. She’s got like 7 inches on me, she’s really tall.

There’s a huge community around these products, and you’re engaged with it to an extent. How is your work received by these doll fans?

They are staunch when it comes to their dolls. I mean they have to be, because they’re really ridiculed by society right now. I feel like they’re ahead of the curve, I have really always believed that. I mean look, you and I are communicating right now and you’re in Australia and I’m here in New York city and we’re not face-to-face, we’re not even really looking at each other in the eye. I feel like that’s the wave of the future. As far as my photos are concerned, it’s weird because there are as many reasons for people owning a doll as there are people who actually own dolls. You know one guy owns it because he’s attracted to rubber, and another guy owns it because he hates women. So I’ve got my fair share of hate mail, but I’m pretty well respected and liked in the doll community. The fact that I’m a female sometimes helps me, and helps them because I think I add a small air of legitimacy to something that’s viewed by some as sick. So they like me or they hate me, but for the most part they like me, and even if they hate me they love my photos!

Like you mentioned earlier, you’re not approaching these products in the same way as most. Do you see yourself as part of a Doll community almost by default? 

I was always drawn to the dolls because of the Barbie connection from when I was a child. It’s so corny but I’ve always thought that I used the dolls as my little friends to get my emotional issues out; my parents were divorced, my mother was a terrible terrible alcoholic and we were super poor. So that was my world, it was make-believe and dolls. In a way I can relate to these guys on a different level.  I’m part of that community by default but I don’t mind interacting with them. You know when they aren’t pissing me saying shit about women getting old and getting fat as if men are foolproof from that. But when they’re not pissing me off, I really like them.

So what’s the best thing about shooting the dolls? I mean I’m sure they never complain.

People always think it’s really easy to photograph the dolls but they’re horrible. I can’t even explain, I can do a shoot with human beings in three hours, but the dolls are a nine hour ordeal because moving them is near impossible. They don’t pose well, they don’t co-operate, they kind of suck to work with. I love it though.

So tell us a little bit about the shoot that you did for us,  how did that go down?

It was tonnes and tonnes of fun, I was a little nervous at how Chippy [Nonstop] and Hot Sugar would react to the dolls, because some people are really freaked out by them. But when they got into frame with the dolls, and it was like a party. I had to dial it back a little bit, It got sexy and we had a lot of fun.

Does that mean you have you have some B-side reels?

Not that many! I have a couple. You know being in the New York we keep it all professional.

Of course.

I mean we try to, but it always ends up in some kind of mayhem with the dolls. I’m waiting on some background video that someone was shooting with their cell phone, but apparently there’s some real sketchy stuff on there. It was a lot of fun.

So you’re working on a book?

I am working on a book, I’ve actually talked to somebody at a publisher here in NYC, and they are interested. I’ve only pitched it to one other company and the person who’s in charge is a feminist, and she does not like the dolls.

I can imagine there’s some differing opinions…

 Oh absolutely, and my biggest issue is convincing some serious ‘60s feminist that it’s not degrading to women, at least I don’t think it is. Sometimes I totally degrade them, I’ll admit.

That’s part of it right?

Yeah, I mean I feel like I’ve shot them in power positions, and I’ve shot them in degrading positions. I’ve actually broken dolls in half.

That must be hard work.

It’s hard work but it’s also kind of nutty to take what appears to be a human being and fold it into this crazy contortion, hearing the back snap or having to repair them. I was going to tell a terrible story but…

Can we get the terrible story?

Oh you want the terrible story? So every so often, I move the dolls on my hip. I’ll just put a doll on my hip and carry it around like a toddler.

How much do they weigh?

85 pounds, and the male doll weighs 95 pounds. I can barely move him, and I actually I have herniated discs in my neck and need surgery but I love it so I keep doing it like an idiot. So nevertheless I carry them on my side a lot and they’re really delicate in their vaginal area, it’s super soft and stuff rips, lets just leave it at that. So one time Real Doll sent me a replacement labia and I had the doll up on this table. I had to take a scalpel and remove the other labia so I had the doll with the legs up on the table and I’m cutting the inner labia and then I realised there’s a hotel that faces the table through the window. I’m over there in between a doll’s legs with a knife, like a mad scientist. I glued the new one and you could call me Doctor Frankenstein, because I did the worst job ever. I better stick doll photography, I have no future in plastic surgery.

Well I guess it’s important to know these things.

I did a terrible job fixing that doll. I’m a butcher.

Purchase the Authenticity Issue here.

See the full cover shoot featuring Chippy Nonstop and Hot Sugar here.