Allan McCollum
and Laurie Simmons,

"Actual Photo,"
Cibachrome, 10" x 8".
Allan McCollum and Laurie Simmons at Gallery Nature Morte

Encountering Allan McCollum and Laurie Simmons "Actual Photos" is a bit like finding a water-damaged collection of snapshots or an old high school annual in a flooded basement. The faces have become a blur and we struggle to recognize them. The "Actual Photos" make up such a large group of portraits, the background colours are so startlingly bright, and the gestures (if not the features) of each subject are so distinct, that it is intolerable when the memory refuses to be jogged. The "Actual Photos" are in fact portraits but their subjects are "Z" models, the smallest size of the tiny figurines used in model train sets. The tallest sitter is no higher than one quarter of an inch with a hat size of one sixteenth. In their first collaboration, McCollum and Simmons have photographed these figurines through a laboratory microscope and assembled a collection of likenesses, a rogues gallery from an insect-size world.

Laurie Simmons' early photographs were oddly poignant documents of dolls at home, awkwardly busying themselves in the furnished, wallpapered rooms of their dollhouses. She has photographed dolls strolling in the foreground of unnatural habitats, rear projected slide images of exotic locales. And she has photographed teenage models, precociously jaded young women posed as rigidly as the inarticulate dolls. Although Simmons' photographs have characters and settings, the narrative seems to have been lost when the dolls left the house. The later photographs are static and purposefully fake, a record of no-one visiting nowhere. In recent years, Allan McCollum has produced not paintings but their "plaster surrogates," plaster casts indicating a frame, a mat, and a black centre. They function as stage props, stand-ins for paintings. McCollum also takes photographs of television and newspaper images in which pictures resembling the surrogates appear in the background. In this way he fabricates a history for the vacant little surrogates. The "Actual Photos" are a conflation of McCollum and Simmons' interests. Louise Bogan has written that "All objects await human sympathy. It is only the human that can humanize." By choosing to photograph these tiny dolls, McCollum and Simmons have endowed these objects with a strangely winning humanity.

--Susan Morgan

December/January, 1985/86
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