Three’s A Crowd: One Photographer, One Man and One Beloved Silicone Sex Doll
The story behind Sandra Hoyn’s intimate access, the tenderness of forbidden love and routine doll repairs
He keeps the relationship a secret from everyone and she doesn’t tell a soul.
Dirk and Jenny have been a couple for four years now. They’re quiet, whiling away the days in their shared apartment — complete homebodies, in fact. Dirk wishes that they could at least go out to see a movie, but they can’t be seen together in public. Dirk is flesh and blood, Jenny is silicone.
Dirk is paranoid that his child — who lives in another town with his ex-wife — will find out. Sick of hiding out he holds hope that if he and people like him get their stories out that non-traditional love will become normalized. Which is why he invited photographer Sandra Hoyn into his life.
A man and his sex doll holds so many possibilities for a visual storyteller. Hoyn had learned about sex dolls from an awful TV documentary, but she knew that men who loved sex dolls deserved something else apart from the freak representations they’re mostly afforded. She contacted Dirk through an online forum and through some careful back and forth convinced him that she wasn’t some tabloid reporter, that she didn’t even think that he, or his love, was strange.
“Why can’t there be other ways of living together than the tradition man-woman relationship?” asks Hoyn. “What does a person need to feel love? I wanted to show through the everyday life of Dirk and Jenny that there are people who are happy, even though they may have a way of living that seems strange to most of us.”
They agreed that there would be no shots of Dirk’s face and that they would go through and edit everything together. In October of 2014, Hoyn spent a week shooting Dirk and Jenny.
Given the circumstances, Dirk proved surprisingly open about Jenny and their relationship. The obvious happiness he felt kept the atmosphere light in an environment intentionally shut off from the outside world. Hoyn says that she never felt any pity toward, or sadness or judgment about, Dirk’s life.
Dirk maintains a psychic connection, of sorts, with Jenny. They can communicate and he relays what she is saying. Hoyn was a little unnerved by that. But she was frustrated too — not being able to speak directly to the doll or hear what was being said was extremely inconveniencing.
“At first I was concerned that Jenny didn’t like me, and that I might not be allowed to take any pictures,” she says. “I was unsure because only Dirk can communicate with her soul, not me. He walked through the apartment, giggling and replying to her all the time. I could not understand.”
When Dirk left the women alone to get acquainted, Hoyn seized the opportunity to figure out some way of breathing a little life into Jenny’s cheeks. She experimented with different camera angles and lighting set-ups, knowing that with Dirk’s face off-limits it was going to be hard to present the couple in a balanced and engaging way.
“With this particular topic it is easy to take bizarre photos,” says Hoyn. “The biggest challenge was to take photos of Dirk and Jenny on an equal level, not to see the doll just as a doll, but to recognize what the man sees and loves in her. Because I was not allowed to show Dirk’s face, I had to be careful that Jenny didn’t appear too superficial too often in the series.”
Not everything went so smoothly. Hoyn was obviously an intrusion on Dirk and Jenny’s strict daily routine. She didn’t want them to pose for her, so she suffered along through napping schedules and enforced TV times.
One day, Hoyn got frustrated. And it showed. Shooting was called off after Jenny’s skin tore and the doll was put to bed for a full 24 hours while the repair adhesive took hold. Dirk only bathes Jenny on Sunday, so Hoyn had to wait till the end of the week to photograph the two in the bath.
But dealing with the routine was the only way to honestly present the reality of the relationship. Dirk has found the love of his life, the answer to despair and loneliness which had crippled him for years before purchasing the sex doll. Jenny is his source of comfort, his therapist, his constant companion, and he has no desire to try and be with another woman of flesh and blood.
Hoyn became particularly fascinated with the little indications of Dirk’s adoration, from his folding of Jenny’s clothes to the way that he would wrap her arms around himself as they sit on the couch.
“It was very interesting to see how he acted with Jenny. When he cuddles with her he put her arms around him. She is very heavy and poorly balanced, so sometimes she fell onto him. It looked very real.”
“One day, in the afternoon as Dirk brought Jenny to bed because she needed a nap, I went through the living room on tiptoes and whispered to Dirk, afraid to wake her up,” she says. “Afterwards I thought to myself, ‘What am I doing here?’ I was surprised how quickly you can adapt to the situation.”
Initially, Jenny’s reciprocation of love worried Dirk. He thought he might be going crazy when he discovered the doll had a life of its own, but has since made peace with their bond. He now knows that Jenny is inhabited by a soul from another, less corporeal world. In this world he keeps the blinds drawn at all times to keep the neighbors from seeing anything. If somebody stops by the house, he hides Jenny in the bedroom with the door closed.
Unable to take Jenny outside his entire romantic life is constraining. Tomorrow doesn’t look so rosy either. Jenny weighs more than a hundred pounds and Dirk already uses a wheelchair to get her around the apartment. He has no idea how he’ll manage as he grows older. Jenny’s aging too. Dirk treats her peeling skin with powders and massages after each weekly bath.
If she’d been sent by a publication Hoyn probably wouldn’t have had as much latitude deciding how to present Dirk and Jenny’s relationship. She stopped taking assignments long ago, admittedly in part because editorial work pays so poorly but mostly because she demands absolute independence.
“Working on my own projects makes me happy because I can choose subjects that interest me and I have more time to get deeper into the story,” Hoyn says. “I have to travel low-budget. It is not as secure and easy to report a story as when you are on assignment for a magazine with the help of a translator, driver and a safe room. But I am free to discover stories about topics I want.”
So Hoyn funds her own projects instead of pitching ideas. In the early years, she couldn’t even get replies to tentative emails but she’s gradually created a network of editors who might be interested in what she comes up with. If she’s lucky enough one project can be licensed two or three times, but sometimes there’s no takers. During the summer, Germany’s wedding season keeps her busy and employed, affording her winter travels and personal work. It’s not a good career for getting rich, but that’s not the point.
“I don’t look for topics which are easy to sell,” she says. “I work on topics that touch me personally and make me angry, such as injustices and social problems. I want my photographs to show what is happening in the world and the circumstances under which people live.”
All images: Sandra Hoyn