Hans & Ingeborg

19 pages,
ISBN: 0968132014

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The Mannequin's Happily-Ever-After
by Hannah More

At first glance, Hans & Ingeborg, the limited edition book by award-winning Toronto photographer V. Tony Hauser, is a wedding album. A slightly unconventional one, perhaps-husband and wife are a pair of department store mannequins-but the route they embark upon is a familiar one: courtship and marriage leading seamlessly into uncomplicated connubial bliss.

Hans & Ingeborg is a classy keepsake of a fairy tale romance. Reproductions of twelve original platinum photographs are mounted on heavy paper, each accompanied by a single, descriptive sentence. These pages are bound in an embossed cover, which in turn slides into its own box for safekeeping.

But a darker world lies just beneath this carefully crafted skin. As the text trots out the happy details of the pair's married life, the visual narrative charts its own course. Hauser's photographs do not illustrate the romantic clichés of the written story; they subvert them. "Ingeborg prepared romantic dinners for two," we are told, but the accompanying photograph reveals Ingeborg sitting by herself at an elegantly laid-out table, her fixed features looking surprisingly doleful as she stares at her husband's empty place. In front of her is a glass of wine and a bottle nearly drained.

And indeed, most of Ingeborg's pursuits are of the solitary variety: Hans is absent from many of the photographs, and when he does appear, his face tends to be hidden. Yet for all his elusiveness, Hans is the centre around which his lonely wife revolves, and her isolation accelerates over the course of the story. By the end of the book, Ingeborg has discovered that she must take drastic measures to find her own way to happily-ever-after.

Ingeborg is struggling to define her identity not just as a wife, but also as a person: she occupies a gray zone between human and mannequin. Hauser is a virtuoso photographer, and he uses his technical skills to illuminate this middle ground. His work demonstrates an astonishing ability to communicate a sense of skin-not the every-wrinkle-and-pore school of representation, but one which shows something more evanescent, the skin's softness and glow. And even though Ingeborg is made of purest plastic, Hauser's photographs manage to grant her slick surface those same qualities. In several pictures, she looks almost human, the only clues to her mannequin-ness being a certain blankness of stare and stiffness of limb. Ingeborg does have a prodigious ability to hold a pose, however, and Hauser takes advantage of that quality to produce some poetic long-exposure effects: in many of the images, she remains serenely rigid as those around her appear in a half-lit blur. In her elaborate make-believe marriage, she shows all the symptoms of being alive, but lacks some final animating spark.

Hans & Ingeborg is a tremendously sophisticated product. The photographs, like dreams, generate their own logic and must be read symbolically as well as literally. The tale they tell is similarly complex: the commemoration of marriage becomes the saga of a mannequin-wife's struggle for self-determination. The presentation of that story is elaborate and refined-an exquisitely, expensively-produced edition of 400. Yet what percolates through all that sophistication is Hauser's gentle wit. Hans & Ingeborg manages to temper a high-art look with whimsy, filling an elegant shell with heart and humour. 

(Hans & Ingeborg will be featured during the 50th Anniversary Exhibition at the Advertising & Design Club's Directions 98 Annual Awards Show. The exhibition runs to February 14, 1999.)

Hannah More is a visual artist who no longer lives in New York City.


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