Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh – National Portrait Gallery
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Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh

‘Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh’ was started on a whim by Eleanor Macnair in August 2013 following a photographic pub quiz run by artists MacDonaldStrand. One of the rounds was to make a reproduction of a famous photograph using Play-Doh, inspiring Macnair to start the project. She remakes both well-known and lesser-known photographs in Play-Doh and posts them to the internet as an accessible way for the audience to relook at familiar photographs and discover new ones. Photographs can condense complex ideas and present them in a straightforward visual language. ‘Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh’ takes this one step further, paring the images down to just form and colour.

 The online audience for the project is wide and a testament to the democracy of the internet. The project is followed by professional photographers and curators, as well as thousands of people all over the world who aren’t involved in photography as far afield as Congo, Mongolia, Bolivia, Kazakhstan, and Iceland. The aim of the project is to bring the audience back to an unpolluted view of photography. We each view hundreds of images a day on phones, computers, on billboards and in newspapers; but we never really look. We scan the information in the image, take what we need and move on.

 For this display, Macnair has searched through the photographs collection of the National Portrait Gallery to remake a selection of portraits in Play-Doh to highlight the diversity and breadth of the collection -  from the portrait of Sarah Forbes Bonetta by Camille Silvy in 1862, to Ida kar in 1944 and Tinie Tempah by Nadav Kander in 2011.

 Macnair’s tools are cheap and amateur. Play-Doh, a chopping board, a scalpel and an empty wine bottle as a rolling pin. After each model is made, it is photographed, then taken apart with the Play-Doh is returned to the respective colour pots to re-use. The orange wallpaper in the Oscar Wilde portrait became the feet of the dove in the Madame Yevonde, and the blue hat in the David Hockney became the shirt in the Tinie Tempah. The works no longer exist and the photographs here are all that remain. They are like a Chinese whisper through time… from the original subject of the photograph, the photographer’s print, a digital file on the Internet, a Play-Doh model on a table, the digital file on the Internet and now the works on a gallery wall. What is lost and what remains?

 Eleanor Macnair (b. 1977) lives and works in London. A self-taught artist, she began the project ‘Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh’ in August 2013. A book of the project was published in October 2014 and was named one of the Photobooks of 2014 by The Observer. The project was first displayed at Atlas Gallery, London in October 2015 followed by solo exhibitions at Kleinschmidt Fine Photographs, Germany and Kopeikin Gallery, US in spring 2016. Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh has featured in The Guardian, The Telegraph, LA Times, Elephant Magazine, El Pais (Spain), Hyperallergic,, Creator’s Project, It’s Nice That,, Huffington Post, Slate and The Independent Review amongst others.

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