In Southern California, there is a factory where workers craft hyper-realistic women that may be purchased exclusively on the Internet for $6,000. Customers can choose from among nine faces and body types, ranging from petite to voluptuous. They can choose the eye color, the skin tone, the nail length and tint, the style and cut of the pubic hair. Each doll has genitals and an anus – both perfectly realistic and functional.
What began for me as playful curiosity – how to photograph men having sex with 125 pounds of perfectly-formed, synthetic female – rapidly turned into a serious exploration of the emotional ties that exist between men and women and their dolls. This exploration forced me to evaluate my own notions of love, and what it means to value an object – a replacement human being, in effect – as real.
My introduction to this world began on a suburban, tree-lined, mid-western street, but ultimately took me throughout the U.S. and Europe. Jerry and Adriana had not one but five dolls, which they kept hidden from their children in a secret closet built into a wall. This closet was cushioned and climate-controlled, with the girls’ shoes lined up neatly beneath their dangling feet. Adriana was the collector of the dolls, not her husband. She was convinced that each girl represented a different part of herself: lover, child, friend, toy, and intellectual partner.
As I became familiar with the importance the dolls held for their owners, I began to see connections that exist both historically and in contemporary culture. According to the Bible, God created the first woman to alleviate the first man’s solitude. He made Eve, the prototype of the gynoid, who was manufactured by one male to satisfy the needs of another. When Eve took the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, she propelled humanity into endless misery.
In the Greek version of the Eve myth, Pandora’s influence was equally disastrous. She opened the box Zeus gave her, unleashing hatred, anger, jealousy, cruelty, illness, age, and death. In all tales, the human female starts out as a creature of perfection made by the gods for the pleasure of men. But as soon as she comes alive and exhibits her thirst for knowledge, she becomes a source of suffering and death. Afraid of the impulses women inspire, men set out to rectify this by creating their own women: statues, mannequins, and dolls that function for sexual pleasure.
The same themes that informed the past inform the present. Woman is the seductress — both irresistible and vile. Man despises himself for being unable to resist the sexual attraction woman inspires in him, and, to escape this trap, turns to divine mechanics or resorts to science to create the ultimate flesh — synthetic women that are more satisfying, both sexually and psychologically, than their flesh-and-bone counterparts.
This body of work is my witness to an unsettling yet moving way of life. My ambition is never to judge, but to allow the inhabitants of this secret world to share their daily lives with me. In the familiar surroundings of their homes, I watch the scenes of contemporary domestic partnerships unfold.