In August 2013, Eleanor MacNair was at a local pub participating in a photography-themed quiz night. One of the tasks was to reproduce a famous photo out of Play-Doh, and thus her viral Tumblr page, Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh, was born. “It’s said you only need one good idea in life,” MacNair tells PDN via email. The first photograph she made was a portrait of Helen Tamiris by Man Ray from 1929. “I’d fallen in love with the image when I saw it as a tiny print at the Pompidou in Paris.” Initially MacNair wasn’t so interested in the documentation of her creations. She simply snapped a few shots, with the camera pointed down at the table where she made them, not thinking about the quality of the image or the lighting. Now, she preserves the images overnight and photographs them the next day, with a good camera, using natural morning light.
MacNair enjoys her role as curator rather than photographer. “Through the blog I can decide what I want people to view, and I can highlight obscure images over-looked by photographers, or contemporary projects I think are worth seeing.” Her favorite Play-Doh rendering is “Nan and Brian in Bed,” by Nan Goldin. “It’s a really crude reproduction in only three colors but I like to think I caught the mood of the original, which took me by surprise.” The most difficult images to make, she says, are nudes and close-up images with smiles [ex. Slide 5]. Her Play-Doh skills are impressive, but MacNair’s catalogue is an exploration in the history of photography. MacNair’s knowledge of photography and photographers is quite extensive, but some renderings were created by request [ex. Slide 7, requested by photography writer John Edwin Mason].
The popularity of Eleanor MacNair’s Tumblr has grown by leaps and bounds within the last year. And soon you will be able to get your hands on a printed version of “Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh” (MacDonaldStrand). The 144-page book, containing 100 lithographs, and sold as a limited edition of 500, will be available in mid-October.