Ilona Szwarc, "Kayla, Boston, MA, 2012", 2012, from the series "American Girls", archival pigment print, 20x16”

Ilona Szwarc, “Kayla, Boston, MA, 2012”, 2012, from the series “American Girls”, archival pigment print, 20×16”

Ilona Szwarc

American Girls is a series of portraits of girls in the United States who own American Girl dolls, which were conceived to be anti-Barbie toys that could be customized to look exactly like their owners (despite the fact that all of them really look the same) When I first came to the US, the phenomenon of the American Girl doll immediately caught my attention. Photographically it was a beautiful image: girls with their sculptural representations, their twins, their avatars. I realized that the design of the dolls embodies contemporary cultural values – with a wide variety of miniature accessories, a doll hospital, and a doll hair salon with personal stylists, they are perhaps the most luxurious toys ever invented. In a commercial sense, American Girl dolls market an illusion of choice and therefore an illusion of individuality, even though the branding behind the doll perpetuates domesticity and traditional female gender roles.

The American Girl product defines and categorizes American girls (and future American women), playing a crucial role for girls at a time their sense of identity and self-worth are being formed. This fact raises important questions about who gets represented and how, an issue which I examine in my photographs. The performance of my subjects for the camera is mirrored in the performance of gender and childhood as represented by contemporary culture and society.

Originally from Warsaw, Poland, Ilona Szwarc (New York, NY) received her BFA in photography at the School of Visual Arts. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at venues such as the Jen Bekman Gallery (NYC), Getxo Photo (Bilboa, Spain), Galerie Claude Samuel (Paris, France) which featured a solo show of her work. Her photographs have received worldwide recognition, having been highlighted in The New York Times Lens Blog, MSNBC and The Huffington Post. Ilona is the grand prize winner of the PDNedu Contest in Fine Arts in 2013, in addition to, a 3rd prize winner in World Press Photo Observed Portraits contest.