memories of toy photos past

i came across some old photos recently and was reminded of my old friend fuzz. fuzz was a little scrunchy beanie baby. do you remember those? they were all the craze for awhile back in the late 90s.

nearly 20 years ago, when i was a serious graduate student on a fulbright scholarship to macedonia, i took fuzz everywhere. he’s been to the balkans, istanbul, russia, sweden, denmark, london and germany. and yes, he’s even been to the pyramids. i always had him in my backpack, sometimes riding on the outside, but often stuffed inside. he was imminently stuffable and didn’t mind it a bit. i could always whip him out, fluff him up a bit and pose him wherever i wanted. he saw all the sights.

i ended up talking to a lot of people on my travels, because they thought it was so sweet that i was photographing my teddy bear. and i honestly don’t remember ever being embarrassed that i was photographing a toy. i wonder where i lost that along the way?

i liked photographing him from behind best. he somehow seemed most thoughtful that way. it became a bit of a game to see how much expression i could get out of him without showing his face. even tho’ i was using one of those kodak advantix cameras in those days. you remember the ones? they were a film camera, but they had the gimmicky feature of allowing you to adjust between three sizes of photos along the way, including a panorama. i tried to save the panoramas for special occasions. honestly, i enjoyed that camera.

my favorite photo of him, i took at the hermitage museum in st. petersburg. he was posed looking wistfully at the fog out of a rather dilapidated window.  unfortunately, i didn’t come across that photo in the stack of photos i found, so i can’t share it.

the best part of that photo was that one of those old russian ladies who sits impassively on a stool in the museums, sternly frowning at the guests, lest they do anything like dare to touch one of the paintings, was so charmed by fuzz that she even pointed out several other places i should pose him for his picture and thanks to her he got to sit on some chairs that were otherwise roped off. so much fun for me, but i also think it was fun for her – a little bright spot in an otherwise boring day of frowning at people who got too close to the matisse. i’ll bet she still remembers it, just as i do.

maybe it’s actually a good thing i can’t find that photo. possibly it’s much better in memory than it was in reality.

Art Saves Lives

     Soon after I published my post The “Why?” Statement – guidelines, I received the following e-mail that I want to share with you. It brings up an important issue that directly address the underlying reasons many people create art. Often those reasons are too personal to share, but universal in nature and we need to talk about them.
Hi Shelly,
I apologize that it’s taken me so long to reply (once again). Things are finally starting to slow down a bit, and more terrifyingly, I seem to have some time to myself!
So, I’ve been going through the “Why?” series tonight and trying to get a handle on it. There are two obstacles that I’m not sure I can overcome, to be honest. The first is that I am incredibly uncomfortable writing about myself, though when pressed, I have certainly capitulated. The second (and likely more difficult obstacle) is that my answer to “Why?” isn’t especially happy. It extends far beyond the subject of photography, really, and I find it hard to separate it from the larger question of why I do anything at all. Why I am driven to excel; why am I driven to prove my worth over and over again?
You’re quite correct when you state that the answer may take some introspection, although I have actually been aware of this for some time now. I say this not to illicit sympathy, of course; it’s a statement of fact and I’ll admit that I’m somewhat embarrassed that the answer is so cliché – as the child of two self-involved alcoholics, I developed a habit of seeking their attention (and more importantly, their approval) through achievement.
It’s fair to say that this shaped me into a fiercely independent person. I was a shy but willful child, and thankfully had the presence of mind to make my own decisions. I would not become a doctor or lawyer or whatever high-paying, high-status vocation they’d propose; no, I would do things my way, and earn their respect my way.
30 year later, I’m still doing things my way (for better or for worse), and I do it because it’s what I want.
But on the rare occasion that mom messages me to praise a recent photo, I am that child all over again, and I am so proud.
     When I first read this I will admit it hit pretty close to home. I am also an adult child of an alcoholic and that experience informs my life and my actions over and over again. I have given much thought to how artists channel their pain, frustration, humiliation, anger, hurt …. whatever negative energy they have bottled up inside of them to create amazing art. I think there is real power in harnessing that emotional pain and turning it into something beautiful to share with the world. I have seen it over and over again in my friends who are also artists.
     So if this hits close to home for you I want you to know that you are not alone. We have all been there in one form or another. It is important to acknowledge that the pain and anger we carry around with us can be a gift if we choose to guide that emotional energy into something that we can share with the world. The simple act of creating art is incredibly therapeutic and a very real step on the road to healing oneself.
     So the next time you hear that old chestnut, “Art Saves Lives” remember, the life it saves, may be your own.
~ xxSJC


OMG. I have a style. A Brick Sailboat photographic style. It wasn’t always there, I guess parts of it were, but now I see it clear as day. I see it in most of my shots. Consequently, my style is absent from every shot I decide NOT to share. Hundreds of discarded shots sent to the digital trash can. Poor things. All lacking that special something I want to see in my finished work.

Style doesn’t come easy, or quick. I didn’t really find mine until around shared-pic #400. Once I realized what the pictures of Brick Sailboat were all about, it has become so much easier to get the shots I want. When I’m having a frustrating day shooting, I take a moment and remember my style. It gets me back on track. People often ask what kind of camera I use. What they’re really asking about is the list below – what makes a Brick Sailboat shot!

The Brick Sailboat style (for now anyway):

  1. I’ve got to get the focus right. Since I shoot primarily outdoors, this almost always involves natural light. More recently I’ve started using DIY reflectors to bounce the natural light into the faces of the figures (avoiding the dreaded sunline!).
  1. I like to get in close…really close. Fire up that macro setting and let her rip.
  1. I often shoot from below the subject (this sometimes involves building sets on stilts and/or digging a hole in the ground for my camera).
  1. The background matters…a lot. Take pictures in wild places.
  1. Stay candid. This is the most important. I want my minifigures to look like they would be having an adventure, even if I wasn’t there to photograph them. That means they rarely look directly into the camera.  A lot of times there are figures in the background doing rather boring stuff – walking, checking their phone, doing what they do. I regularly crop parts of figures out of the frame. Turn heads, move arms & hands, make it look natural-ish.
  1. Stick to the story. My pictures are connected by story. Not all pictures further the plot, but when they need to – they need to. Could the picture tell a story without a caption?
  1. I can’t get comfortable in my style. Study others. Try to figure out what makes their shots unique. Experiment.

So, there you have it, the seven ingredients that make up my own personal style. I’m sure my list will grow as I continue to take pictures and study all of the great toy photographers here on SiP and beyond. What’s on your list? What makes your photos tick? What makes up your personal style?

~ Mr. S (a.k.a. Brick Sailboat)

We dem boyz
Pirate bikes
To the motorcycles



  1. adverb

    for what reason, purpose, or cause?:
    “Tell me why are you’re here?”

  1. pronoun

    for or because of which:
    “There is no reason why he shouldn’t”.

  1. interjection

    an introductory expression of surprise, disagreement, indignation, etc.:
    “Why, don’t be so silly!”

Let me premise this by saying that I’m not a photographer. Heck, I don’t even own a real camera. I’m just a knucklehead with an iPhone!

Continue reading Why?

here’s where it all began

it was july 7, 2013. i was in a long line at the grocery store. it was a summer day and sunshine-starved danes (yes, we are often starved for sunshine in the middle of the summer in denmark) were piling their baskets with grillables and rosé and rushing towards the register, to get home before the sunshine left again. the line was long and there was no sign of them calling another cashier to open another register, so i was stuck. as i was waiting, i glanced to my left and there was a display of small, shiny, colorful bags of LEGO minifigures. prominently depicted on the package was a minifigure of a guy in a chicken suit. i had a brood of hens at home of which i was inordinately fond and i thought, “i’ve gotta have that chicken suit guy,” so i grabbed a couple (or three) bags and tossed them in my basket. Continue reading here’s where it all began

65 Million Years Ago …

In the beginning I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

I had been working on a dinosaur-themed comic book and purchased a few toy dinosaurs to help with anatomical designs. The Allosaurus was first, but soon followed by a Triceratops and a Velociraptor. All made by the French brand, Papo.

They had almost no articulation, but the detail of the sculpt and paintwork were unparalleled. That’s what really caught my attention, the realism of the figures. Continue reading 65 Million Years Ago …

The Plastic Awakens

"...have you felt it."
“…have you felt it.”


Like most folks, I have two days a week off from work. Most times I spend those days taking pictures, getting caught up around the house, running errands and avoiding phone calls from…work. These past couple of days off were much the same with one exception. I sat down and watched Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Continue reading The Plastic Awakens

“. . . the mission of a lifetime.”



Sergeant Jospeh “Razor” Reznowski


… that’s what they told him when they handed him his orders. He’d heard it before and the  phrase had always proven to be false.

He was to take a squad of highly trained, and very specialized troops to a planet, so far removed from their usual area of operation, that it had no name. It was a planet known only by its alpha-numerical designator; ORP0513.  The only people aware of that designator were the ones that had originally assigned it. . . until this mission came down.

Sergeant Joseph “Razor” Reznowski started his career much like many other soldiers. Tired of being a nobody and going nowhere fast, he enlisted as soon as he was done with his secondary education. He found himself suited to be a soldier during basic training and excelled at every task given to him throughout the sixteen week course. The “higher-ups” took notice of the Trooper as he breezed through weapons qualification and completed testing of his Primary Skills well above any of his peers. Instead of being assigned to a regular line unit after basic, he was fast-tracked to the prestigious Scout Recon Academy. Never before in his life had Razor felt so at home.

He graduated from the S.R.A. at the top of the Commandants List and was immediately assigned to Bravo Troop, Second Squadron, Second Motorized Recon Regiment. He was assigned a squad of seasoned Troops, and by utilizing their knowledge and experience, he molded himself into a leader respected by every Troop in the Regiment.

Now, here he stands… Squad Leader of Joint Patrol 6. When they came out of hyperspace, he broke the seal on the packet containing the mission specifics. The first couple of pages were the standard intel dump concerning call signs, supply drop schedule and the environment they’d be operating in. He had saved the details of the op to read until they were safely on the planet’s surface. What greeted him when he re-opened the packet almost brought him to his knees.

” Locate Lieutenant Colonel Travis “Black Death” Spaulding, aka – TK-0211. Missing in Action and believed to be on ORP0513. LTC. Spaulding is to be terminated on sight. 


contact this station when proof is obtained for extraction “


Of course he’d heard the rumors, everybody had. He’d always dismissed the story of a Trooper going rogue as a myth, a tall tale, a legend the ‘cruits would share amongst themselves when they were out of “war stories” to tell. The documents he held in his hand dispelled any notion of that myth, it was real. Now his job, and that of the men under his leadership, was to track down the legend himself and terminate him.

So it turns out, this “mission of a lifetime” was exactly that. He read the last line again “…contact this station when proof is obtained for extraction”. The only way off this rock was to finish the assignment, or spend the rest of their lives trying… no grey area there.

He looked down across the valley beneath him and wondered if Spaulding was down there, looking back at him, already planning ways to evade him and his team. For that matter, he wondered if Spaulding was still alive. Perhaps he’d already met his fate and their mission would be nothing more than a recovery operation. Razor had a lot of questions and very few answers were presenting themselves. How did Regimental Headquarters know Spaulding was here? When was the last known contact? What was his motive for abandoning his duties as an Officer?

He had to get back to camp and fill the others in on the details. Maybe bounce some ideas off of them, see if they’d all heard the same story. The devil will be in the details during this mission.


Joint Patrol 6
Joint Patrol 6





Everybody has a story…

Let's start at the beginning!
Let’s start at the beginning! A new story unfolds on Instagram… “The Mission of JP6”


I find it next to impossible to take a picture and not have some sort of story attached to it.

Shelly wrote a piece earlier about the importance of stories from the audience perspective. I am one of those people that looks at a picture and wants to know what’s happening, happened, or about to happen… how did that individual get into that situation? If no story, or even a small shred of plot is provided by the creator, I make up my own. I imagine many people viewing a static image do the same, filling in the blanks as the perceive them.  So in an attempt to convey the story I have in my mind, I write it out and try to sway the reader into seeing the photo from my point of view.

I have no formula for stories. Take a shot, edit said shot and while editing, something usually pops into my head. Other times, a story develops while I’m at work, completely removed from my gear and my figures! Than I’m stuck with some ridiculous plot brewing in my imagination while I try to go through my day like a “normal” person. There are plenty of times where I head out, box of figures, entirely too much camera gear and my wife in tow, with no idea what-so-ever of what I’m going for.

I’ve been asked many times “…how do you come up with your captions?”. Honestly, I don’t have an answer for that. I look at a figure and something comes to mind. Usually something far, far removed from that figures original story and origin. Where do the ideas come from? I haven’t a clue…

I have a Gremlin (Gaston) that’s a millionaire, a pair of battle droids (Gerald and Jon) on a quest for enlightenment, a stormtrooper (Salvador) training for The X-Games and a pair of characters that are never seen, only heard (Morty and Wife) both hopelessly out of touch with whats happening around them. One of my main characters is Stan the ScoutTrooper. He’s just a guy trying to do his job and deal with life on a day to day basis.

My list of characters is ever evolving and they provide me with a wealth of material. They are the stories just waiting to be told. It’s up to me to get the tales I see out of my brain and into being.

As I write this, I have a four inch figure of Commander Cody, from Star Wars fame, sitting on my computer desk. In his hand he’s holding a hologram figure of The Emperor… Now, in the movie, this is a pivotal point in the story where The Emperor orders the Commander to “Execute Order 66….” I see Cody holding this mini version of a tyrant and imagine other thoughts that may be running through his head as he waits for his blow hard of a boss to finish up and let him get back to work. We’ve all been there…

"Bring to me a Ham and Swiss..."
“Bring to me a Ham and Swiss…”