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RRB PhotoBooks : Eleanor Macnair : Whilst the world sleeps


The images in Whilst the world sleeps were created late at night using Play-Doh, an empty wine bottle as rolling pin, a knife and a chopping board. Eleanor Macnair began her Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh project on an experimental whim in 2013 and has since amassed both a large audience and an archive of nearly 400 recreated images. Whilst You Were Sleeping draws from this archive to create an alternative photographic history told in just over fifty recreated images, many published here for the first time.

We all view hundreds of images each day—on screens, in newspapers, in adverts—but we scan them and move on. Macnair began recreating photographs, both the familiar and overlooked, in bright Play-Doh colours to encourage the viewer to slow down and engage with the original photographs. The project, first shared on tumblr then Instagram, questions how we read and value imagery in a digital age and creates a humorous entry point for the audience to encounter the often inaccessible worlds of art and photography.

The models are created in Macnair’s spare time, often late at night, using off-the-shelf Play-Doh. The only colours she mixes are the flesh tones which she keeps in an old Tupperware container. Each model is then photographed in natural light in her bin yard, with many adjustments to get the angle and lighting just right. Finally, each model is destroyed and the Play-Doh returned to its respective pot ready for the next model.

“I am interested in how we judge art. Who is to say what is good or bad? Who can make it and how? Can we hold it in esteem if it’s not cloaked in art speak, the production costs are minimal and the artist didn’t attend art school? Does this make it less valid? Or more so? Is it even art?” – Eleanor Macnair


Eleanor Macnair (born Nottingham) began the Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh in August 2013 inspired by a pub quiz by artist MacDonaldStrand. Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh was first published in book form in 2014 and soon after exhibited at Atlas Gallery, London; Kleinschmidt Fine Photographs, Wiesbaden and Kopeikin Gallery, Los Angeles. In 2017 Macnair created a series of portraits from the National Portrait Gallery collections for a display in their bookshop gallery, London, followed by a new series of work for the exhibitions Sofas, Birds and Knees at Kleinschmidt Fine Photographs in 2018, Surrealists Rendered in Play-Doh at Elephant West, London in 2019 and Eyes Wide Shut at Kleinschmidt Fine Photographs in 2020. Her work has been published in the Observer Magazine, Telegraph Review, The Independent Magazine, Elephant Magazine, T magazine of the New York Times, BBC News, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Vogue Italia, Hyperallergic, Independent, IMA and amongst others.


Whilst the world sleeps: Photographs rendered in Play-Doh 2015 – 2023
RRB Photobooks
Text by MacDonaldStrand
March 2024
80 pages
Limited edition of 550
Pre-order £24 / RRP £30

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