Minneapolis photographer is living in a Barbie world

Long before Margot Robbie was Barbie, there was Nicole Houff.

Houff describes herself as a Minneapolis photographer who is living in a plastic world. Her Barbie obsession is next-level, but it's her sense of humor and sarcasm that really makes her unique.

Her own dream house in northeast Minneapolis may not be the usual Barbie aesthetic, but don't let that fool you: Houff is a Barbie girl living in a Minnesota world.

"Barbie being a cultural icon since 1959: There is no other toy that you can say that about," she said.

She capped her collection at about 100 dolls, stored in an old library card catalog. Thanks to her background in studio art, about 16 years ago, she took her passion from the toy to the tripod.

Imagination, each print is Houff’s creation. Her photos are brought to life through hours of searching for outfits, props and backdrops, plus extreme attention to detail.

"Because you're working at such a macro level, I think it's just the finessing of the doll so that Barbie or Ken's posture and how they're sitting or standing actually kind of emulates a human," Houff said.

Her art showcases vintage Barbies, and she thinks of it as a critique of that time period.

"The 50s and 60s aesthetic – it's a totally plastic view of society. And if you look at the entertainment at the time, it's like these … very oddly construed gender roles," she said.

Finding the perfect accessories has connected this Barbie photographer with doll lovers across the world. She shows her photos at local galleries and art fairs, in addition to selling them on her website and Etsy. 

"When (people) first meet me, they assume that I'm going to be very pink and girly girl. And then, I disappoint them," she said with a laugh.

However, what people likely don't realize is Houff and her art explore different sides of the doll. One of her absolute favorite photos is Godzilla vs. Barbie.

She even has Minnesota-inspired photos, including Barbie and Ken posed outside the Uptown Theater and Minnesota State Fair Barbie.

"I think the thing with Barbie is that she can be anything and anyone, and that's what the coolest thing about Barbie is," Houff said.

People are also surprised to learn Houff isn't just jumping on the bandwagon at a time when the whole world is buzzing about Barbie.

"It's really exciting to have her in the ether. I think (the movie’s) really changed a lot of the dialogue with her, it's changed who is even thinking about her, and it's just made it very exciting," Houff said.

Houff is tickled pink to see that excitement and happiness in her photographs can provide nostalgia and some smiles.

"That's what I like: It's like permission to just be yourself," Houff said.