When photographer Ilona Szwarc moved to New York from Poland in 2008, she noticed something interesting as she shot the streets of the city: a lot of little girls who were dressed exactly like the American Girl dolls they were toting around. “I became interested in that — photographically it was a beautiful image, girls carrying their own sculptural representations, their twins, their avatars. I started to take street snapshots of the girls, then I would stop some girls on the street and take their portraits,” she explained to us over email. “Eventually, I wanted to get closer to their lives, to their families, and I found girls who wanted to participate in my project.”
Szwarc sought out additional subjects for her American Girls series through friends, Facebook, American Girl fan pages, and even placed several ads for interested models in Backstage. That said, all of the portraits — which were shot with a 4×5 large format camera — are 100 percent real.
“As an artist, I wanted to examine the line where the product creates culture,” Szwarc writes. “I wanted to investigate how culture conditions gender, and how it invents childhood. On a more personal level, I felt like this product defined and categorized American women, and I started to wonder where I fit in, or if I can ever fit in in this scenario. I only wish that American Girl would give more choices to the girls so that everyone would get represented.”
Click through for a slideshow of select images from the series; visit Szwarc’s website to view the full project.
Maya and Leela, 2011. Photo credit: Ilona Szwarc