Eleanor Macnair spoke to us about her series, 'Photographs rendered in Play-doh', and how she discovered her unexpected talent.
PW: For those who may not be aware of your background, how did you get into recreating photographs in play-doh?
EM:It all began in the summer of 2013 at a photographic pub quiz run by artists MacDonaldStrand. One of the rounds was a challenge to remake a famous photograph in play-doh. They say you only need one good idea in life. I didn’t have one so I borrowed theirs. I started a tumblr as a bit of a joke between a few friends and as an experiment but within a couple of weeks it became quite popular which took me by surprise. Since then it keeps on gaining more momentum and new opportunities present themselves just when I think I should draw a line under the project.
PW: How do you choose the images that you want to reproduce? You started by taking requests, do you still do that?
EM: I probably spend as much time looking for new images to reproduce as making the models. I research the images on the internet before throwing them back on the web in lurid colour. I often look through online museum collections to find lesser-known images by well-known photographers, or I research contemporary photographers who I stumble across, again often on the internet. I’m still very open to requests although often I am unable to do them as they just won’t ‘work’ in play-doh. I like to jump back and forth through time and subject matter with my selection – discovering new works and sharing them as I go along.
PW: What started as a fun pastime, has now enjoyed international acclaim, with your Macdonald/Strand publication and the opening of an exhibition in LA.
Do you now see yourself as a practitioner?
I still very much think of it as just something I ‘do’. I’ve had to become very disciplined and professional with the project in terms of dedicating time to it and balancing it with my other freelance work. I’ve had to become serious about it whilst remembering not to take it too seriously – it is play-doh after all.
PW: There are parallels between your work as an art publicist and bringing new audiences to great photographs through the play-doh series. Has your background as a publicist informed the work? Has the success the series received impacted on your PR work?
EM: As a publicist I often need to condense complex ideas into straightforward language for a project to appeal to, or become more accessible to, a wider audience. There is a parallel between this and what I do with the play-doh – I simplify the images and put them into a form which will appeal to a mass internet-based audience.
PW: What were the challenges in translating the work from screen, to publication and then exhibition? Do you feel the work has changed in its different formats?
When I first started the project I only had a poor camera and shot the models late at night directly onto my living room table – this is why the images in the book were by necessity reproduced very small. As the project became more serious I borrowed a DSLR camera and since then I’ve transitioned to a newer camera which allows me to reproduce the work much larger. I’ve always compared it to a Chinese whisper from the original subject to the photographer’s print to the digital file to my 3-dimensional play-doh model, to my digital file.. and then my prints are just taking this one step further. I was surprised how much I liked the prints – as they are larger than my models the imperfections are more visible but I like this – they still retain a ‘handmade’ element.
PW: Have you a favourite from the series?
I have so many favourites and I think these are influenced by how much I like the original photographs. Two recent favourites are the William Eggleston and Nan Goldin photographs.
For more of Eleanor’s work, click here.
For more Ideas Series articles, click here.