Photographer David Parise’s incredible prints show the iconic midcentury doll and her pals in a whole new (sun)light.

By Marisa Spyker
April 10, 2019
David Parise

In her six decades of existence, Barbie has certainly proven to all of us how to have it all—from her dream house and dream car to her dream wardrobe and dream beau. And now, through the lens of photographer David Parise, Barbie has something else we all want—a totally glamorous, amazing, and humorous life on the coast.

Through his popular Vintage Barbie and Ken photo series, Parise inserts the iconic 12-inch doll and her midcentury friends into a variety of scenes inspired, largely, by moments or memories of coastal life from the 1960s. With more than 17,000 Instagram followers and a thriving print business, Parise has made the quirky hobby his full-time job.

Parise’s project first started a decade ago when he came across a book showcasing some of the first Barbies from the late '50s and early '60s. Living in Miami, where the architecture matches the early Barbie era perfectly, he got the idea to start photographing the miniature doll around town.

“Miami Beach has one of the prettiest beaches, and the hotels just scream '60s,” he says. “The Art Deco hotels are the perfect backdrop. And the beaches are timeless, so it works for the '60s look.”

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His first shots took the dolls directly to the Miami sand, where he playfully arranged them in poses depicting a game of limbo and another practicing gymnastics which, Parise says, he later realized “was more of a yoga pose.” Later iterations would find vintage Barbies dancing, surfing, sunbathing, or doing headstands.

“Most of my ideas come from my childhood memories of beach days growing up on Long island,” he says. “Others from clippings from '50s and '60s magazines.”

As his Instagram account shows, capturing the miniature dolls in a way that makes their natural surroundings appear to scale isn't always easy, with the photographer often crouching or lying on the floor or sand for that perfect shot. 

While he doesn’t consider himself a collector, Parise says he rotates through about 40 vintage dolls and drawers full of original clothing and accessories for the shoots. When he can’t find an accessory he wants (i.e., cigarettes, cocktail glasses, champagne bottles, or magazines) he has them made to scale. The result? A nostalgic, sometimes risqué, and often hilarious photo collection of the childhood toys truly living their best lives. Photos might depict Barbies sunbathing on surfboards or, Parise’s personal favorite, lounging by the pool in vintage swimsuits with cigarettes in hand. (“It’s my mother and her sister smoking by the pool at our beach club in the '60s,” he says.)

His latest collection is an ode to iconic photographer Slim Aarons, though instead of Palm Springs the miniature dolls will be taking on Palm Beach. And, like all of his work, prints will be available for purchase on Parise’s website for as little as $30. See more of Parise’s incredible, nostalgic photos below: