TT: You later moved on to photographing staged scenes with life-size “love dolls,” which have this incredible interiority to them. The expressions on their faces look really sad to me, which in some ways makes them more palatable than looking, for instance, at a vacant, smiling model in a magazine. Is there something about the style of the dolls that you worked with in this series that drew you to them?
LS: Well that was decades later. I think what drew me to them most specifically was their size, life-size, because it opened up this whole new world where I could shoot in human scale. So finding a life-size doll that was so beautifully sculpted and articulated was really phenomenal for me. They do make love dolls in the United States, but they’re kind of tawdry-looking; the ones I found in Japan have a gentle, more anime look to them.
TT: Both the “love doll” and “kigurumi” series strike me as very familiar and timely, as do your older series. I’m thinking of our digital lives and the streams of perfectly posed images we see on social media accounts, particularly of women but of men, too. How does the cultural landscape for women feel different to you now, a few decades on from the Pictures Generation?
LS: I grew up in a suburb in post-World War II America. Most of the kids that I grew up with were from first- or second-generation American families trying to embrace the American dream. Appearance was everything. So everyone aspired to look as close to perfect as possible. There was pressure to physically conform; you know, if your nose wasn’t appropriately turned up, you were meant to fix it, you were meant to diet, to have braces on your teeth. Everyone was heading towards this uniform idea of American beauty, with an eye towards assimilation and acceptance across the board.
I’d always assumed it would never be that tough for a young woman again. But I think it may actually be worse now. This is a huge subject for everyone, and for me right at the moment. I’m thinking not only about what social media and the digital age are doing to people, their sense of themselves physically, but also emotionally.