It was in the middle of the 19th century, the time of the industrial revolution, that the first mannequins appeared in urban department stores, these human forms made of wood, plastic or resin that we find today behind the windows.

Generally, the manufacture of the mannequins meets the codified aesthetic criteria. Their appearance is shaped by the gaze of the society which models them in its image, according to its fantasies. Depending on the times, regions, cultures, the manufacture of the mannequins changes, their curves are transformed, their sizes evolve, as well as their general silhouettes.

Most of the time, notes photographer Valérie Belin, “the pose of the models is neutral, and their absent gaze is as if captivated by an interior existence”. It’s also my feeling. I have this feeling, as a photographer, that models have an inner life. Their faces gave me the impression that I meet introverted, closed-in subjects. I feel like a presence, like an interior world in these plastic models that I meet in the windows. Their hidden world holds me back, challenges me. Through the lens of my camera, I try to capture the mystery of their existence, a mystery that the plastic models protect firmly behind their motionless faces, and that my gaze tries to pierce.

When I look at these human forms, many puzzles spring up. Is there a spirit locked in there that is looking from the inside to the outside? Where does the fog that collects on windows in winter come from? Sometimes it seems odd to me that these plastic statues are breathing, slowly blowing water vapor against the windows. At other times, in front of some poorly washed, timeless storefronts, I catch the eyes of the models who from the inside stubbornly stare at pedestrians outside on the sidewalks. I sit on the side and take a photo…

Christian Barbé
April 2020

"The pose of the models is neutral, and their absent gaze is captivated by an interior existence" Valérie Belin