The Austin Chronicle

Off the Bookshelf

Reviewed by Ada Calhoun, June 16, 2000, Books

This Is Blythe

by Gina Garan

Chronicle Books, 96 pp., $12.95 (paper)

Except for her comeback as Karen Carpenter in Todd Haynes' cult hit film Superstar, Barbie has sunk far from grace. Luckily, the plastic-idol power-vacuum caused by her descent has been filled by photographer Gina Garan. In This Is Blythe, a cute little collection of lush color pictures, Garan revives a relic of a toy, the big-headed but waifish Blythe, a doll manufactured in 1972 (and 1972 only), by Hasbro. Children didn't like the odd-looking Blythe much (which accounts for her sole year on the market), but she's prime for the hipster retro set. In the spirit of fashion photographer-demigod David LaChapelle, whose hallowed name is invoked all over This Is Blythe's introduction and book jacket, Garan stylizes up a storm, setting the doll in locales ranging from Santa's lap to a Hooters parking lot, with all manner of hair, make-up, and eye color. (One of Blythe's selling points was the fact that her eyes change color from blue to orange to green to pink at the pull of a string.) Some of the photos are hyper-cutesy, like the one of Blythe on the floor under a "Slippery When Wet" sign. But some of Garan's images, like one of Blythe walking through the desert looking suspiciously over her shoulder, are eerie and evocative. Garan's obsession with this strange discontinued doll is a little perverse, but plenty of charm and hipster cool pervades.

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