Photographs in Play-Doh

Pin It
Nan and Brian in Bed, New York City, 1983 by Nan Goldin
Nan and Brian in Bed, New York City, 1983 by Nan GoldinPlay-doh by Eleanor Macnair

Famous photographs take on a vibrant hue in Eleanor Macnair's playful play-doh recreations

It was for a round at a pub quiz that Eleanor Macnair made her first rendering of a photograph in Play-Doh – a work by photographer Clare Strand. As a laugh she tried it again at home, but when she received an overwhelming response after posting the results on Twitter, she decided it was time to start a tumblr. “I don’t have any background in Play-Doh rendering,” Macnair says. “I actually gave up art at age 14, so I feel like a bit of a weirdo doing this as an adult.”

Sometimes she chooses famous photos, a mix of older and more contemporary images, but Macnair also tries to find lesser known works, and she takes requests, as long as they adhere to the rules: “I won’t do dead people because it just doesn’t seem right. Or porn – although there are some with nudity. Also, it has to look like I might actually be able to do it in Play-Doh!” The mere size of postcards, Macnair’s creations are made using only a pint glass as a rolling pin and a blunt Ikea knife. Because the Play-Doh will start to crack if left too long, she quickly shoots and then dissembles them, and moves on to the next one. Since last summer she has created 58 renderings, and says she’ll stop at 100 – “otherwise it could just go on and on...”

Martin Parr loved Macnair’s version of his photo, New Brighton, and works by Nan Goldin and Wolfgang Tillmans have also received the Play-Doh treatment. Recently, Macnair made the list of top 100 tumblrs for the year, as voted by the site. Here, we've asked Macnair to pic some of her favourites, and to tell us about what makes them special.

Nan and Brian in Bed, New York City, 1983 by Nan Goldin
This was one of the first posts I did on the blog and it took me by surprise as I didn’t realize play-doh could emote! I hope I captured something of the sense of isolation from the original photograph.

Tukan, 2010 by Wolfgang Tillmans
This one was requested by a photographer in Sweden called Martin Brink who’d heard about the blog. It’s unusual in two respects – it has no people in it and it actually looks like the original photograph.

Despair Film Still #1, 2010 by Alex Prager
Alex Prager has such a great use of colour that I had to include one of her photographs on the blog. She often shoots from unusual perspectives which would be hard to re-create in play-doh so I chose this image as it is closely cropped around the face. It went a bit wrong as the nose and eyebrows look like antlers but I was quite pleased with the teeth. I’d be the first to admit it looks nothing like the original.

Christine Keeler, 1963 by Lewis Morley
This was another early one I did as a tribute to Lewis Morley who died last year. Someone had posted on a blog that it lacked the shadow and depth of the original and they felt it had no value. I felt that they kind of missed the point… it is what it is, a photograph rendered in play-doh, with no claim to be of any value.

Country Girls, 1999 by Anna Fox and Alison Goldfrapp
I’ve always loved this photograph by Anna Fox. When I finished and took it apart I was left with these tiny, play-doh legs which were quite unsettling. Also, little know fact, it’s quite hard to make high heels in play-doh.

Sunday Morning, c. 1947 by Saul Leiter
This one was a tribute to another photographer who died in 2013. Saul Leiter is known for his remarkable colour work but I chose this lesser-known black and white work and turned it into colour.

Romania, 1975 by Henri-Cartier Bresson (Magnum)
I had to include a Cartier-Bresson but I didn’t want to do a well-known. obvious one. The image itself is ambiguous as you can’t tell if the man has his arm around her neck in a slightly possessive and threatening manner, or a loving one. But it’s always been one of my favourites as it reminds me of young couples you see on the train every day.

Untitled, from Portraits at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington D.C., 1984 by Judith Joy Ross
This one was another request. I had never heard of Judith Joy Ross and as a result of the result did some research and really liked this series. I wouldn’t want the blog just to be about photographs I know and like, but also those which may have slipped under the radar and are other people’s favourites.

New Brighton by Martin Parr (Magnum)
I know that Martin has seen this and he seemed to like it so I’m happy! I do worry that photographers will see their work in play-doh and hate it.

Portrait of Christina wearing a red cloak c.1913. Autochrome by Lieutenant Colonel Mervyn O’Gorman from the National Media Museum
This image is based on an early autochrome photograph taken in 1913 and held in the National Media Museum Collection. I immediately fell in love with it as it was so modern for its time but also has echoes of the pre-Raphaelites. One hope is that the blog does lead people to discover great photographs they wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Love on the Left Bank by Ed Van Der Elsken
Love on the Left Bank is one of my favourite photobooks so it took a while to decide which one to do. In the original, Ann (the fictional character in the book) is soaked with rain but there was no way I could get the rain effect in play-doh.

Text by Ananda Pellerin