By Elizabeth Gracen:
Instagram has its problems, but it is still my favorite social media platform, hands down. I'm a visual person, so when I get a free moment, I like to search for interesting feeds. That's why I started THE FEED—a deeper dive into some of the accounts I find along the way. I reach out and ask if the owner might tell me a bit more about themselves and why they post what they post. It's an easy process, and once I get a response, I'm never disappointed.
This month I would like you to meet Rosemary Royston and her fabulous Instagram feed: @midge_and_midge
EG: Rosemary, I don’t really know how your Instagram feed popped into my world, but I do know that it was a black-and-white close-up 2 shot with Midge and Midge reenacting a classic shot from Bergman’s Persona. Let’s just say, you caught my attention and held it! Since I know virtually nothing about you, I get the luxury of starting from scratch. Please tell me a little bit about yourself: who you are, where you live . . . the basics!
RR: I’m thrilled to meet you, and that I used a hashtag that caught your attention! I describe myself as a “re-imaginer” of things, and in this description I include poet, artist, and thrift lover. I have an academic background in English and poetry, and these are my first loves. But I’ve recently silenced my inner critic and allowed myself to delve into visual arts. My home is with my family and dog in the North Georgia mountains, and I work as an assistant professor of English at a small college, along with performing institutional research duties.
EG: I’ve never seen anything quite like what you are doing with Midge, Midge, and her friends. Get me up to speed in terms of the why and when you started this curation and how you got the idea to create the world of Midge & Midge.
RR: Well, early on in the pandemic, I got the idea to take pictures with small, odd things I’d found at thrift. Sometimes they were just for fun, other times I realized I was making a statement of some sort. I then recalled that my old barbies were under my bed. Midge and friends were my best friends as a child, as I was an introvert and the family moved often due to Dad’s calling as a minister. One day as I scrolled through Instagram, I ran across dawsondigsdolls. I’ve never met the owner of this feed, Mike Dawson, but it was his pictures of contemporary dolls in the most intricate, posed, perfected shots that made me think, Damn, I could do something with my dolls! I also found that there are many other barbie lovers out there. Some specialize in restoration. Others explore their lifelong passion and collect. I decided I wanted to play, too, and that being in my 50s was a great time to re-engage in play. So I dedicated a small table in my room and created space for Midge and Midge and their small apartment. Things progressed because I found that I was getting so much joy that I did not want to stop. As I kept going, many of my FB pals expressed their enjoyment of @midge_and_midge and encouraged me to give them their own feed. So I did.
EG: I’m blown away by the detail in the mise en scene of the photos you share. Where do you source all the tiny components, and how long does it take you to come up with the scenario and bring it to fruition?
RR: One of my conditions (and an aesthetic for the majority of my art) is that some portion of the art be from a repurposed item, be it fabric, yarn, ephemera, etc. A hard and fast rule of mine is never to buy new stuff. Instead, my items must already be in my possession (yes, I’m a packrat), come from thrift, or be gifted from the universe (i.e., friends & acquaintances). I am a regular at my local thrift stores. I look in the toy aisle; I repurpose cardboard boxes; I recently found myself giving Christmas ornaments a makeover. I’m also what I call a “messy” artist. I do not even attempt for the perfection of what some of the other Instagram users do. I’m of two thoughts on this: one, I may be somewhat lazy; two, imperfection is a part of life. Imperfection brings beauty, and I’m comfortable with that in my art.
When I cannot find something I want, I make it. For a while, Midge and friends only had a bed to sit on. I wanted furniture, but I rarely find barbie clothes or furniture at thrift. So I took a cardboard box and adhesive felt and designed my own couch. I also needled felted matching pillows. I laughed the entire way through it, because it was so fun, even when I had mistakes to work through. The “KDBD & Felt” company got credit for making the couch, and that process probably took a few hours. I lose track of time.
A regular scenario can take anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour to pose, and another twenty or thirty minutes to get to a photo I find acceptable. I also have to determine the tagline, which needs to be succinct. I guess being a poet helps with that part.
EG: How do you come you come up with the scenarios? I notice a few definitely have a feminist perspective, but your imagination has created a true narrative flow for the characters. What inspires you to start a scene?
RR: When it comes to identifying the scenes, I often have an ah-ha moment during the day, and I scribble it down in one of my 20 notebooks (lol). Since I’m learning to sketch, I do some really basic sketches to hone my skills. Then I look forward to coming home from work and playing. This is when I put Midge and Midge in their poses. Sometimes it is just for laughs; other times they express my frustration at inequalities, biases, or stereotypes that exist in our world. The key is (and this applies to writing, also) is to jot down the idea, line, or thought. Then I begin to have a collection of scenes to choose from. Some ideas have to brew longer than others; some are super easy to just pose and go! Either way, life always inspires what I come up with.
EG: How do you envision this particular creation evolving? Where do you see Midge and Midge a year from now? Five years from now?
RR: Great question! I’ve had a few friends encourage me to do a coffee table book with these, which I find both flattering and intriguing. I’m not sure where Midge and Midge will go, but I know they will evolve into something since I have no plans on not playing. While I’ve worked at times as a strategic planner, I also embrace organic processes, especially when it comes to creativity, so I enjoy not knowing but letting things evolve.
EG: Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the setups that you’ve created. Please choose a couple of posts and take us through your process step-by-step to the final creation.
One setup that is close to my heart is that of being a working mom.
When I was a nursing mom, I had a supportive supervisor who had no issues when I took time at lunch to nurse my baby, and if I happened to have her at the office, it was okay for me to shut my door and feed her. That was over twenty years ago. What disturbs me now is that I know one too many moms who are facing inflexible bosses, even during a pandemic, who receive pushback or flat-out resistance to significant childcare issues. My shock and frustration at scenarios such as this led me through the following process.
First, I sketched out a scene where two inflexible bosses passive-aggressively act like they do not understand the need for a new mom’s flexibility (as you can see, I have a lot of room to go when it comes to sketching!):
Next, I looked around my room and determined that this scene needed a set other than Midge and Midge’s home. I have a vintage typewriter that I realized would be a great prop. I also recently discovered Cindy Sherman’s photography and had purchased postcards of her work. So I put in a male boss (and let me emphasize that all men do not fit this scenario! Just the inflexible ones) and the new mom in a business suit with her blouse open, baby attached. The short tagline represents the boss asking how long it’s going to take for the child to eat, and the mom answering with the only correct answer: as long as the child needs to! I then realized that here was where hashtags can take on greater meaning, other than just getting more followers; the hashtags #titleseven and #fairlabor connote that giving a newborn its basic nutrition is not a personal preference but a basic need and is supported by laws. So it’s easy to say a lot with an image, small amount of text, and a few hashtags.
I like to also highlight other artists in my poses, and since I’d just learned about Cindy Sherman and her photography, I included a postcard of her work on the same theme.
Along similar lines, and as white woman, I see it as my responsibility to not only shed light on situations I may encounter but also the situations of others, such as Black women, those who identify as queer, or those who simply go through the world with that sense of “otherness.” This led to a very simple but profound post that really only needed a source to support it (as a professor, I always want to know the source!). This Midge scene represents the median pay for year-round, full-time work, portraying the ongoing wage gap that exists in America.
This next post needed no sketch, as I live it personally, and that is as a migraine sufferer. On a good day, I see my migraines as a way of telling my highly sensitive self to slow down, that I’m overstimulated, haven’t taken care of myself, or simply had a bad night’s sleep. By twisting this painful event into one that says, "hey, take care of yourself," I can better understand why my body may go through these. Migraines force the sufferer to stop and rest. So during a migraine hangover (i.e., recovery period), I let Midge portray my situation earlier in the week.
EG: With your imagination and sense of humor, I’m almost certain that you have other creations in the works. Are there other projects you would like to tell us about? Other platforms where we might find your work? What do you have planned for the upcoming year?
RR: I’m a poet! I recently published my first full-length book of poems, Second Sight, which shapes my research on Southern Appalachian superstitions and folk magic into poems, along with my own brushes with the paranormal/sixth sense. You can learn more about my poetry, read some of my poetry, and learn about classes and readings of mine at The Luxury of Trees. I also have an Etsy shop, NostalgiaReimagined, where I sell vintage items and creations of my own.
Rosemary, thank you so much for sharing your story and curation with The Feed. Sending you all the best for 2022!