Eleanor Macnair is the creative mind and crafty hands behind the popular blog “Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh,” in which she reinvents the concepts images as colorful and quirky creations. She talks about her work in this exclusive interview.
Hello Eleanor! Please tell us where the idea to start Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh come from?
In August 2013 I went down to Brighton to take part in a photography pub quiz created by artists MacDonaldStrand. One of the rounds was to remake a famous photograph in play-doh and the idea started there. My friend and I did a couple more photographs in play-doh for fun a few days later, shared them on twitter and people loved them so I started a tumblr. There’s never been an objective to the project apart from to lead people to discover new or unfamiliar photography, and hopefully encourage viewers to slow down and really look at and think about the original images. I quickly realized that I could utilize the popularity of the project, the quirky art on the internet factor, to maybe do something different. Although I do sometimes render well-known or iconic photographs I like to try and find those which are more surprising and show the diversity of the medium by rendering early photographs to contemporary works.
Your work with Play-Doh is now extremely popular. When did you realize that this was no longer an ordinary hobby?
The moment I realized the potential of the project was when Jared Leto shared on instagram a portrait I’d made of him for Anothermag.com. It got 140K likes which made me realize the potential reach of the internet for an item made on my living room table with a chopping board.
Do you have any special routine when starting a new image? How does the process usually go, from choosing the photograph to actually recreating it in Play-doh?
I have a folder called ‘To Do’ on the desktop of my laptop and I draw from this. I’m constantly adding to this folder by trawling through museum and archive websites and also new work I stumble across both on the internet and in real life. I try to keep variety in the posts by varying the background, the type of photograph I’m rendering and the period in which the photograph was taken – so I’ll try not to do two contemporary photographs next to each other. Some photographs I love but just won’t work in play-doh.
When I recreate the photograph, usually around 10pm at night, I get out my chopping board, old knife, cocktail sticks, glass of water in case the play-doh is dry, and a tumbler glass to use as a rolling pin. The range of play-doh colours is limited so I try and imagine which colours would represent the colours in the original photograph, as well as working well together. I then just go for it and hope for the best.
Many people struggle to maintain their more “artistic” hobbies alongside their jobs. Does it require an extra layer of commitment to maintain your professional career and your project, Photographs Rendered in Play Doh, at the same time?
I’m in a routine at the moment of making two new images a week which I can fit in with my freelance career and social life. I find I do have to be quite serious, committed and disciplined about the project but at the same time I refuse to take it too seriously – it is what it is, photographs rendered in play-doh.
Do you feel that the increasing popularity of this project has put more pressure on your work, or are you able to enjoy it as much as you did in the beginning?
I think I actually put pressure on myself to continue to make the project interesting and to make better images. Inevitably there is more pressure now that more people are watching but I think if I ever stop enjoying it then I’ll simply stop making them. I do have moments of thinking just a couple more, but then I discover 10 new images I want to do, or an interesting related project comes my way so I keep going. I’m still curious to see how far the project could go.
An image is worth a thousand words; and a good photograph is able to transmit a message to the viewer instantly. When you recreate photographs, you will always end up giving them your own personal twist. Is there any message that you try to convey when rendering a certain image from your point of view?
I don’t think so! If anything it’s a pleasure not to having to think when making the images – I just study the original work and hope that I can communicate some aspect of the original image – whether it be the gesture of a hand, or a facial expression – the certain something about the photograph which attracted me to it in first place. In some ways I’m just making them for the sake of making them, and it’s perhaps refreshing in life to be able to do something for this reason with no end purpose.
Lastly, do you have any advice for photographers (or artists in general) who wish to have their work seen and appreciated by the general public?
I think the most important thing is not to think about the audience or how you are going to get the work out there – just make the work in the first place. I hate to use a cliché but content is king. I like to use the analogy of the gold prospectors who would sift for gold in the river bed… amongst the sand and debris are the tiny specks of gold, and eventually they get to the top. It may take days, weeks or months amongst the sand, but if it’s good, then eventually it will be seen.