Monday, December 17, 2012

Debbie's Barbies in the News Again

Despite complaints she heard from feminists of her generation, 63-year-old Debbie Klein never saw the Barbie doll as the root of body dysmorphia. Nor did she see her as an oppressive plastic priestess dictating that a woman’s place was in a dream house with Ken.
Instead, what Klein saw in Barbie was a jetsetter. A woman who didn’t need a man to have a life filled with a satisfying career, travel, and especially tasteful fashion.
Klein and Fort Point photographer Joel Benjamin have collaborated on a fashion exhibit to show the proto-feminist side of the enduring Mattel toy. There’s nothing ironic or post-modern about the photo show, called “Debbie’s Barbies.” It highlights the vintage fashion once worn by four of Klein’s childhood dolls, purchased between 1958 and 1963. During that period, a young Klein daydreamed about Barbie’s thrilling life.
“She wasn’t a baby doll, and she wasn’t a bride,” Klein says. “It was a teenage fashion doll. She had clothes and she was doing all this great stuff. She got to fly around the world and ski Aspen. That’s what I wanted. It wasn’t her measurements that I aspired to.”

“Her eyeshadow was bright blue, she was wearing tons of mascara, and she was wearing high-heeled mules with her strapless, zebra-stripe swimsuit,” Klein says.
The photographs, on display at the School of Fashion Design through Dec. 31, came about when Klein was cleaning out a storage locker in her home state of Florida and found her dolls. The Barbies, along with her friend Midge, looked a bit battered. Still, they brought back memories, reminding Klein that Barbie “had all the hallmarks of a bad girl.”
Barbie not only represented an escapist figure for Klein, but also for her mother. The two would pour over fashion magazines, and Klein’s mother, Mabel Wilcox, made more than 30 outfits for her daughter’s dolls. But they weren’t shapeless house dresses. Wilcox designed chic clothes. She took to her sewing machine and made miniscule apparel, including a silk-lined tweed jacket with wood buttons and a matching skirt, complete with kick pleat.
“The store-bought outfits cost $2.98 each,” Klein says. “We couldn’t afford them. But my mother loved clothes and she loved to sew. She could create the kinds of things that she really couldn’t wear in rural Florida.”
Klein, who now works at Bard College in Red Hook, N.Y., first met Benjamin when the two worked together at the Boston Phoenix. While the exhibit brought back fond memories for Klein, Barbie brought up different feelings for Benjamin.
“I have a history with Barbie,” said the photographer, 52. “When I was 4 years old I was told not to play with her. That stuck with me. I wasn’t scolded. Just taught a lesson that stuck with me up until today.”
Even when Benjamin began shooting pictures for the show, he still felt slightly guilty that he was playing with Barbie. That passed as he and Klein started styling the dolls. In some cases, the years had not been kind to Barbie. Benjamin had no hesitation photographing the less-than-perfect toys, saying that the decay, coupled with her blank stare, made the photos more compelling.
Benjamin found a book of vintage wallpaper samples that he purchased at a flea market 15 years ago and used them as a backdrop for his models, while Klein went rummaging through the box of ensembles to outfit the dolls.
“Barbie ruined me,” said Klein jokingly. “I always wanted her life, but I never quite got to live the same way. I’m still thoroughly jealous.”
“Debbie’s Barbies” is on display at the School of Fashion Design, 136 Newbury St., until Dec. 31,, 617-536-9343. Christopher Muther can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Debbie's Barbies" Opening

I'm excited to see our picture in the Boston Globe today. Thursday night's opening was such a great event, and clearly, many people have deep feelings of Barbie and still love her. The opening brought out so many memories for people and I think Barbie herself sort of unified the crowd. Whatever you think of her, you have feelings about this doll. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Boston Globe Gift Guide 2012

Once again, Logan steals the spotlight and may soon need his own agent in this spread I photographed for the Boston Globe Magazine. Fortunately, his fee is two biscuits inclusive.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Boston Spirit Magazine Goes Back to the 80's

With visions of Madonna at Danceteria and Billy Idol at Area, I channeled the 80's for this new fashion  story for Boston Spirit Magazine. Special thanks to John O'Connell for not only art directing, but for his expert smoke machine operation!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Debbie's Barbies'

I have a complicated relationship with Barbie. I do. 

So does my friend Debbie Klein, for very different reasons. But we both sort of love her, and so when Debbie closed a storage unit she had kept for twenty years in Florida and found the original Barbie dolls she had played with as girl, we thought this could be a project. Thus was born, "Debbie's Barbies'." 

There were a number of factors that resonated with us for this: 
She had actually played with each of the dolls as a young girl.
Her mother had hand-made some incredibly fashionable outfits for Barbie.
The Barbies were starting to decompose.
Everything was just this side of tattered.

This was not exactly the glamourous Barbie we all know. This was, well, old Barbie. Elderly Barbie. These Barbies had clearly seen better days.

Debbie has maintained that although Barbie may have fallen out of favor with feminists, she didn't find that to be her overwhelming quality. "We didn't want her body," Debbie said. "We wanted her life." I get that. 

For me, Barbie was the forbidden fruit. I instinctively knew that boys don't play with Barbie. If they must, they play with G. I. Joe. I don't have to tell you, G.I. Joe's wardrobe did not compare to Barbie's. Face it, his clothing was drab. There was no Dream House, no Corvette, no cute best friend and, my God, no hair to style! I was drawn to her like a moth to a flame, but I knew to keep my Barbie playing secret. Frankly, there weren't many opportunities to play with Barbie in my childhood. With two brothers, I had to sneak away to a house where girls lived. This did not happen often, which probably added to her allure,

In the third grade, I remember meeting a classmate, George, who not only had a younger sister, but we shared the same secret: we liked playing with Barbies. There was a profound sense of freedom and relief at meeting this kindred spirit. He moved away a year later, and I was growing out of my Barbie phase anyway. Still, although the desire to dress her up faded, she always held a certain sway over me.

And thus came my "aha" moment.

Until Debbie proposed this project, I never put two and two together. Barbie and fashion photography. How I could have missed it is beyond me, but there you have it. It took shooting these photographs, with Debbie art directing (and dressing the Barbies, and doing Barbie's hair, which she really enjoyed, I could tell) to make me come to some realizations. Could it be that Barbie inspired me to go into photography? To capture a certain glamour an awkward boy would never have? To create beautiful worlds where the sky's the limit and you can be whatever you dream, be it a flight attendant or a socialite or a bride! To be in control, not only of your destiny, but of those who desire you! I think I am on to something here.

Yet, there was something more to this project, though. Taking these torn and tired dolls and dressing them up to their former glory, even in their decomposing state, felt almost noble. And bringing the beautiful clothing Debbie's talented mother had made all those years ago to light again, felt like an artistic mission. When Debbie first brought out the dolls and their clothes, we both weren't exactly sure where we were going to take this project. It was, after all, just for fun and to hang out and be creative together. But as we started, we began to see something that was more than what we had imagined. The Barbies, and maybe both of our pasts, came to life.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Looking Back: The Boston Phoenix

With the new, redesigned Boston Phoenix out this week, it reminded me of the work I did for the paper  years ago. I worked with some incredible art directors there. We often had to pull everything together ourselves, with no budget, and often that led to the most satisfying and successful shoots.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

Boston Globe Style Magazine

Out this past Sunday: the Boston Globe Style Magazine
Here's a story, from a slew of them I shot for this snazzy publication.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Design New England Magazine

New work, for Design New England, featuring three designers influenced by different vintage windows. We did this all in the studio in one day!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Syfy's Adam Berry for Boston Spirit Magazine

Excited to see the new cover I shot for Boston Spirit Magazine of Syfy Channel's Ghost hunter Adam Berry. I did this with old-school "special effects." Or is that a ghost behind him?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Coup Boston Fall

I'm loving these pictures of three talented and beautiful jewelry designers in the new issue of Coup Boston.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Shoe Business

Always fun to see new work I did come up quickly. Here, shoes for Chadwick's.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Coup Boston

Visit to see the latest edition. I have a number of fun photos, including the fashion story, a romantic view of a cape weekend. You would never guess it was raining all day and the temperature never rose above 57 degrees, but I think you can tell the good spirit of the cast and crew, determined to get the shot. No special retouching on the model's goosebumps either!CoupBoston

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fierce Pride 1992 Opening Reception

Wow. It was such a wonderful evening at the Boston Center for Adult Education. The show looked beautiful, and the place was packed! Personally, it was incredible to see a project I did twenty years ago finally be completed and shown. The project was done out of my love of photography and it was incredibly gratifying to see it hanging as a show.

Big thanks to The History Project and the BCAE for the amazing opening. My show is up until June 30th, so if you haven't stopped by, please do.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Fierce Pride 1992 Opening

Twenty years ago, I gathered a group of friends, my camera and an 8 ft tall white board and went down to City Hall Plaza and later, the Boston Common, to document Pride. I had photographed Prides before, but this year, I wanted to concentrate on the amazing individuals who were living their lives out loud. I ended up photographing over 100 people.

Here’s what I wrote in 1992:

What a world! A world of wigs and false 
eyelashes, rollerblades and beads, army uniforms and nipple rings, protest signs and rallying cries. For me, Pride celebrates our diversity and our common bonds. The streets are ours, and we can be together, hold hands, kiss, dress up, and of course, strike poses.