Don’t Rock the Toy Boat!

Is there a place for social conscience in toy photography? Should a sense of responsibility or concern for the problems and injustices of society play a part in photographs of toys?

Julie has written about using toy photography to make sense of the current state of the world. Yuri wrote about the toy photography community uniting us in a world that divides. Julien wrote that toy photography is a way to escape from the daily world.

As well as using toy photography as an outlet to make sense of or escape the world, or as a means to unify in a divided world, maybe there’s also a place for toy photography to question the world?

So, you can go ahead and roll your eyes and marginalize me
Play on my insecurities
And you can feign ignorance, but you’re not stupid, you’re just selfish
And you’re a slave to your impulse
Propagandhi – Apparently, I’m A “P.C. Fascist” (Because I Care About Both Human And Non-Human Animals)

LEGO artists such and @legojacker and @pulup post photos that challenge world and local politics and society, Brian McCarty challenges the wars in this world with his toy photography, and we’ve tackled the inequity in the gender balance in the LEGO CMF series releases with the help of our friend Rambling Brick. And I’m sure I’ve left so many others out.

social conscience: Don't Rock The Boat!
Don’t Rock The Boat!

Us addressing the injustices of society shouldn’t make you uncomfortable. The injustices of society SHOULD make you uncomfortable.

I’m the little girl at the picnic
Who won’t stop pulling her dress up
It doesn’t matter who’s in control now
It doesn’t matter ’cause this is new radio
Bikini Kill – New Radio

Plastic Punks

A long time ago I wrote about the parallels between toy photography and punk culture and the D.I.Y. ethos associated with it. Consequently it’s this punk philosophy that keeps me wanting to question and challenge the socially accepted norm.

social conscience: Punks Not Dead
Punks Not Dead

I don’t want to hear it
Sick and tired of all your lies
I don’t want to hear it
When are you gonna realize…
Minor Threat – I Don’t Wanna Hear It

Surely a social conscience stretches beyond the vehicle that I choose to express that voice through? Just because I choose toys as the subject for my photography should I muzzle my principles? Is it because toys are considered a child’s plaything?

One of my favourite artists, punk art surrealist Winston Smith, creates politically charged works that challenge the viewer to confront inconsistencies and political contradictions. And he uses collages to do this, pasting pieces of paper onto another.

Didn’t we all cut and paste as children? How childish!

I know you’re right
Everything you do is right
Everything I do is true
Babes In Toyland – Bluebell

Social Conscience > Social Media

We talk about toy photography telling stories. Are toys barred from delving deeper into substantial matters? Should those stories be limited to the publicly perceived acceptable depths that toys are allowed to probe?

– Brett

Do you think there’s a place for social conscience in toy photography?

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  1. One of the jobs of an artist is to challenge the social norms. Toy photography is an art, ergo, it should be used to challenge the social norms.

    Not every image has to do this – heck not every artist has to do this… however it is definitely an option available to us.

  2. brett_wilson

    Thanks Dave.
    I totally agree. I think if you consider what you do art, be it toy photography or any other form, you need to rock the boat a little. Sure, we all take flippant, glib photos of toys, but there is always room to question the world too!

  3. Cococompro

    I really appreciate this post. While they are simply toys, they are also just another means of creating. Lego especially allows me to create my own universe and characters. In that respect I feel that I can tell stories through my characters that are often indirect criticisms or thoughts on society. I have avoided social criticism in the past because my Instagram is more of an escape for me. But inevitably things from the outside world creep in. One thing I love about art in general is you can be subtle or obvious in what you want to say, but the final product is still a reflection of your heart and mind. This has got me thinking of ways I can bring this into more of my photos, so thank you!

    • brett_wilson

      Thanks Corey!
      I too love that our chosen art can flip from ‘flippant to serious’, or subtle to obvious as you say. I like that a seemingly innocent photo can have so many underlying messages. And I love that those messages can be challenging traditions.
      I look forward to seeing where you go with this!

  4. Brett, this post got me thinking … While, yes, I think that (social) conscience should go into art, and maybe also into toy photography that do not aspire to be art. But at the same time, I usually feel some deep dissatisfaction with art that is explicitly ‘political.’ Which leads me to pondering the question whay that would be so … I am not altogether sure, so I might want to leave that answer to a future post (maybe, hopefully). Cheers – Tobias.

    • brett_wilson

      Thanks for you feedback Tobias.
      I tend to steer clear of politically themed posts too. But art, be it toy photography or another form, that challenges the ‘social norms’ is something I’ve always liked and been drawn to; Winston Smith, Raymond Pettinbon, Robert Williams, Banksy etc.
      Perhaps there is a future post lurking somewhere in here? 😉

  5. Great article Brett.

    Personally, I do feel that art can certainly be used to delve into deeper topics and toy photography with its wide range of expressions and subjects can deliver messages that are profound.

    I also do believe that artists, including toy photographers, are in privileged positions to influence those who view their work regularly. It would be ideal if these platforms can be positively used by exercising social conscience and sound moral compass.

    “With great power comes great responsibility” is a quote we all know. Perhaps the great power can be interpreted as the “reach” of our audience and the “responsibility” is the type of message we spread, consciously or unintentionally.

    • brett_wilson

      Thanks heaps Janan.
      I think you’ve summed it up perfectly. I f we have an audience and reach, our social conscience and sound moral compasses should be used to potentially influence and raise awareness. Positive awareness!
      Well put mate!

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