Arts and Entertainment

Talking back to Barbie at 070 Photographer explores toys, culture and art

John Sloan used dolls on location to create his new show, “Almost Perfect.” - Courtesy photo
John Sloan used dolls on location to create his new show, “Almost Perfect.”
— image credit: Courtesy photo

An exhibition of work by John Sloan, “Almost Perfect,” will open with an artist’s reception from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, July 3. The exhibit, billed as “a photographic exploration into the manufactured culture of stereotypes and desire found in children’s toys,” will remain on view through July 26.

Barbie and Bratz dolls say a lot about our culture, even though they can’t speak. Sloan heard them loud and clear a few years ago after a conversation with friends at Western Washington University, where he earned a fine arts degree in studio art photography.

“My two best friends were discussing the fact that they both had eating disorders when they were younger. One of them told me a story of how she used to stare at herself in the mirror and compare herself to the Barbie doll she held in her hand. I have two daughters, and when I went home that day I took my oldest daughter’s Barbie and threw it in the trash,” said Sloan.

In his heart, he knew this gesture wouldn’t solve anything, and issues he had never considered would now become a part of his life.

To do this work, which centered on the iconic Barbie and the popular Bratz dolls, Sloan, a Bellingham resident, had to get in touch with the imagination he had when he was a kid. He discovered the only way he could get the images to work was to create the sets in the same way that his daughters play with dolls.

“This was one of the hardest things for me to do,” he said.

Sloan uses a combination of classical and digital techniques to create the scenes. Several of his photographs use other images as backdrops and are reminiscent of old Hollywood movie stills.

Besides creating sets, Sloan also photographs the dolls on location. The strangest experience he had was when he photographed “Barbie Values” outside Nordstrom. His model was a Barbie hairstyling head on a tripod placed so that it looked like she was just coming out of the store.

“My original plan was to begin photographing this shot before the store opened, but something came up. While I was setting up the shot a couple of women were walking out of the store, and they asked me what I was doing. During the explanation, a small crowd started to gather around me. One woman said Barbie wouldn’t shop at Nordstrom. She’d shop at JC Penney. A big discussion began about where Barbie would shop. I continued setting up and managed to take the shot just as mall security was arriving.”

Gallery 070 is open 11 a.m until 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, or by appointment.

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