Related themes

Constructing Gender

Explore how artists examine the relationship between gender and society.

Sets, Stories, and Situations

Throughout photography’s history, photographers have staged images to evoke literature, films, real events, and, sometimes, the artifice of the medium itself.

Blonde/Red Dress/Kitchen, from the series Interiors

Laurie Simmons
(American, born 1949)

1978. Silver dye bleach print, 3 1/4 x 5" (8.3 x 12.7 cm)

In the mid-1970s, Laurie Simmons began arranging dolls and dollhouse furniture into scenes that she would then photograph. “Setting up small rooms with dolls in them was a way for me to experience photography without taking my camera out to the street,” she explained. “I felt that I could set up my own world right around me, without ever having to leave the studio.”1

With a keen eye for color, pattern, and light, Simmons created tableaux that evoke American domestic scenes from the 1950s. Some are devoid of characters. Others, like Blonde/Red Dress/Kitchen, feature a lone female doll who appears to be a housewife in the middle of preparing a meal or fixing a bath, or, as if taking a break from her housework, sitting in the living room with the television or newspaper nearby. These images simultaneously evoke an idealized vision of the 1950s American home and present a critical look at the confining role that women were expected to fill in making this home possible.  As Simmons put it, the images are “a generalized memory of something that seemed sweet and terrifying and abstract and whitewashed.”2

Laurie Simmons in MoMA Audio excerpt, 2000.
Linda Yablonsky, “Laurie Simmons,” BOMB 57, fall 1996. Available online at:
Calvin Thomas, “A Doll’s House,” The New Yorker, December 10, 2012, p. 36. Available online at:

An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.

A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.

A setting for or a part of a story or narrative.

The method with which an artist, writer, performer, athlete, or other producer employs technical skills or materials to achieve a finished product or endeavor.

A series of events, objects, or compositional elements that repeat in a predictable manner.

The perceived hue of an object, produced by the manner in which it reflects or emits light into the eye. Also, a substance, such as a dye, pigment, or paint, that imparts a hue.

A term generally used to describe art that is not representational or based on external reality or nature.

Artist Soul Mates
Laurie Simmons first showed her Interior series at Artists Space, New York, where she met photographer Cindy Sherman, who was working at this alternative gallery space as a receptionist. Both Simmons and Sherman use a technique called set-up photography, constructing scenes in their studios and photographing them as if they were real. “It just felt like we were artist soul mates,” Sherman said.3

Photo Op
Laurie Simmons didn’t study photography; in fact, she dropped out of a photography class while attending the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. When she was starting out in New York City, she applied for a job taking photographs for a toy company. “I didn’t get the job, because I wasn’t very good at it,” she said. “But I’d taken some things home to photograph, and one of them was a tiny bathroom sink. I put water in it and placed it against a piece of floral wallpaper—and I saw something.…There was something about space, and time, and light, and, with the wallpaper, about nostalgia.”