A picture is worth a thousand words. Especially when it comes to the picture of the mime.
A couple of months ago, I wrote an article about my motivations to cross an ocean to get to San Francisco for a toy safari. Now that the safari is over, did it fulfill my expectations?
The weekend was a lot of fun. We laughed, we took pictures in nice places with a lot of talented artists. Shelly summed it up in another article, so I will not write about what we did during those days. Instead, I prefer to talk about what I really liked during this safari.
The toy photographers
Almost twenty people attended this toy safari. All of them really talented. There were the ones that I knew from Instagram and the new ones that I discovered a couple of days before the safari (because I looked for them on Instagram when we receive the attendance list).
Except for Maelick that I knew from my past European safaris, it was the first time for me meeting all those people in real life. They were really welcoming and fun. Some were really curious about the French culture and how we called “French fries”, “French bread”, “French kiss”,… in France.
Compared to Europe where most people that have been participating to toy safaris were mainly Lego photographers, here, in the US, I discovered some artists who were playing which bigger action figures. One even brought ninja turtles which were the size of infants (They were soooo big). It was really interesting to see them work with that scale of figures. It’s not always easy for me to work with bigger toy, or at least it requires some time to get used to it. I also watched them do some practical effects for their shots which was great. I may try in the future to throw gravel or sand at my Lego minifigs to see their reaction 😉
During this safari, I had the pleasure of participating in several collabs with some great artists.
As Shelly described me in her post, I am always there to help and I have a lot of stuff with me. So if you need anything I
may must have it. That way, I was able to help Shelly with a couple of pictures (such as her x-wing picture) and I provided Fathersfigure with some bees for a really funny collaboration .
But it did not stop here.
Maelick that I have known for almost a year now (since Hamburg toy safari) loves to participate in other’s pictures. While you are focusing on taking your own picture, you will see appear a T-rex head on a raptor body inside your viewfinder. That’s sneaky Maelick. It will surprise you, but it’s really fun. Go back to the hashtag and try to find the appearances of this crazy dinosaur.
I also worked with Doughleyg on making a fun scene. Doug is someone that I had been following for some time and I was really looking forward to meeting him. I had such a great moment. At some point during the weekend, I offered to make a collab with him and each of us selected minifigures and we created a very funny scene. Guess which character are Doug’s and which are mine?
On the second day, I had some trouble finding creative inspiration. Then, I saw Lego_laws crouched on the ground near a hole setting up a scene. Naturally, I went to him to see what he was doing and help if necessary. A couple minutes later, I found myself creating a larger bunny story with him. I added a rabbit character. Then, Krash_Override came by and he suggested the addition of a new one. The love story became much darker and the story went down the rabbit hole.
Collaborations are really fun. They make for some really great moments shared with other artists.
Next time, I will do even more collaborations.
During toy safaris, you have the opportunity to make some great connections with people. As I said before, you meet people that you were following (like Shelly, Doug, Leila and Cindy) in my case and you meet new people.
What is great with toy safaris is that the connections do not stop only at the safaris. They continue well after the weekend is other. I have a lot of pleasure meeting again my old pals from the other toy safaris.
And here, even as the weekend was other, Maelick and I stayed a bit longer in San Francisco (we could not travel to the US for just a weekend). We continued the toy safari on our own, together (in downtown San Francisco and even on Alcatraz Island) but we were also welcomed by Wikitoybox (who lives around SF). She took care of us during the next days. She brought us to some of her favorite locations such as the wave organ or fort Baker to take pictures of toys and we spent all diners together. The after-party with Kiwi was really awesome. Thank you very much to Dee and you, Kiwi.
The print exchange.
There is one thing from toy safaris, that even my colleagues love (Yes, I said my colleagues). It’s the print exchange. Indeed, all the prints that I receive from my toy photographer friends are hanged in my office next to my desk on what I call my “Wall of friends”. And it pleases me to look at those amazing pictures but also my colleagues who come and see me, sometimes only to discover the new pictures. So if you want to add your art to my wall, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. I have plenty of space. 😉
So, will I get back next year to the US for the next American toy safari?
Of course, I will. Or at least, I will do my best to come. It is so much fun, I don’t want to miss it. That is the problem with the toy safaris: when you try it, you can’t resist. I don’t want to be like Brett and to have to follow others IG stories. I want to be the story. So, wherever it is in the US, I will try be there.
By the way, I miss you all.
See you next year, if not before (in Paris for example, for a toy safari, why not…)
Even before Shelly asked me to provide my own two pennies worth (I am British after all, cents just wouldn’t do) I had read many of the previous ‘why’ articles and considered what answer I would give. And now to have been so kindly asked, I wanted to provide something new rather than covering similar ground to the past entries of others. You see I’ve always had a problematic need to seek my own uniqueness.
From my point of view, I’d assume as photographers we all reasonably know or can at least to relate to the reasons why each of us does what we do. We’ve come together from all over the world after all, through the Internet because we’re likeminded people. And for me this means it seems a little too obvious for me to tell you all how I’ve lived with Lego all throughout my life, or profess my undying love for Star Wars and how I’m influenced by movies and the great Hollywood machine. I’d hope (rebellions are built on that by the way) that my photography would showcase these things without a need for any explanation.
Therefore I needed to find a new angle, and I’ll be honest, after days of writing and rewriting opening paragraphs with absolutely nothing to say that didn’t feel like it had already been said, I was lost. So I went back to Shelly’s original message perplexed and looking for any loose thread that I could follow out of the mess I’d put myself in. And there it was, the solution, staring me in the face, “Tom, I’m really enjoying your blur images.”. Inspiration! And as usual it had been there right from the beginning, but as is common for me I just missed it the first several dozen times around. D’oh.
So the question becomes not why do you take photographs of toys, but why do you take incoherent blurry photographs of toys?
Having had an on and off relationship with Lego photography since my university days in the early 2000s (I really should have stuck at this a lot sooner), I’d never really thought of using other toys, then came Star Wars: The Force Awakens (I love that film so much) and a Christmas gift of some Star Wars Micro Machines. These have since turned into Hasbro Black Series die-casts and now into Bandai models as well as a variety of action figures and other die-casts, and now I have a host of spaceships, superheroes and international rescue vehicles to play with.
My early photographs with these toys combined the macro photography skills I had been honing with Lego and shall we say, a smidge of Photoshop work to combine with various backgrounds. I found used images online or trawled through old holiday snaps (skiing trips became invaluable for this) to create digital worlds for my ships to fly through, and tried to create shots akin to the likes of Johnny Wu, Matt Rohde or Vesa Lehtimäki (I set the bar high and went after the greats).
Quite quickly and rather unsurprisingly I realised that I was coming up somewhat short when compared to the work of others and concluded that a lack of realism was the key problem. It felt too obvious that these were toys bobbing about on wires in front of mini backdrops. As mentioned I have tried larger more detailed models (this process is on going as the models get bigger and bigger). And although it helped it didn’t solve my problems.
The Force Awakens has rekindled an old obsession with Star Wars for me, some things come and go during our live but they never leave us. Which prompted to me that due to current technology spaceships in films could now swoop, twist and take us on rollercoaster rides when compared to those from the older movies. Now, here comes the first eureka moment; if these things were real then they would be moving, and at very high speeds. I watched it over and over (which was a terrible, terrible shame) trying to understand why I was lacking this sense of motion in my photographic efforts that were so much easier to showcase on film. In an effort to understand this I turned to sports photographers, particularly motorsport, hoping to find a way to capture a sense of movement and purpose in a still image. But that is just what I found, still images. Many photos were clean and crisp and caught perfect moments with super high shutter speeds, but they still felt static and lifeless, almost a documentation of what was physically there rather than what was happening and an exact opposite of what I was searching for.
Then I discovered the work of Darren Heath (for those of you that don’t know he’s a Formula 1 photographer) and it tied in perfectly with what I wanted to do. Here was someone who embraced the sense of motion by allowing blur to occur and in turn embracing the abstract. It all felt very experimental and crazy to me that he’s allowed just play with his camera in the most “glamorous” and “prestigious” of settings. I mean, when you see his work they don’t necessarily look like racing cars, but you know these things are going very fast, just like you’ve paused live TV.
And there it was, the second eureka moment. I wasn’t going to create dioramas with spaceships in. I was going to pause movies, to embrace the abstract and try to give a true feeling of movement (I feel the need… The need, for speed. AHA). So that’s exactly what I did; I went back and paused the Millennium Falcon and Tie Fighters and X-Wings in flight and took still upon still, each more abstract than the last. I now had my endgame, to try and toe the line between the abstraction of speed and the visual identities of my subject matter. Now it was just a case of figuring out how to achieve it…
But, that wasn’t the question, was it? This after all is a series about the whys, and not the hows.
“A great photograph [is] a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about what life in its entirety.”
– Ansel Adams
As with any creative practice, photography is so personal that we constantly feel the need to defend it to others and to explain our work. But there is a power that comes in leaving a photo be and allowing the viewer to interpret as they will. Continue reading Leaving A Photo Be
“Badly made is better than never perfectly made”. I read this somewhere and it was this one phrase that motivated me into trying to sell some prints of my photos.
Prior to that, I had lingering doubts:
What if my photos are not sharp enough? What if the exposure is not correct? What if the composition is not right? I had so many doubts, but decided to take the plunge anyway and hoped at least one person will buy the prints. Continue reading Selling My Art by zekezachzoom
It’s been a long time since I had taken a road trip. And, I’m not talking about a casual 2-3 hour drive away from where I live.
This one would take 13 hours and some change, cursing through a couple of states, with a few cups of coffee.
But, we were on a mission. Along with Eric (IG:@intangibledandy), we were heading down to San Francisco for the big toy safari photography meet up. Though it was Eric’s second toy Safari, and my first. We were both in much anticipation to meet everyone and start shooting pics. Continue reading Lego on a road trip!
In Florida it’s always humid. Go outside with your camera and the lens immediately fogs up. If you want a non-fog filled image quickly you have to wipe the condensation from your lens and hope for the best. Otherwise you wait up to 30 minutes or more until your camera acclimates to the sticky weather.
A couple years ago, I decided I wanted to replicate a fogged camera lens effect indoors. My mom suggested placing something in front of the lens. So really I owe the whole development of this process to her. I had some textured transparency film left over from a college printmaking class and there it was. Continue reading A Foggy Path
I have to confess that writing this article about “why?” I like to photograph toys was challenging.
I’ve never thought about why I photograph toys, before. I was only following the butterflies in my stomach. But having to write the reason in “black on white”, I would answer that I’m a toy photographer, especially LEGO, because it’s incredibly fun. Continue reading Why? by The APhOL
Looking back on my second Toy Photo Safari, I’ve realized that the event only gets better with return visits. The first event I attended was in Seattle last year (2016). At that time, I’d say I knew 75% of the people from their Instagram accounts, but had never met any of them in person. We had a great weekend and the newly found friendships were bolstered by social media over the next year. Now when I arrived in San Francisco I was happily reunited with a dozen friends I had taken pictures with before. Continue reading Toy safaris only get better with return visits
I shot my first toy photos 9 years ago.
I was 17, in Ms. Jen’s 11th grade English class, and chose to illustrate scenes of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying from a list of project options.
I really knew nothing about photography, but was slowly discovering that I liked it.
I outlined a few key scenes from the book and set out to photograph them. To my knowledge, I had never knowingly seen a toy photograph, nor did I think of what I was doing in any sort of category. All I knew was that it seemed the best way to represent a burning barn, brothers, horse drawn carriage, fish mother and vultures was through toys and maquettes.
The resulting photos weren’t what I’d now call good, but at the time I was quite happy with what I’d managed to create with minimal supplies and a point and shoot camera.
So now, 9 years later, some 6 or so years since I’ve actually considered myself a toy photographer, I’ve recreated those images with better technical knowledge and artistic vision. Continue reading A Reflection