Mannequins are terrifying

March 26, 2015  •  Leave a Comment
Imaging USA was a revelation. It was my first photography conference, and I showed up in Nashville with high hopes. I'd also hoped it would be warm (being in the South and all), but it turns out Tenneessee is not quite south *enough*. I felt "Day after Tomorrow" cold there in my light jacket. One morning I even scraped ice off my car like it was Minnesota.
 
They pair up newbies with established veterans, and I had the good fortune to be matched with Courtney Vernier. That's got to be one of the most mellifluous, artsy names I've ever heard -- and with several merit images to her name, she lives up to it.
 
Anyway, we were talking about the challenges of human models for portraiture, and how I was having such a hard time nailing all the technical details necessary to earn CPP (Certified Professional Photographer) status. No way would my daughter sit still for me that long! Other people suggested using "still life" props like pumpkins, but how does that help with getting the light and shadows right on a human face?
 
I have a friend who just graduated beauty school, and it occurred to me then that what I really needed was one of those mannequin heads. Or even better, a full-size model. Trouble is, those aren't normally for sale. There might be something on Craigslist -- but if somebody's selling life-sized female mannequins on Craigslist, I'm not sure I want to drive alone to his house. And I'm quite sure I don't want to think about what a guy like that might have been doing with it, or why he's selling it now.
 
And then a light went off in my head! Or, as I like to think of it now, my mental Speedlite fired... and I knew exactly what I had to do. Not everyone has the good fortune to know a crazy Iranian with a large collection of female model mannequins of dubious origin... but I do happen to be so blessed! He generously agreed to part with one, so I emptied my trunk and headed on over. 
 
There was one fiberglass fatality on the way down the stairs -- these things are heavy -- but in the end all it took was a couple hours of stuffing several suspicious packages in my trunk, driving across town, and sneaking them up through my basement. 
 
Well... then a few minutes of head scratching, reminiscent of the last time I bought something at IKEA, before all the tab A's finally fit into the right slot B's, and I had at my disposal a very life-like -- and infinitely patient -- photography model.
 
It didn't come with clothes though, other than a fairly ratty wig. Not to worry! My daughter's studying abroad for several months, so her closet was ripe for rifling. Unfortunately, she is small and Asian: not the demographic for which these mannequins were designed. So of course none of her clothes fit. 
 
Now, having a mannequin in your house at all is creepy enough; a nude mannequin would be just a little too much, and much harder to explain. I'm really just concerned about the facial planes anyway, so I threw a T-shirt on her and called it good.
 
Pro tip for the day after you get a mannequin: try to avoid this sequence of events:
 
1) Watch a horror movie
2) Get up for a drink in the darkest hour of the night
3) Forget there is a life-size human figure -- with hair -- at the bottom of the stairs, backlit by street lamps shining through my front door glass
 
There's a step 4 and, arguably, 5. But I'd prefer to just put this incident behind us and move on.
 
I definitely underestimated the "creepy factor" of having a mannequin in my house. The thing still
occasionally startles me!
 
 
Still more facial expressions than Kristen Stewart!
 

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