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Who Killed Barbie?


Written by Marlon Dolcy
31 Monday 31st January 2011

Mariel Clayton takes Barbie dolls and turns them into calculating killers and marionette murder victims. Creating dioramas from Ken's home tooth extraction to a miniature female version of Face/off. Clayton could have been a travel photographer but for a chance encounter in Japan which inspired her to turn her talents to something completely different. Inspired by the surreal work of Japanese miniatures; the main focus of Clayton’s photography lies in the telling of macabre stories with dolls. Her latest series of photos depict Barbie in various states of grisly demise. Don’t Panic had a chat with Mariel about her work:

Could you tell us a little about yourself, where are you from, what drives you?
I'm from South Africa originally, now living in Canada and I moonlight as a travel agent (no doubt where this pent up rage against humans comes from). What drives me is difficult to answer, because I don't consider myself being driven by anything, I'm more the type to play things as they go. I would say what motivates me in my work though is to see people reactions - I always enjoy looking forward to seeing how people will interpret the pictures, because there really is no meaning in them except what the viewer derives, and that's what I find interesting. Other than that I am an extremely boring person.
B is for Brochette
How did you get into photography and how long have you been doing it?
I've been interesting in photography since I was about 12 years old and was nearly gored by a rhino trying to take it's picture - that was a thrill and has never gone away.
Travel photography has always been my main interest though - and it wasn't until about 2 years ago that I got into toy photography. That was the result of a stay in Japan, where I came across the 'miniature' culture and started collecting; using the minis in a picture was just sort of the next step.
Could you explain how your mind works and why these ideas come to it?
If I could figure that out I'd be a happier person. Usually I get my ideas from the miniatures themselves, I'll be looking at a piece and will flash onto a picture in my head. Sometimes even if I'm looking for background paper, a pattern or texture will lend itself to an idea. I'll be standing there in the scrapbook-paper aisle of my local craft store looking into nothingness and cackling to myself. I've worried some middle-aged ladies more than once - one of the perks.
It's hard to explain where inspiration comes from, because a lot of the time I'm not really paying attention myself. I just came from buying another doll, and was standing at the counter by the sweets waiting to pay and there was a box of Pez Dispensers - in my head I just saw the two baby dolls standing around a Pez that had Barbie’s head on it with blood-covered sweets on the floor. In one case - I woke up with a picture in my head of Ken being impaled upon the severed dildo from Barbie’s robot.... it's probably better that I don't know where these come from.
Monday's child is fair of face
How did you learn photography?
Practice. That's all I can say - if you're not taking pictures all the time and experimenting then you'll never learn anything. It's all good to read books - but that won't teach you how to be a photographer, it just teaches you how to use a camera. You have to get a feel for composition, that's only done by taking pictures and looking at your work really.
I don't even think I'm that good really - there's still so much for me to learn and experiment with. For instance, I can't shoot a long-exposure to save my life.
Your recent photos remind me of the series Dexter. Are you a fan of horror?
People always mention Dexter when they see my work - but I've never even seen the show. After it was brought up so many times I watched an episode, but I couldn't get into it. I've never been a fan of horror shows/movies - as a child my imagination was terrible and frightful enough so I didn't go courting thrills from my entertainment. I've never seen any of the shows and movies that people compare my work to except one - Silence of the Lambs, and I still think the book is better.
E is for Exodontia
Barbie's figure is as controversial as that of size 0 models. What is your take on Barbie within your photography; are we to interpret it is homage or a satirical critique?
This is so hard to answer, because I know I'm going to seriously anger a lot of people. I just don't think Barbie is, or has been a suitable role model for girls. Firstly, because of her appearance, which is nothing like any body type found naturally and secondly, because until recently her only contribution towards society has been how to look fabulous while trying on careers like hats. Even though Mattel has tried to diversify its dolls and give them more substance, I still don't think that they are in any way indicative of actual femininity - only a long-wished-for stereotypical male fantasy. I just don't think there is any substance to the doll beyond appearance - and that's the message that's being carried through to little girls, you can be anything you want to be, as long as you look pretty while you're doing it.
De Melkmeid
On that note... as hard as it is to believe, I really have no message or meaning in my use of Barbie in my pictures. It was and always has been just something funny to look at. It's not a stand against or for anything, it's just funny. In the same way that Monty Python and the Batley Townswomens Guilds Re-enactment of the Battle of Pearl Harbour is not a covert piece on transgenderism and it's challenges in society or a homosexual argument for the atrocities of war - what I do speaks to nothing except I think it's silly and pointless and just bloody funny. The only interpretation I ask for is maybe a few chuckles, perhaps a guffaw if you're so inclined.
Were you a fan of Barbie as a child?
I had Barbies but I wouldn't say I was a fan. My parents spoiled me rotten with all kinds of toys, and they tried with Barbies - but I mainly spent my time building up her 'house' and setting everything up, then when I was done, I would get bored at the thought of actually having to do something with the doll so I would pack everything up. I don't think I actually ever played with a Barbie doll, just the accessories. Still peeved I never got the house for my birthday though.
Executive Phuqing
There seems to be a lot of thought put into the composition and art direction of your scenes. Does it take much planning to compose these scenes?
That depends on the picture - for my Fables and Hystoria pieces yes, I spent a lot of time figuring out how to make each piece 'work' within a certain format. If there's a specific feel or image I'm trying to go for then I will spend extra time on plotting where each part is going to go, the fabrics to use, the colours etc. For those two sets, every piece had a specific set of colours and tones, it's a bit subtle, but that's why I think they work well - because there is that uniformity.
Generally for the murder ones there's not much planning at all - everything is pretty much in place in my head, but as I'm building the sets the background details may change here and there. It's almost an organic process, it just flows as I'm putting everything together. I'm very poor at describing the process, because I don't really pay attention  - it just comes together and if something isn't working then I just tweak it a bit until it is.
Do you compile sketches beforehand?
Good god no! The last thing I need is evidence of my thought process in a tangible format. I just know that in some way it will come back to haunt me in the form of psychiatric evidence.
Mariel Clayton’s work can be seen on her website. Prints of her work available to buy at and her Facebook page is here.

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