Thursday, 17 November 2022

Further Research: Hans Bellmer


I am looking at Bellmer, who was a surrealist artist and photographer who is; 'best known for the life-sized pubescent female dolls he produced in the mid-1930s' (Tate 2002).  I am looking at this artist as his use of dolls and the female form will inform how I photograph my own dolls and the stages of woman. Bellmer focused on the pre-pubescent form and was interested in girl turning into woman.  Bellmer was often criticised for the exploitative photographs which may consist of a breast, buttocks or thighs of the doll which was often twisted into a strange form to emphasise the doll's sexuality. 'The inspiration for Bellmer's first doll was allegedly his unfulfilled sexual desire for his underage cousin Ursula Naguschewski who was then living with him and his wife. He created the doll from wood, glue, plaster and straw in his studio - obsessively driven to create what he called a "real object to be possessed."' (Hans Bellmer photographs 2022).  This idea of the handmade doll that was made to fufil Bellmer's desires reminds me of why I chose Barbie to represent the stages of woman.  Barbie is an ideal that has been foisted upon the female population since 1959 (1).  Although Barbie in recent years had tried to update Barbie with 'curvy' Barbie and Wheelchair Barbie, Barbie is still an almost impossible woman.

Bellmer's dolls often did not have eyes or the eyes faced away from the lens; 'Paul Éluard, French poet and another prominent member of the surrealist group, took note of this absence of gaze in the collection of prose poems he created for Bellmer’s second doll, writing: “It’s a girl! – Where are her eyes? – … It’s a girl, it is my desire!” alongside one photograph.' (Wetzel, 2021).  When photographing my own series of 'stages of woman' I am debating whether the dolls should look directly into the lens (challenging the viewer) or look away from the lens (could be submissive/passive).  It is important that the dolls celebrate woman and the idea is not to be just an object of reproduction or desire but a productive and useful member of society, that contributes to the economy, production, industry, education, and government and is as important as a man. 

Looking further at the images and poses of the dolls, the dolls all are damaged, broken, or deformed in some way, this vision of woman, as in the 'Self Portrait with Die Puppe' above shows woman as part human, part mechanical and the idea here of woman as the object is intensified, also the idea that she is unobtainable in the sense of a 'normal' woman and so this dichotomy of woman as a desirable object and available for man's needs and this construction of Bellmer where he makes her unobtainable and somehow inhuman as Eluard states; 'where are her eyes?' is interesting as a conceptual construction.  Bellmer has created in the image a strange, desirable, unobtainable object that reminds me of J G Ballard's 'Crash' (1973).  Ballard created a strange tale of a sexualised relationship with crashed motor vehicles and damaged woman. David Cronenberg's film captures the cold, sexual and sensual relationship of the participants obsessed with the car crash and damaged bodies.  Both are desired equally in this disturbing and sensual film. The British Library states;  ‘Crash is above all a cautionary tale, a warning against the brutal, erotic and overlit future that beckons us, ever more powerfully, from the margins of the technological landscape’. (British Library 2022)

In 1996 this was a warning, now we live in a technological future where people have more connection with their mobile phone screens than other people and it is a worrying sign of what will come next.  

Finally going back to the dolls, the use ofBrbie will work well in my photographs this plastic construction, like Bellmer's dolls will give an objectified air to the images but I will be trying to subvert this in the image creating an image of woman that is strong and through the use of text and image in a book form I think the message will be also be strengthened. 

(1) Barbie, in full Barbara Millicent Roberts, an 11-inch- (29-cm-) tall plastic doll with the figure of an adult woman that was introduced on March 9, 1959, by Mattel, Inc., a southern California toy company. Ruth Handler, who cofounded Mattel with her husband, Elliot, spearheaded the introduction of the doll. Barbie’s physical appearance was modeled on the German Bild Lilli doll, a risqué gag gift for men based upon a cartoon character featured in the West German newspaper Bild Zeitung. (Barbie 2022)


Tate (no date) Hans Bellmer 1902–1975, Tate. Available at: (Accessed: November 16, 2022). 

Hans Bellmer photographs, Bio, ideas (2022) The Art Story. Available at: (Accessed: November 16, 2022). 

Barbie (2022) Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Available at: (Accessed: November 16, 2022).

David Cronenberg, Crash (1996)British Library (2022) . Available at:,called%20the%20New%20Arts%20Laboratory. (Accessed: November 17, 2022). 

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