Exhibit Review: Your Eyes Deceive You


By Samantha Spoto

The Jewish Museum in NYC. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The gap between reality and fantasy is an ever-widening one. Photographer Laurie Simmons’ current exhibit on display at the Jewish Museum in New York City touches on the growing disparity.

Her installation How We See critiques the “Doll Girls” subculture, in which people alter their appearance with costumes, cosmetics, and in extreme cases, plastic surgery, to resemble their favorite fantasy characters.

How We See features individual photographs of six women, all positioned in cliched school-portrait poses. A vibrant curtain backdrop provides stark contrast to the ordinary arrangement of the models. Although at first glance the models appear rather simplistic, a second view draws observers to study the women’s eyes. Each model’s eyes have been painted over their closed lids–a technique often applied in the “Doll Girls” subculture.

The models’ gaze comes across as otherworldly and alien-like. Their eyes gape into the distance as if in search of something or someone. One model in particular dons a pair of painted eyes that stare straight ahead at onlookers. Her eyes are arresting and forcibly entice the viewer to stare deeply back into her gray gaze.

Simmons explored alternate realities in her prior work. In 2014, her installation Kigurumi focused on Japanese cosplay (costume play), in which people dress as dolls or animals. Similar to How We See, Kigurumi featured large-scale photographs of models in costume. They wore masks with wide, doll-like eyes. Like her current project, Simmons’ previous photo series represented an individual’s proclivity to sink into fantasy.

Simmons’ present exhibit draws on the alternate versions of the self that people put forth on various social media sites. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter publicize constant streams of images that cradle the line between real and artificial. In the realm of social media, individuals have the ability to alter their identities as they please, a practice that’s evident from the emerging photographs of “Doll Girls.”

Art by Laurie Simmons; photos by Samantha Spoto.

‘How We See’ will be on view at the Jewish Museum until Aug 9.