Hoffmann’s Dolls

Alexandre Cabrita is a fine art photographer based in Lisbon

I always liked to work in series, each consisting of a different theme or subject. My latest work entitled “Hoffmann’s Dolls” explores the concept of formless body. 

I started working on this concept just as the Covid-19 pandemic begun to spread and quarantine measures were implemented, thus making it increasingly more difficult and ultimately impossible to hire models for shoots. 

My focus then shifted towards processing old Raw files, in an attempt to convey a new meaning and a new interpretation

I was seduced by the concept of the shattered/formless body. In Formless, a user guide, Rosalind Krauss referred to Poupée, (“Doll”) a work by the german photographer Hans Bellmer, to describe Freud’s concept of “uncanny” (Das Unheimliche), the feeling of uneasiness we experience when we gaze at a humanoid or a clone, something akin to nature but, at the same time, fundamentally split from it. 

People often use the expression “uncanny valley” to describe James Cameron’s movie Avatar. Michael Tigar, CEO at Possible Reality, a startup responsible for developing INTERACT, a software capable of creating realistic 3D avatars, believes that the human eye is “wired innately to understand the human face and all of its subtle expressions […] So when we see a digital representation of the human face — in cartoon form, or all the way to photorealism and beyond — which goes in to the uncanny valley, we have a built in acceptance of what it is we’re seeing. But when what we’re seeing crosses a certain threshold that we know both consciously and subconsciously when we cross into the uncanny valley, our mind dismisses what we’re seeing. We disengage and we don’t buy into it.” 

I was interested in this notion of uncanny as linked to the concept of double or simulacra. According to Krauss, Bellmer’s work with dolls is a sort of photographic theatre where the uncanny manifests itself as “the drama of castration anxiety, in which doubling is symptomatic of the dream work’s effort to protect the threatened phallus by representing it through what Freud describes as the multiplication or doubling of the genital symbol.”

The concept of body as double is also present in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Sandman” (Der Sandmann), in the figure of an automaton (Olympia), with whom Nathanael, the main character, falls in love. According to Freud, the uncanny can be understood as something belonging to the subject but simultaneously detached from him and it points to the idea of anxiety resulting from the fear of castration. This is very well illustrated in Hoffmann’s tale by the fear experienced by Nathanael of being deprived of is eyes and it establishes a clear link between the castration anxiety and the scopic drive. 

The act of seeing becomes also a libidinal act.


    Nasceu em Lisboa, em Março, 1974.
    Licenciou-se em Artes-plásticas / Pintura pela Faculdade de Belas Artes da Universidade de Lisboa, em 1999.

    Em 2001 concluíu o curso de Pós-graduação MA Fine-Art pelo Central St-Martins, College of Art and Design do London Institute.


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