Hello, dolly

Bella hatKids’ hat from Bella Knitting, and my first time shooting photos of dolls.

My mom turned her compulsive habit of buying dolls into a cottage industry: she rescues dolls from thrift stores, cleans them up, repairs them and sells them at a serious profit. She’s really good at it, but not because she’s an expert at repair. It’s the photography.

Not the quality of the photography, mind you. Her photos are sometimes blurry because she’s too impatient to use the tripod I gave her. You can see dust bunnies and dog hair sticking to the fabric backdrops, and the lighting is usually an alien greenish-white from the fluorescent lights in the kitchen. Every time I’m at my parents’ house she spends ten minutes showing me all the blurry, awkwardly cropped photos she’s been taking for her auctions, and I cringe a little.

But I don’t have a lot of room to criticize: those photos work. My mom rakes in money because she knows how to bring those dolls to life. She poses them on tiny furniture, with little teddy bears under one arm, or “talking” to other dolls. She gives the creepy little mannequins their own personalities, and eBay bidders go crazy.

I thought about this a lot when I was shooting pictures of two kids’ hats for Bella. I had borrowed two dolls from my mom to use as models. I had way better lighting and a way better camera than her, but Mom when it comes to shooting dolls, my mom has me beat.

When my mom shoots dolls, she has infinite patience. She will tweak clothes until they’re just right, angle hands so they look that much more expressive, tilt dolls’ heads for just the right flirty or quizzical look. Not me. The dolls were floppy, unexpressive, and prone to falling down just as I released the shutter. Within just a few minutes I was cursing at them, shaking them violently and telling them I would never work with them again. I never, ever played with dolls as a kid, so I don’t see why I’d have gotten any better at it in the last 20 years.

Anyway, I did get some good photos, and hats look great. But I get the sneaky feeling that if my mom had been behind the camera, the photos would be blurry, awkward, and way more magical than mine.