Photo Fakery

Each photo we make tells a story, and for many of us, we aim to bring toys to life through our images. Generally, this is done in one of two ways – showing the life of a toy, or showing life through a toy. The latter aims to blur the line between fantasy and reality and thus cause the viewer to think twice about the size of the objects within the photo.

While I’ve discussed the history of toy photography here before, I’d like to now focus on the genre that sometimes overlaps with toy photography – photo fakery.

Photo fakery, at its core is probably something you’re very familiar with. Think magazine covers with heavily photoshopped models, or more closely related to this blog, cinematic film sets made entirely of intricate miniature models (see ‘further reading’ below). But for 100 years, if not more, people have been using small objects within photographs for large-scale results. And no matter the desired goal, this has been done in part to trick the viewer into believing the photo before them is of the full scale, real world.

Photography’s roots lie in truth. While in modern times we recognize photos are easily, and quite often, manipulated, photos still tend to be considered representative of what was in front of the camera lens, and therefore, a more believable medium than say painting.

While photo fakery ranges from merging photos, deleting and adding details through dark room or digital techniques, and using photos in unintended ways – such as with misleading news-like captions, for the purposes of this post, I’m only going to discuss those which involve toys or similar small-scale objects.

1917

Elsie Wright and Francis Griffiths began to create the images, later referred to as the Cottingley Fairies in 1917. These photos of cardboard fairies captured the public’s attention as proof of the existence of fairy creatures when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used them to illustrate a story in 1920. The truth behind the photos, while it had been questioned, was not revealed until the early 1980s.

1933

“The most extraordinary photographs ever taken of air flights in war.” (The Illustrated London News) were some 50 images compiled in the book ‘Death in the Air: The War Diary and Photographs of a Flying Corps Pilot‘ (a book still available for purchase today) published in 1933. These images however were of model planes and created by model maker Wesley David Archer. Examined and believed to be of models, by a CIA photo expert in the early 1950s, deemed as fake by Time-Life Laboratory in 1979, these photos were not officially proven false until after Archer’s death, when some of his belongings were given to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in 1984, over 50 years after their publication.

1934

The most famous photo of the Loch Ness Monster was captured in 1934 by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Kenneth Wilson. This photo however was actually of a 14 inch toy submarine with an attached serpent head. This was not revealed however for another 60 years, when one of the men involved confessed on his deathbed.

1972

Photographs involving realistic depictions of toys haven’t always been so manipulative however. David Levinthal who began photographing toys in 1972, has always been upfront about his subject matter. Yet many of his images, most notably those of war, successfully blur the line between plastic toy and real world.

1990s

Referring to herself as a faux landscape photographer, Lori Nix is known best for her still photos of small scale post apocalyptic worlds.

Michael Paul Smith, a diverse model maker, takes his cars outdoors to photograph in the real world with forced perspective. While he’s received online media attention quite recently, he’s been photographing toys for over 25 years.

2000s

In modern day, there are plenty of us who create images with this goal in mind. But there are a few I’d like to mention who are truly succeeding in making this phenomenal form of art that are not always known in the toy photography community.

In 2000, Mark Hogancamp started taking photos of war figures as a form of art therapy. Many of his images appear so realistic, one was even shared across facebook as a depiction of ‘real American courage.’

Matthew Albanese began creating insanely real scale model photography in 2008. In his outdoor landscape photos, every details is scrutinized over before the photo is created.

Felix Hernandez Rodriguez, most widely recognized as of late for his work with Audi, has a keen eye for detail, atmosphere and light and uses it to make some very believable shots.

Further Reading

And that’s where I’ll leave you today.

What toy photographers do you think are making the most realistic images?

And do you prefer photos that show the lives of toys or photos that try to make toys look real?

Jennifer Nichole Wells

Vesa left an intriguing comment on my history of post, wondering about toy photogs of history that haven’t received widespread attention – those that have been dabbling in the hobby that we just don’t know about. In response I made an Ask Panda over on Bored Panda, and hopefully, in time we will have some contribution. Go ahead and add your toy photo to the mix if you’re so inclined and share it about – http://www.boredpanda.com/have-you-ever-made-a-toy-photo/.

Why LEGO Photography?

The first LEGO I remember playing with was a dusty shoebox full of hand-me-down bricks that were colored either white or red. There was nothing as fancy as a hinge or even a plate in the mix. It was just classic 2 x 2 and 2 x 4 bricks, along with a few scattered 2 x 10 pieces that seemed massive by comparison. These LEGO bricks really were just bricks in the most humble sense of the word. I stirred the white and red pieces with my hand, creating the churning storm-like sound of plastic against plastic for the first time. Continue reading Why LEGO Photography?

The History of Toy Photography

The history of photographing toys is a long one, and often, we as a community seem to forget this. While each of us may be innovating within our field, we are far from the first or farthest reaching of our kind.


To begin…

Photography came into being in 1800, with the first known surviving photograph being from about 1826 (View from the Window at Le Gras). Paper, and then celluloid film began being manufactured in the 1880s. In 1900 the Kodak Brownie camera was invented, giving the power of photography to the masses. Continue reading The History of Toy Photography

Brian McCarty creates ultra cool toy photographs

Brian McCarty is the coolest toy photographer you probably haven’t heard of. Of course, maybe you have an eye for the amazing and you already know of his work. If not, let me introduce you.

Brian McCarty is the author of two books: Art-Toys and War-Toys. Both are full of inspiring photography but for very different reasons. Continue reading Brian McCarty creates ultra cool toy photographs

Photography is a Road Trip

I’m not one to share work-in-progress pics, preferring instead to focus on the final result. A side effect of this strategy is that people may assume photography is somewhat effortless for me. That’s simply not the case.
This is a comparison of my first test shot and the final photo for “Are you still there?” In between, there are 77 additional images. Continue reading Photography is a Road Trip

The One

The question of “The One” is a bit difficult for me because it requires that I look further into my past; more specifically, to the days before I’d properly rediscovered Lego.

In 2007, a colleague of mine badgered me to join Flickr and participate in photography challenges. I had a consumer-level digital camera at the time and only the vaguest interest in photography, but after a few weeks of his pestering, I acquiesced. The proverbial door was thus opened, and I stepped through it apprehensively. Continue reading The One

Chris Pratt is One of Us

We have one more reason to love Chris Pratt! He is legendary in the LEGO universe for not having just one LEGO mini figure made after a movie character, but three! They are Emmet from the LEGO movie, Peter Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy and most recently Owen Grady from Jurassic World. Continue reading Chris Pratt is One of Us

@TheCourtous

Today’s Feature Friday is none other than @thecourtous; home of Brickland’s very own lego soap opera, lego Courtney and a large cast of real and fictional charectors. If you’re not familiar with Brickland, it is where various signature figs engage in skullduggery, intrigue and romance. More than a few disasters have befallen the inhabitants of Brickland, both man made and natural, and we are kept on the edge of our seats on a weekly basis.

Continue reading @TheCourtous

Chris Pirillo

One of the more memorable opportunities to come out of this whole experience of “In LEGO, We Connect” has been meeting and interacting with Chris Pirillo, a local and influential tech blogger here in Seattle. It seems Chris loves the LEGO mini figure as much as we do and was more than happy to meet us at the gallery for a personal tour. It seems Chris has been following Boris, Vesa and I for some time on Instagram and is one of our biggest fans.

When Kitty and I decided to reach out to Chris when we were setting up our PR plan, we had no idea we would be connecting with such a big fan and one so willing to help us spread the word about our work. Not only did Chris come to the gallery and interview all three of us, he put together this really incredible video; it is a wonderful snap shot of a moment in time. It is also a great glimpse of the work in the gallery and approximately four minutes from each of us trying to talk coherently about our work.

I hope you will give it a watch and learn a little bit more about the folks behind StuckinPlastic.

Thank you Chris for taking the time to make this awesome video and share it with your community. It is a real gift and we are forever in your debt.

~xxSJC

You can follow Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google and Instagram.