Saturday, March 21, 2009

Take a journey into "The Inexplicable Lives of Dolls"

We interrupt our coverage of great '80s TV shows and their stars to bring you this update on BRB's writing projects ...

As a little girl, Billie Rae Bates had some pretty interesting friends: Dolly Parton, Cher, the Archies, Catwoman and Wonder Woman.

At least the versions of them that are plastic and about a foot tall.

This year, our own author and journalist BRB is finding out just how photogenic these "stars" of her childhood are, as she follows up her 2008 yearlong raw-photo essay project, My Mother's Clothing, with a new project for 2009: The Inexplicable Lives of Dolls.

One part history, one part sociological study, and heavy on the whimsy, the photo project will spend a full 52 weeks highlighting the various dolls -- fashion dolls, not baby dolls, just so you know -- of BRB's collection.

"Dolls are like dreams, I believe," she says. "And it works in both directions. When we're little, they represent the grown-up life we can only wish for. When we're grown-up, we then look back and dream about being a kid again! And all of these dolls, most of them from my childhood but some from more recently, represent memories for me. My dolls were companions, just as my real-life friends were."

Like My Mother's Clothing (, The Inexplicable Lives of Dolls offers one raw, untouched photo per week, posted on a Sunday, of one or more of BRB's dolls, most of which were boxed up at the family farm in her hometown in mid-Michigan for nearly 30 years. Each week's accompanying essay not only takes a trip down memory lane, but also veers to the sociological, even anthropological.

"I've always loved the study of pop culture," she says, "and our dolls can tell us quite a lot about ourselves, both individually and as a culture."

This project differs from My Mother's Clothing in that it's not self-photography and it's not tied to Sunday morning each week. Each photo might be taken anytime the preceding week, and in any location, whereas My Mother's Clothing was based at her Metro Atlanta home.

"I wanted to free it up that way because for one thing, my house is all spent, been-there-done-that, and there are so many other possibilities when the photos can be taken anywhere at all. And while the self-photography of last year was a fun challenge, I'm glad that the project has been freed up from that, as well!"

Insisting that she's strictly amateur where photography is concerned, BRB is shooting the photos as medium-resolution jpegs with her point-and-shoot digital camera, on all auto settings, no frills or tricks, then loading them directly onto the web page,, without any alteration.

"I actually can use Photoshop!" she laughs. "This is not a cop-out! But I think in our day and age, photo-correction is overused. We're twisting reality. There comes a time when we need to embrace reality. Be real. That's why I photographed myself just the way I was, for better or worse, in My Mother's Clothing, and that's why my 35-year-old Malibu Barbie doll won't have any retouching, either!"

BRB, who holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and English from Michigan State University and spent 10 years in the daily newspaper business before moving to the corporate world, says she expects topics such as materialism, mass consumption, and how females are viewed in our society will factor into the weekly essays for The Inexplicable Lives of Dolls, as well as her own faith and beliefs. The author, whose websites include, and, says she is relishing every moment of this new project, which highlights dolls that range in age and value from the Mego Batgirl she received in 1972 to Mattel's Poison Ivy and Wonder Woman Barbies that were Christmas gifts from her family just a couple years ago.

"I felt so blessed by the My Mother's Clothing project. I very much looked forward to it each weekend. And it wasn't just because I loved the wardrobe, and that I felt it was a link to my mother. As writers, we don't just execute noun, verb and compound modifier. We inspect the world around us. We play armchair philosopher. So that's what I'm looking forward to in this new project. Having a voice."

She adds, "I believe it's innate in every human being, that need to have a voice."

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