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

Why?

Why?

  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?

The “Why?” Statement – guidelines

Recently I have been reaching out to photographers I admire and asking them to write for our “Why?” series. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, but once these talented photographers start trying to express the obvious in words, they tend to get bogged down.

Today I thought I would try to explain why this statement is important and try to help bring some clarification to the process. Continue reading The “Why?” Statement – guidelines

Captain Kaos

When I began writing this, I went about it all-wrong…

I treated it as an assignment. “Why do I photograph toys…?” Hmmmmm.

I went off on an “artsy-fartsy” tangent and got all philosophical. “I PHOTOGRAPH TOYS BECAUSE THEY ARE THERE!” Or something like, “Well, often times my figures express how I am feeling much more succinctly than I ever could….” Maybe even, “The question that lies at the very core of our existence as human beings may perhaps, be answered by a photo of that ONE action figure, HARUMPH!”

Of course, that’s all absolute nonsense and the answer to the question – WHY – is much more simple than any of that.

When I was growing up, my Father was an Officer in the United States Army. When asked what I wanted to be when I grow up, my answer was always “I wanna be an Army man like my Dad!” I can directly attribute my enormous collection of G.I. Joe figures (yes, the originals with fuzzy beards and Kung-fu grip) and plastic green army men to being raised as an Army Brat. Those figures suffered through unimaginable battles. I’d melt pieces of them out, create a small hole and place shredded cotton, colored red with a marker, in the holes to simulate blood…than take them outside, set them up somewhere and take pictures.

After I’d burn up a roll of Kodak 110, my Mom would take that film to get them developed somewhere…I vaguely remember a shack in the middle of a parking lot off of Highway 440 in Killeen, Texas. Than, what seemed like many years later, we’d get the developed roll back and I’d tear open the envelope to stare at my glorious war scenes I’d recreated! Of course, the photos were terrible, out of focus and blurry. But I had taken an idea I had in my imagination and “made it” real.

FANTASTIC!

Star Wars captured my imagination in 1977 like it did every other kid of my age at the time. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Stormtroopers, Darth Vader…. light sabers, blasters, A DEATH STAR! Let me say that again and this time imagine you’re nine years old, sitting in a movie theater, speechless, and a figure clad in black armor, wearing a helmet that looks like it’s from one of your nightmares, mentions THE DEATH STAR! WHAT ? ! ? My toy photography took off in a new direction…

I spent many, many hours setting up R2-D2 and C-3PO in the playground trying to recreate scenes from Star Wars. Hard to do with the limited number of figures available at the time, but damn if I didn’t try my hardest.

Fast-forward thirty years and toy photography has become my “creative outlet”. I’ve always done it, before there was a name for it and long before social media existed. A few years ago, I was messing around with a clone trooper from the Star Wars saga and on a whim I posted it to Instagram. It wasn’t anything fancy. The trooper was sitting at the end of a beach chair and I was fortunate enough to catch some lens flare. Surprisingly, the picture was a hit with (GASP) other toy photographers!

There were OTHER people that were doing the SAME THING!

My weird little hobby had found a home. I’ve met some incredibly talented people in “IG Land”. I’ve been inspired, amazed and sometimes, literally speechless when scrolling through my feed. So many talented people across the globe, all taking pictures of toys, with the dedication, enthusiasm and achieving the results you’d expect to see in an art museum.

So why do I photograph toys?

I guess because I always have. It’s a part of who I am. I’m always looking for a way to improve my shots and discovering new techniques to employ. I enjoy the entire process. Toy photography is a small and fairly specialized genre… I certainly hope I’m part of it when it’s noticed AND respected for what it is, by a much larger audience.

~ Matt Rohde

The beginning.
The beginning.

We are very happy to announce that starting next week Matt will be posting  a weekly feature here at StuckinPlastic and I couldn’t be happier! I have long admired his photography and the (often) poignant stories that accompany them. Matt has been a big inspiration to me and my own toy photography and after reading his “Why?” statement I understand that much better. I hope you will give him a very warm welcome. ~ xxSJC

This post is part of our “Why? series”, where we interview toy photographers around the world and ask them the simple question: Why?

Here are a few of the other iconic interviews: East Mountain, Jaiken, Balakov, …

Dinoczars

 
 
Why do I take photographs of toys?
 
For me, it’s pretty simple. There is a very brief and special moment that sometimes happens in my toy photography. If I’ve done everything correctly, I obtain realism. At least, enough realism to make a viewer pause for a second, look a little closer and ask “how’d he do that?”
 
I am trying to show dinosaurs in a realistic way. That’s pretty much the only thing I am consistently trying to achieve with my artwork. That is my goal and what I view as most important over everything else. That is my own measure of a successful photograph.
 
As I see it, there are 6 key components of toy photography to achieve a strong level of realism. They are; perspective, composition, lighting, depth-of-field, contrast and colors. To strike a strong balance between them is difficult to do and rewarding to achieve. I attempt ‘realism’ quite often and feel successful at it frequently enough to keep enjoying the process.
 
I share my photos on instagram (@dinoczars) and have a number of enthusiastic followers there. I also try to sell prints of my best shots from time to time in art shows and on my easy store (www.etsy.com/shop/Dinoczars). But both the fans on IG and the sales aren’t my biggest motivators, I was shooting dinos before I was on IG and if the app crashed tomorrow, I would still be shooting dinos. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the positive reactions I get from people, and that certainly is a motivator, but ultimately, even if they all stopped paying attention to what I do, I’d still be doing it. Because I love dinosaurs and being able to recreate them in a believable way is a joy for me.
 
Why do I take photographs of toys?
 
I guess it boils down to this: I saw Jurassic Park at a very impressionable age and have been trying to bring dinosaurs back to life, in my own way, ever since.
 
 
 

Legojacker

The Poetry of the Streets

There is

a thrill to walking
the empty city
at dawn,
plastic hidden,
feeling the cold
biting your neck
racing the morning light
as it creeps over the tops
of the buildings.
There is a quiet
that follows
as you slip into
dirty laneways
dripping with
brightly coloured
street art,
and walls
plastered
in the scrawl
of invisible souls.
Choose a spot.
Choose a figure.
Shoot.
Repeat.
At first
you may not see
the poetry
of the streets
alive with toys,
but then it comes,
tiny drifting souls
echoing desperate
cries and laughter
among the everyday debris.
Solitary
back alley visits
shooting
unfeeling plastic
by the gram
to feel
a shared humanity
in a world
turning faceless
by the second.
~ Legojacker

East-Mountain

“Welding” by Christoffer Östberg

Why?

Why do I spend the majority of my free time photographing small pieces of colourful plastic?
I first tried the ultimate answer to any question and realized 42 wouldn’t cut it at all (although going Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with LEGO is definitely a challenge I have to visit someday, without panic). At first this question may have seemed easy enough and the answer self evident, but looking deeper, there’s nothing simple about it. What are our personal reasons for taking photographs? The answer is different for all of us. It can be as simple as love, a story that needs to be told, or a way to revisit childhood.
I have only been active in LEGO photography for a year now, and still my reasons have changed during this time.
My wife is a professional photographer and so I have always had her support and knowledge. I have also found many talented and inspiring photographers out there. Even though I have changed the way I photograph, Vesa Lethimäki will always stand as a source of inspiration. I promised always to challenge myself in photography and find new ways to play with these bricks, to cast away the innate limitations and bring them to life, sometimes with the help of the four elements. Especially close to my heart are those pictures involving fire and natural light. It’s about not having control of the situation, acting within a limited time frame with the camera to capture that which is unpredictable, be it fire, wind, water, or earth. What I appreciate about the unpredictable photographs is that they capture a moment in time, impossible or almost impossible to reproduce, triggering a realistic cinematic feeling.
Alexander Rodchenko said, “One has to take several different shots of a subject, from different points of view and in different situations, as if one examined it in the round rather than looked through the same key-hole again and again.” There are endless perspectives on the simplest of objects, and all of them tell a different story.
But there are other reasons besides the joy of drowning figures or setting them on fire. The main reason still stands: I am a father of two kids who love playing and being creative with LEGO. Much inspiration is drawn from them; the imaginary mind of the young knows no boundaries.
I found that even though I strive to make all photographic effects in front of the camera, with as little post-processing as possible, my goal now, almost a year later, is to express my emotional response to the scene. This has led me to modify the image captured by the camera. If I did not alter the image, I would be showing what the camera captured, not what I saw and felt in my head. Even so, I still work more with the camera rather than post-production software.
There is a story behind every image, and it is a great feeling when my family and I decide to frame one of them and hang it on the wall. The images may seem uninteresting to people, but to me they are a reminder of what ideas spawned in my mind and what emotion stirred them to life.
So why do I keep doing this, day in and day out, sacrificing sleep and mental health. I think George Bernard Shaw said it best: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.I don’t want to grow old.

“Mono Wheel” by Christoffer Östberg

“River Crossing” by Christoffer Östberg