The Endearing, Funny, and Disturbing Faces of Ventriloquist Dummies

The Photo Blog
March 28 2013 11:00 AM

The Endearing, Funny, and Disturbing Faces of Ventriloquist Dummies

9
Uncle Eddie, 2010

Matthew Rolston

Although photographer Matthew Rolston has built a career on entertainment portraiture, advertising, and music videos, he suddenly found himself looking for a different outlet in 2009.

“My professional work is subject to tremendous agendas; everything I do is mediated by a group of people, even the creative work is usually mentioned in a contract,” Rolston said. “When I started this first-ever fine-art project I wanted to have none of that; I went into it just wanting to take these pictures.”

The project turned out to be a series about ventriloquist dummies from the Vent Haven Museum, now a 224-page book titled Talking Heads: The Vent Haven Portraits, published by Pointed Leaf Press. Rolston mentioned that once he started thinking about tackling an independent project, he had a hard time focusing on anything else.

Plate 9 Talking Heads
Noisy Crachini, 2010

Matthew Rolston

6
Barnaby, (l) Tango Teddy 2010.

Matthew Rolston

Advertisement

“I’m the kind of person, once my ‘antenna’ is up, I immediately start ‘receiving,’ ” he wrote via email.

What perked the antenna this time was a New York Times story by Edward Rothstein about the Vent Haven Museum and in particular a photograph of one of the dummies he saw, and upon visiting, he felt a kind of kinship with the dolls

Because many of the dummies are fragile, Rolston did the shooting on-site. Choosing which subjects to include was complicated since there are more than 700 figures on display. He photographed more than 250 and then edited those down to the 100 strongest, “many a Sophie’s Choice,” said Rolston.

“I wanted to photograph the figures that ‘spoke’ to me in a more personal way. This collection of portraits is not about the history of ventriloquism. Instead, it is a personal response to the emanations of humanity that come from these terribly evocative inanimate objects,” Rolston wrote.

Reaction to the project (Rolston is still looking for a gallery to show the work) has been overwhelmingly positive, though Rolston said many people still have negative reactions to dummies. “It seems that the image of the evil or demonized dummy is very much part of popular consciousness due to a number of rather clichéd books and films,” he explained.

Rolston mentioned that from his other work he is a “connoisseur of faces” and approached the portrait sessions similar to the way he would with human beings.

Plate 59 Talking Heads
Art Anteak, 2010

Matthew Rolston

Plate 26 (l) and Plate 22
Ayre Girl (l) Junior, 2010

Matthew Rolston

7
Marlette Head, 2010

Matthew Rolston

“It has been said that the eyes are the window to the soul; that is powerfully expressed by these figures,” Rolston wrote. “By employing the same techniques and emotional approach I would apply to a human subject, I believe I was able to portray these figures in much the same way. … For me these figures have a yearning quality. They speak through their eyes, since their voices—voices of their ventriloquists—are now long silent. I found them to be endearing, hilarious, tragic, even disturbing—sometimes all at once.”

8
Anonyma Girl, 2010

Matthew Rolston

Plate 16 Talking Heads
Guthrie Boy, 2010

Matthew Rolston

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.