Smart Doll Art Exhibition – Photographer Michael Shrapnel Captures Beauty For A Good Cause At Adelaide Fringe

Image © Michael Shrapnel
Kara is a classically-trained freelance cellist become arts critic. She loves chatting with artists from all walks of life, watching shows and performing in them, and weaving words and experiences into stories for scenestr. She and her partner teach a bunch of inspired young kids from their Adelaide home studio and she is ‘mumma’ to some special little girls.

Imagine Barbie, three times her size, looking like she’s stepped off the red carpet in Tokyo glam.

Photographer Michael Shrapnel captures his inner child and brings these playful ‘smart dolls’ to life through combining fairy tale-like characters and imagery with real-life scenarios, in an exhibition as part of Adelaide Fringe.

So, what is so smart about a smart doll? A hidden worldwide phenomenon in creative play, these elusive beauties have captured the attention of collectors around the world. Created by artist Danny Choo, son of fashion designer, Jimmy Choo, these dolls were created around 2015 to embody all the elements of Japanese culture into a single product.

Unlike Barbie, you won’t find these dolls lining the shelves of department stores, because the only way to attain one is through Danny Choo himself. The philosophy behind the design is based on the Japanese Wabi-Sabi principle which states that true beauty can only be attained with a correlate amount of imperfection.

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“The whole doll photography hobby is sort of an off-shoot of people taking pictures of their toys. The real fun I have is trying to bring them to life. Essentially to what is an inanimate object; a toy, a doll. Giving it some character by either the pose it’s put in or the surroundings or a story I’m trying to tell. Essentially, it’s a hobby I started but I partly do it for my mental health.”

Michael has always been interested in fashion and film, drawing much of his inspiration for his photography from producers such as Jim Henson and Tim Burton, due to the blending of human with puppetry and stock animation.

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“At the time I was collecting anime figures and I came across a reviewer of toys on YouTube. He talked about these dolls and in some of the videos I thought, they almost look like puppets. It sparked my imagination with not only that but my interests in fashion. I try and mimic that fashion style you see in the glossy '90s and '00s magazines, but also enjoy the cinematic look, so a lot of my shots I compose as if it’s a shot from a moving picture; as if to take one still shot from a rolling camera.”

This exhibition is for a cause close to Michael’s heart. During the day, he works as a mental health nurse, helping older people access their inner children and in his spare time, he’s accessing his own.

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Working in the medical profession himself, he is using the opportunity not only to promote The Stamford Plaza but also to raise vital funds by selling his work for Flinders Foundation and Flinders University during the International Women's Health Conference. His colleagues have jumped on board, as has his local dentist, St Mary’s Dental Care. The photographs are taken with the dolls, in costumes he’s purchased from some of his favourite online smart doll designers, making a difference in the places he’s raising money for.

There is a free, limited ticketed event for the opening of Michael’s exhibition, with a gold coin donation at the door. Entry includes a raffle ticket with the chance to win one of the exhibition artworks.

International Women's Health Conference - A Smart Doll Art Exhibition is on at Cascades Lounge at Stamford Plaza (Adelaide Fringe) 23 February-17 March.

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