For the How We See works, Simmons and her studio manager, Mary Simpson, worked with a number of models who were fascinated with the project’s concept. Each model, chosen for her ethereal beauty, had to sit for hours while a make-up artist painted on her eyelids. While photographing the models, Simmons would instruct them to make microturns of their heads and faces and minute changes in where their gaze was directed (with their eyes closed) so that she could take the most dynamic and engaging shot. Many of the most compelling images selected during the editing process, Simmons noted, were those where the model appears to be looking directly at the viewer with the piercing faux eyes. Talk about a trompe l’œil!
Simmons’s interest in dolls has grown and evolved over her 40-year career. “I was always interested in fantasy and child’s play,” she reminisced. “I started out photographing dolls and doll figures.” Her earliest photographs from the 1970s include female dolls situated in dollhouses—specifically kitchens and bathrooms—to visualize and critique the stereotypical role of women as doting and domestic housewives.
During our visit, Simmons also spoke at length about her relationship with photographer Jimmy DeSana. After meeting in the early 1970s, DeSana and Simmons struck up a friendship and working relationship, and eventually became roommates. She inherited DeSana’s uncatalogued estate after his death in 1990, and it was then that she realized just how important it is for an artist to keep impeccable records. Simmons and her team keep slide negatives of all of her works in meticulously organized archives.
In addition to being a photographer and working as an archivist of DeSana’s work during her long career, Simmons is also a filmmaker. “I just finished shooting a feature film. It’s called My Art. It’s about a woman artist around my age who is looking for a breakthrough in her work. She goes to a small town and meets people who help her with her work, which is recreating old movie scenes. I had two challenges: I don’t think people are interested in seeing movies about artists, and I don’t think they are interested in seeing movies about women my age. So, of course,” she said with a grin, “that’s the movie I made.”