toy story (or, why I hate moss)

Last time I wrote here, I was talking about using photos to tell a story when you can’t capture a moment. This becomes important when I’m working with Lego minifigures that, let’s face it, tend to just stay there without a lot of inherent dynamism. So Batman v. Joker or robbers robbing or even a staged “conversation” can make all the difference.

But crucially, I think the story needs to be explicit in the photo. It’s not enough to simply put an action figure on the ground and say “Oh yes, it’s Daredevil and he’s running from the Hand and…” without anything else in the frame to fill that narrative out.

Case in point, here’s a picture I took earlier in the year.

to the temple

It’s pretty, the red and green are a nice contrast and the composition is OK. But what’s actually happening in this photo? Yes, I had a story in my head, something about a noble lady going through the woods to a temple somewhere but without that, what’s really in this photo? Minifigure. Moss.

I don’t think I would have noticed this if I hadn’t taken two pictures that, despite featuring different figures, were essentially the same. Minifigure on moss. The story I told was different, the images were the same.

By the way, this is something I find frustrating with a lot of things, seeing the same cliches and tropes treated mostly the same with only cosmetic differences. In burlesque it was ¬†performers who used essentially the same choreography for most of their acts or the same set-up of “She’s an innocent little $JOBTITLE but really she wants to be $BURLESQUESTAR!” In pin-up photography it’s the same ten poses but different hair colors. In genre fiction it’s particular set ups or character types. It all adds up to a point where I can only see the cliches.

In toy photography… moss and minifigures.

Moss is great for toy photography because it serves as natural scenery at any scale. It looks right, it’s not jarring, it’s just green and lush and beautiful. It’s great.

Until you see it in almost every photo.

Which happens, especially in the Instagram tag communities that ask people to post their favorite photos of the month and you get layouts like this:

unnamed.jpg

Each image on their own is fine. Seen en masse and I feel overwhelmed by sameness despite the slight differences.

Moss. Minifigure. No moment. No story. You could swap the subjects around without losing a thing.

And dammit, the most polite I can be when confronted by tedium like this is silence, which can be frustrating when I think everyone can do better or at least push their art in different directions than this.

We all love a visual art, yeah?

Then next time, show me.

 

 

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moments in miniature

such a sweet heist

Someone complimented one of my photos on IG saying that it seemed like all my photos told a story. I thanked her but really I was thinking “Of course! Why bother otherwise?”

I’ve written before about how, most of all, I want to capture a moment. If my camera can capture thousandths of a second, why am I setting up shoots like I’m going to be working in oil paints? It’s why I love shooting fire and dance and burlesque.

And you can do that with toys. Kind of. It’s tricky. Photoshop is helpful, or patience and a bit of wirework.

good hit

But lacking that, what am I doing with toys where moments as such don’t really exist? And, let’s face it, Lego is not known for its “lifelike” range of motions. Well, you stage them, obviously. But what better way to do that than to set up a story? It doesn’t have to be an epic generational tale, something simple. Whether it’s with established characters:

oh dear...

Or, y’know, just a common idea.

here comes the DRAGON!!!

Do I need to tell you precisely what’s happening here? Well it helps if you know Harley and the Joker, but apart from that, I think it’s pretty clear, yeah?

But this is why I got in to toy photography in the first place. I love the story telling. A single picture can hold what my most sappy writing could never convey. Or at least enough so that I don’t have to write descriptive text about how he walked in to a room that was so big and yea high and… nah. Here’s a picture. Hell, here’s a comic. Have fun.

That’s why Lego really opened things up for me. Two dinosaurs fighting are interesting but limited. But a Doctor Who fig and a Batman fig and… well how would that work? What about the Joker and Emperor Palpatine? I did that one, it was fun!

Remember, if you can’t make a moment, tell a story. You’d be amazed how easy it can be.

Mostly.

[to be continued]

new tricks…

IMG_8736

Learning curves are fun. Mostly. And terrifying. Usually.

At the beginning of the summer I started selling some of my Lego photography as blank cards at a local(ish) bookstore and I’ve had a relatively strong response to them. If I’m not rolling in the cash, I’m making my costs and expanding the line a little each time.

A couple weeks ago, I opened up a shop on Etsy (which you can find at BlakeleyPhoto.Etsy.Com) and, again, not lighting up the skies yet but I’ve enjoyed sending out a couple cards to complete strangers. And this week, I’ve arranged to drop off some samples at another local bookstore with a price list and, well, you never know. And I’m certainly hoping. Who knew you could type with your fingers crossed?

Just a quick update. I’m still taking pictures and thinking about this weird stuff. Had the strangest experience of doing a headshot shoot for someone a couple weeks ago and another friend is picking up her first dSLR, so I’m going to be… teaching-ish? Teaching adjacent?

Stay tuned. I’ve got some brainstorms…

 

hard at play…

running...

“So,” she asked as the shoot was winding down, “what’s the deal with the Lego?”

When I’m not playing with fire, pouring paint on models and shooting candids on the streets and cafes of Seattle, you can probably find me stooped on the edge of someone’s front yard taking pictures of Lego. I have a bunch of minifigures that I carry with me, creating tableaus and telling silly stories with them, sometimes simple, sometimes complex, usually silly.

It all started because I was bored. And frustrated.

I love collaborating on studio shoots. It’s such a thrill to bring different creative sensibilities in to one project and seeing what the hell happens. It’s great, I’ve had amazing times running that. But then there’s the matter of scheduling and, worse than that, when you have to reschedule after a cancellation. The reasons are invariably understandable and I’d have to be a complete asshole to not be sympathetic, but it doesn’t mute the frustration of trying to make the social calculus work because I’m free on Fridays, the model works Thursday nights, the make-up artist is busy every day but Tuesday and then there’s Jupiter in the seventh house and… and…

GRAAH! HULK SMASH!!!!

*ahem*

After a steady series of these scheduling tangos, I just wanted a project I could do on my own. Something I could pick up at a moment’s notice, that didn’t require the right weather or the right crowds to finish.

And one day someone left a toy dinosaur on a table at a coffee shop I frequented and, suddenly, I had an idea. I had my iPhone, I could put the camera at a super low angle and… well…

ganging up...

It was so simple, so satisfying and so utterly self-contained. Throw a couple toys in my bag and head uphill to a park and suddenly I’m shooting in Jurassic Park. Eventually I started making a webcomic in my phone called Adrift, which I eventually printed as an actual book.

Last year I rediscovered Lego and, well, this silly thread has continued with different properties, different stories and a lot more freedom than simply staging the same contests between predator and prey that I felt limited to with dinosaurs. There were faces and moods and buildings and you could have Batman interact with the Doctor and robots and… well it was practically a gimme since I love using toys to tell stories and capture moments.


“Houston, we have a franchise…”

It’s my fun. It’s my “stupid” (in the appropriate Doug Stanhope sense of the word¬†(not even close to being safe for work, but hilarious). It’s my area of unfettered creativity where I can throw characters together and see what happens. Or follow a moment of whimsy and be stared at by the homeowner…

Oh yeah, that happens on a fairly regular basis. Nothing bad has happened, but I’ve had a few moments of incredulous stares as I explain what I’m up to: “Really? You do this?” Although the last time, the guy remembered that I’d shown my work in a local cafe a couple months before, so I’ll call that a win and be happy with it.

That’s the thing with the Lego. And it will probably be my thing with the Lego for a good long while to come and I’m really looking forward to the next thing.