Marta Piotrowicz is a BJD and fashion doll photographer and collector based in Poland. Her blog, The Doll Whisperer, is at http://dollwhisperer.blogspot.com.
Q: What is your background, and how did you start working with dolls?
A: I have been fascinated by photography since I was in primary school. My mother gave me a Smiena, a very simple Russian camera, as my first camera. First I was photographing people, streets, and cities, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. At that time, I started collecting dolls, first Barbies, then Silkstones, and FR.
Finally I discovered Robert Tonner’s dolls, and fell in love at my very first sight. His dolls were like the real models, with captivating face sculpts, history, amazing detailed wardrobe, and it was it!
First I started to make their photo portraits, then ‘fashion editorials’ where the main focus were clothes, shoes, and fabrics.
Q: Do you photograph mostly your dolls, or other people’s dolls?
A: I photograph dolls from my collection, and from Maggie’s collection. Maggie is an amazing collector with an encyclopedic knowledge of dolls, and she happens to be my dearest friend
Also, from time to time, I capture the beauty of other collector’s dolls at various doll meets.
Q: How do you show and capture the doll’s personality?
A: When I place the doll in front of my camera – I see her alive, moving and posing. I can feel her like I would feel the energy, emotions and personality of real human being. I know her, who she is, where is she from, what kind of person she is.
You just have to FEEL the person who is standing in front of you. Famous photographer Don McCullin said: “Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.”
Q: What is your favorite type of doll photography?
A: Fashion photography. I grew up on fashion photography. When I was a teenager I flipped through the pages of Italian and American Vogue with bated breath. Famous editorials and spreads of Helmut Newton, Steven Meisel, Ellen von Unwerth, Annie Leibovitz. Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts or Peter Lindbergh are engraved in my memory forever.
Nowadays, the fashion world of 16-inch dolls has lots to offer. You can buy any fashion you can imagine. Fabulous heels, wigs, accessories, bags, etc of great quality. Stunningly executed miniatures of real-size fashion. They’re worth photographing to show the amazing artistry and creativity of doll makers.
Q: Do you create sets for them, or prefer to focus on portraits?
A: Both. In my small photo studio, I use clean simple greyish background to emphasize the doll, her face, hair, outfit, details of fabrics, embroidery, shoes etc. Thanks to this approach, the doll and her outfit are not lost in the background – she’s the highlight of every picture.
Helmut Newton once said: “It’s that I don’t like white paper backgrounds. A woman does not live in front of white paper. She lives on the street, in a motor car, in a hotel room.” I agree with him for models, but for 16-inch dolls, it is difficult to find locations that match the scale of the doll.
When I photograph dolls outside, it is lots of fun. I match the background has with the scale of the doll. I like harmony between the of the doll and its environment. So I spent lots of time finding and preparing locations that also enhance the character of the doll. When I make that happen, the photos are magical .
A: I love natural light. I almost never use flash – it flattens everything – especially the dolls’ facial features. So I always do photo sessions during the day, preferably in the morning or at noon while the light is fresh and clean. I also use my small studio, but when I have a couple of hours, I prefer taking my dolls outside photographing them in real-world locations.
Q: Which camera do you use?
A: Nikon is my favorite brand. I’ve always used reflex film cameras. These days, I use an older digital Nikon D60. You don’t have to buy a fancy expensive camera. It almost doesn’t matter what kind of equipment you use. What defines you is your talent, drive and creativity, not the camera.
Q: How do you create natural and expressive poses for the dolls?
A: Maybe it sounds funny, but I treat the doll like a live model posing for me. I make contact with her, yes I do, sometimes even talk to her, and try to pose her like a model or actress would pose for Vogue or Vanity Fair. My focus on creating a believable pose, face angle, and body language.