Working in communications for photographic galleries and publishers, Eleanor Macnair spent a great deal of her time trying to get people to pay attention to photographic art. She wanted to challenge the notion that photography is inaccessible. After re-creating an image using Play-Doh during a competitive pub quiz, she realised it could be a great way to grab the attention of those who were intimidated by the art world.
“I didn’t go to an art gallery until I was 21 or 22 — and so that whole world just wasn’t accessible to me,” she told The New York Times. “Even though I’ve worked in galleries and museums, sometimes I still feel like I can’t have an opinion because I didn’t go to art school. And so this is a way of bringing photography to a wide audience and saying, ‘Yeah, you can be interested in this too.’”
In 2013, Macnair posted the first of her images online and her blog quickly went viral. Evoking childhood memories and nostalgia through her use of the familiar Play-Doh material. The two dimensional portraits are based on both iconic and lesser-known photographs and have garnered her fans from all over the world.
Each image takes about three hours to reproduce and she keeps her toolkit as simple as she does her materials; a chopping board, scalpel and rolling pin made from an empty wine bottle is all she needs. Once the scene has been built, she leaves it to stand overnight, photographs it the next morning, disassembles it and returns the Play-Doh to its pot until she begins her next work.
In 2014, the artist published a book about the project titled Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh. In 2017, she was invited to recreate a series of images for the 70th anniversary of Magnum Photos for which a selection of limited-edition prints were put up for sale. Given the freedom to select any images from the agency’s archives, the series offers a new perspective on some of the world’s most famous photographs.