This slim hardback consists largely of full-color photographs of dolls, created by the noted still photographer (and evident doll enthusiast) Lindsay Brice. Through Brice’s magisterial gaze the many dolls on display here assume strikingly lifelike guises and facial expressions, registering fear, sadness, wonder and exasperation. The effect is rich and strange, conferring an eerie beauty upon what in lesser hands would probably look like snapshots from a kid’s playpen.
Brice’s images are complimented by the Flannery O’Connor story “A Temple of the Holy Ghost,” about a young girl coming of age in the Deep South, topped off with a description of a hermaphrodite in a freak show that impacts the protagonist’s imagination irrevocably. The story doesn’t “explain” the pictures, but does provide an appropriate tonal accompaniment of childish wonder and terror.
As the title implies, the freakish and surreal come into play here, with Brice’s dolls more often than not silhouetted amid pools of darkness and suffused by shadow. Brice has a definite eye for the macabre, lingering on chipped and/or decayed doll visages and even a doll with snails crawling on its face. “The Spanking,” in which a girl doll raises a hand to a wailing boy doll while another looks on in evident consternation, is especially disquieting. Loneliness is another mainstay, with most of the doll subjects presented in isolated portraits amid featureless backgrounds.
Yet there are also depictions of tender innocence, as in the cover photo of a red robed girl doll staring wide-eyed at a goldfish, and some sexually-tinged imagery, as evinced by a Raggedy Ann doll that appears to be masturbating. Doll-centered this tome may be, but it’s not a children’s book.
A large part of SUPERNATURAL’S effect, it must be said, is due to the gorgeous layout, courtesy of its publisher and editor Viggo Mortensen. In recent years Mortensen has become an independent publishing mogul, and this book offers ample evidence of his skilled and meticulous touch.