The Gender of Plastic

Lego isn’t the only plastic toy with a gender problem.

The economic uncertainty of the Great Depression created the need in the model hobbyist arena for less expensive, space saving train layouts. Through this HO scale/H0/1:87 – ‘half O’ scale was born. This scale, in which the people are roughly 2 cm tall, boomed in the 1950s and became the most popular scale for realistic model layouts in the 1960s. It remains the most popular scale today.

This popularity means more houses, scenery, people, etc. etc. But the time period in which its manufacturing exploded, is where most the items available on the market here in 2017 still reside.

Let’s take Preiser’s line of HO scale figures for example.

Preiser is a scale model manufacturer known in part for its precision hand painted, and thus high quality figures. The most recent catalog I can find available online is theirs from 2015 so here goes. The HO scale section spans pages 2 – 183 with up to 18 sets of 3 – 12 figures or so per set. Here’s a deep dive into just the very first section, pages 2 – 13. Download for your own perusal here:

On these pages, excluding children, there are 480 men and 263 women. That’s 65% men to 35% women. Within those numbers the women hold the following 25 roles:

  1. Passenger
  2. Railway personnel
  3. Mother
  4. Farm Worker
  5. Housemaid
  6. Gardener
  7. Photographer
  8. Bride
  9. Wedding Attendee
  10. Beach Goer
  11. Housewife
  12. Roller skater
  13. Tennis Player
  14. Nudist sunbather
  15. Nude model
  16. Nurse
  17. Traveler
  18. Cyclist
  19. Dancer
  20. Motorcyclist
  21. Waitress
  22. Golfer
  23. Figure skater
  24. Swimmer
  25. Skier

Men, on the other hand hold the following 38:

  1. Construction/Maintenance
  2. Passenger
  3. Railway Engineer/Track Worker
  4. Farm Worker
  5. Trucker
  6. Gardener
  7. Soccer player
  8. Referee
  9. Coach
  10. Minister/Reverend
  11. Motorcyclist
  12. Fisherman
  13. Photographer
  14. Film Crew
  15. Roller skater
  16. Beach Goer
  17. Groom
  18. Wedding Attendee
  19. Cyclist
  20. Painter
  21. Sculptor
  22. Traveler
  23. Emergency services
  24. Nurse/doctor
  25. Dancer
  26. Police Officer
  27. Friar
  28. Musician
  29. Firemen
  30. Innkeeper
  31. Waiter
  32. Mountain Climber
  33. Postal Worker/ Delivery man
  34. Golfer
  35. Diver
  36. Figure skater
  37. Swimmer
  38. Skier

Gender may be one noticeable gap, especially when it comes to the roles represented. But even more so is race with almost all of the figures available being white. The non-white figures sets are typically marked as such. And on this small sampling of 12 pages, 1 of the142 sets was of non-white figures – these were Japanese, and unmarked there are 4 woman and 1 man in 3 different sets that look like they may be black. That’s a total of 11 figures, 1.5% of all on these pages.

All this said, I don’t know that I’m actually trying to effect change here.

Many of the figures produced across all model train manufacturers are models that have been produced and re-produced for years and years. Train modeling is a nostalgic hobby practiced largely by white, middle aged men and therefore what is sold is going to be directed at them.

So, I think instead, those of us who photograph them have to simply be aware of the selections we’re making and what we end up portraying in our images. HO scale figures come in a huge number of options. There may be a gender gap and most definitely an ethnicity gap, but search hard enough and you might just find what you’re looking for. If all else fails, customize, modify, and paint away.

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Teensy Travel

“Like a pair of binoculars with no right or wrong end, the camera makes exotic things near, intimate; and familiar things small, abstract, strange, much farther away.”

-On Photography by Susan Sontag

Toy photography spans genres. This, I’ve already said. Petite products, abridged architecture, pint-sized portraits, small surrealism…but what about those of us who create on the go?

Avid travelers, occasional tourists, whoever you are, if you’re a toy photographer, when you leave town you probably bring a toy figure or two (or ten).

Historic Artistic Travel

From the very early days of photography, travel photography has been a part of the medium. From the time photography came to be, those who had the capability to travel were, and they were creating momentos of their travels – from Francis Bedford’s pyramids, George Wilson’s Temple of Jupiter, Francis Frith’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, to the works of Maxime Du Camp, Solomon Nunes Carvalho, James Ricalton all created in the 1840s & 50s. And the history of artistic travel doesn’t stop there painters make images of their world travels as well.

Perhaps the most iconic toy photography example would be Brian McCarty’s War Toys, a project he began in 2011. In this, he travels to war zones and creates images while there using locally sourced toys to illustrate stories shared with him by local children. I’m simplifying his work overly so, so please learn more here.

Why We Do It

All in all, humans like saving their memories, they like souvenirs, not to mention, we’d have very limited world views if there were no images of other places and cultures.

As toy photographers, the items we photograph are often an extension of ourselves and how we feel about the world. Because of this they become perfect representations of our feelings toward the places we visit.

We can savor our memories, while creating new narratives around them. Explore a new place an inch from ground level.  Tell tales and weave experiences that no other person who has visited that place can.

We give toys memory and a sense of adventure by allowing them to travel the world. 

~Tourmaline .

Do you ever take travel photos of your toys? Tell us about it and leave a link to a photo in a comment below.

Also, if you enjoy this post idea let me know what photo genres you’d most like to see next.

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Don’t talk to strangers

Kristina’s most recent post made me think about myself and how I respond to strangers asking me about my work. And I respond quite similarly to how she does, although maybe for slightly different reasons.

I too prefer to photograph alone. Sometimes with my boyfriend in tow, but he’s often paying attention to other things. That, and he’s not a photographer or giving unwanted input, so the act of photographing still, in a sense, is solitary.

The Approach

While I’m mostly a studio toy photographer, I sometimes venture into the great outdoors. When I do so too close to home, my neighbors get curious. “What have you got there?” “What are you doing?” And when I answer, admittedly probably down playing my passion, I get confused nods and oh okays. I very rarely will show a photo straight from my camera – the photo’s only mine until I review it, edit it and deem it time to post it.

Socially – Not Having It

It’s not that my neighbors or miscellaneous strangers mean anything, they just don’t quite get why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m fairly sure if I spent more time talking with them, while there’s no guarantee they’d find it worthwhile, they’d at least come to some sort of a mild understanding. That though is asking a lot of me as I’m severely introverted and a bit socially anxious. Aren’t I painting a great picture of toy photographers? But in reality, I’m great at small talk, I’m just not great at talking about me, unless I’ve known you for a while (or I’m posting on the internet). So strangers asking me personal questions gets me tense.

All that, and while I’m actually very proud of my images and how I’m progressing in my craft I haven’t always had the most supportive circle. Some people close to me brush off what I do as a self-therapy. And yes, art and the act of creating can be very therapeutic. For me however it’s worlds more than that, so it’s difficult to have this act I pour myself into be diminished.

Because of this, with those I don’t know, I just assume they won’t try to understand or see the merit in what I do – especially when I don’t have a final photograph to show them. While I’ll go on and on about my passion to those who seem genuinely interested, if an immediate positive interest isn’t shown from a person I come across while I’m photographing, I just don’t try.

In Conclusion

Good, bad, somewhere in between? While sure I should spread my joy in toy photography far and wide, sometimes it probably keeps me more sane not to. And with any situation, I think its okay to pick and choose what we share about ourselves.

And as long as any uncomfortable feelings that creep in when it comes to talking about what you do don’t keep you from actually doing what you do, than so be it.  Mitchel Wu is probably right in the comment he shared on Kristina’s post “the more you do it the easier it gets.”

So in that, the title of this post is a lie. Be like Shelly, do talk to strangers. For Kristina‘s and my sake, talk to all of them and tell them all about toy photography so that we don’t have to.

~Tourmaline .

How do you respond when someone approaches you while you’re photographing?

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Small Surrealism

“A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened. The picture may distort; but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is like what’s in the picture.”

– On Photography by Susan Sontag

Toy Photography Movement

When photography first came about it was a way to further describe an actual thing. It was meant to be truthful. Overtime of course, photography evolved in many ways, even becoming its own art form as creators found ways to lie through the camera lens.

Toy photography as a part of that movement, is and was a groundbreaking departure from the truth. While we may not be photographing the already existent world around us, we’re storytellers finding our own truths within the posed photograph. And I argue that sometimes we can delve deeper into a truthful topic by creating a whole new world that reflects our thoughts. Continue reading Small Surrealism

Dealing with Fears of Rejection

“There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.” 

-Brene Brown

Our fears of rejection within the realm of photography vary by person – whether with putting an image on a social media platform and not getting any likes, or maybe getting negative comments, to submitting something to a publication or gallery and getting denied. As with any type of rejection or negativity it’s so important to not take these things too personally.

The internet for one is mean. Some people are just looking to get out their own insecurities and maybe you’re the unlucky one they’ve settled on today. Others may very well think they’re giving constructive criticism and therefore helping you – even when it’s uncalled for. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong, but in the end it’s all subjective. Continue reading Dealing with Fears of Rejection

Pint-Sized Portraits

A Short Introduction

Toy photography, while in itself a form of fabricated or tableau photography, has a way of spanning across all genres of the medium. This is one of the many many things I love about toy photos. Through toys we can tell stories, document places, record our travels, explore tiny details, the list goes on. To highlight the magic of toy photos and all the things they can come to represent I thought I’d create some posts of different photo genres and where toys fit within them.  

In a sense I’ve talked about architecture and product photography here before, and I’m here today to make a case for portraits.


Portrait: a pictorial representation of a person usually showing the face 

– Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Artistic representations of people began with cave paintings and have been a part of all cultures since. Quite simply they are representations of people. Toy figures themselves are representations of the same, and thus so are our photographs of them. 

Learn more about the history of artistic portraits here.

“It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.”

– Paul Caponigro

Plastic Faces

A human face can tell us a lot about the person, through their expression, wrinkles, sunspots, makeup, etc. A toy face is a bit different. Typically expressionless or bound to one emotion, we have to find ways to tell the figure’s story for them through posing, lighting and other props. While toys come in many varieties, using human like figures in your photos can truly help your audience relate – through these plastic, inanimate objects the viewers can see themselves.

We give toy figures a voice by making portraits of them. 

Jennifer Nichole Wells

Do you ever take portrait-like images of your toy figures? Tell us about it and leave a link to a photo in a comment below.

Also, if you enjoy this post idea let me know what photo genres you’d most like to see next.

Continue reading Pint-Sized Portraits

Could this be the best time to be a toy photographer?

Silly question, everytime is a great time to be a toy photographer! But read on, you’ll see what I mean.

Mini Madness

The Cut recently released an article titled ‘The Big World of Teeny-Tiny Things’ of which they claim is an ‘everything guide to the miniature market.’ This article also appeared in New York Magazine. That’s a big deal. New York Magazine is reporting on miniatures. I want to say that’s such a strange concept, but I know very little of what New York magazine traditionally publishes. So, instead I’ll say, any publicity for minis I count as a win. Continue reading Could this be the best time to be a toy photographer?

Creating Art that’s Intimately Yours

The world opens up…as a grand and glorious adventure in feeling and in understanding. Nothing human is unimportant to him. Everything he sees is germane to his purpose. Every word that he hears uttered is of potential use to him. Every mood, every passing fancy, every trivial thought can have its meaning and its place in the store of experience he is accumulating.

-from Studs Lonigan by James T. Farrell as quoted by Brooks Jenson of LensWork  (LW1040 Inspiration Comes from Everywhere)

Scratching the Surface

In a way I feel like each of my photos is an exploration of the same concept, emotion, story. And yet, while stylistically they may be similar, each photo varies in subject matter.

In each image I aim to create a quite stillness, a calm in the storm, surrounded by mystery. Why? Well, it certainly has a lot to do with my personal thoughts and experiences. But, the question remains as to whether I will finish scratching that itch; if I will inevitably decide that I’ve fully explored this story photographically. Or, if I will forever continue to grow and explore how to better represent precisely what I mean to. Continue reading Creating Art that’s Intimately Yours

One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do

Okay, so we’ve had posts about the magic of 3 and the power of 2, so now I feel I must advocate for 1 (or maybe just ramble about number symbolism).


Sure I’ve used various numbers of toys and figures in my photos, but I have a soft spot for one. That being said, I do tend to create solemn photos and 1 then comes to represent either lonliness, or  a solitary journey. This doesn’t mean, in the whole scheme of things that the figure is in life alone, but for this moment, when we see inside their head, they’re on a philosophical path that they must travel alone. Continue reading One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do

Product Photography

**Just a disclaimer, this is not a critique on Kristina’s recent post. I completely understand her point, and relate. If you read between the lines, this post even reiterates a few of her points. This is instead a response to comments I’ve read and heard in the toy photography realm at large.**

Product v. Commercial Photography

‘Product photography’ seems to be a four-letter word in the toy photography community. A fear of a corner you’ll be placed in, an insult… But I don’t think it’s something to even remotely stress over.

Yes, toys are in part products, but the photos we create of them tell stories – they’re not items shot to specific standards against a stark white background.

If you were commissioned by a company to make a toy photo to their specifications, in most cases it would be commercial or adversarial work, but still not quite product photography.

The main difference is a creative photo platform v. a standardized one. Continue reading Product Photography