From Toy Photographs to Photoplay: The curious toy as a case of double-representation


Katriina Heljakka

In the age of social media, toys have become an increasingly visible part of visual culture. Toys and games are historical and permanent manifestations of play. Toys and play go together and although play may happen without a plaything, play with toys occurs through a solitary or socially shared act of play in a playful mood or attitude.

Play is generally seen as an activity exercised by children and is either considered as an

enchanting experience or a useless activity, if it is compared with cultural and productive creativity. This article focuses on the contemporary doll Blythe and the photographic representations produced thereof. A ‘photoplay’ produced and shared by adults on the ‘playgrounds’ of social media, e.g. the photo management application Flickr.

The research materials at hand challenge previous viewpoints by pointing out various adult play activities in the realm of digital and social media: An expedition to the virtual play environments of the internet proves that in the 21st century toys do not solely belong in childhood and comes, at the same time, to verify the perceivable and active nature of adult toy play. Toys have again become objects of interest for adults to play with and to collect. Adult toy play is similar to the fantasy play of children, but also manifests itself as a creative and productive activity, as in ‘photoplay’ − a form of play that utilizes toys as an inspirational and material resource for photographing and in which the toy may become an avatar − a second-self for the player.