Grateful to Big Inc.

I won’t deny it has been a heady week and its time to come crashing back down to earth. But before I get mired down in the day to day of my life I want to take a moment to tell you all how grateful I am for the last week.

The week started with one of those days of a life time on my family road trip, many birthday wishes from my IG family and ended with another fun BrickCon with my photo buddies…it’s been an amazing week by any measure.

Nestled in this already awesome week was lunch with Julie Broburg a Lego representative from the Mothership. Julie’s job (as I understand it) is to act as a liaison to the AFOL community in all it’s forms, including us legographers. I find it amazing that there is a corporation out there that is interested in what their fans are doing and are willing to support, nurture and learn from that community. I know I can be very wary of Big Inc., but it is hard to disparage a company that values it’s fans as much as Lego does.

So thank you Julie for all you do for all the AFOL’s out there. If you get a chance to meet Julie in her travels make sure you go up and say: “Hi” and be sure to introduce yourself as a legographer.

Now I have one more thing to be grateful for: I am grateful to be photographing a great product and being a part of the Lego family in my own small way.

~ xxsjc

Fairy Godmother Julie

ps. I am pretty sure +Me2 had other ideas planned for todays post, but since he got caught up at his own Big Inc, you got me instead. We will pick up with our “Why” series later this week. Cheers!

Why? vs Motivation

“Why?”seems to be the question of the day. We have been asking it here on the blog and have been blessed by a handful of guest posts that answer that question from various view points. I was recently reading Beautiful Lego by Mike Doyle and it is filled with artist essays that directly tackle the question of “Why?” from a Lego builders point of view.

In all the answers I have been reading there are plenty of similarities: emotional connection with the audience, expression of an idea, new ways to interact with a beloved childhood toy and the element of surprise at seeing a familiar toy in a new way. But is “Why?” even the right question to be asking?

Sure it is, if you are marketing to a particular audience; it would be important to know what drives your audience so you can sell more product. But if you are an artist, the bigger and far more important question seems to me to be: “How do you stay motivated?”

How does the creative individual stay motivated to get up everyday and strive to make something new. How does an artist keep creating day after day in relative anonyminity. No matter what your creative tools may be (a camera, lego bricks or your words), how do you keep going day after day pursuing an activity that will bring you only intangible rewards?

Of all the responses we have had so far to the question “Why?” I think that Legojacker was the closest to addressing the more important question: How do you stay motivated?

~ xxsjc

So what DOES it take to stay motivated? 

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

Challenge yourself

I am heading home after a five day adventure in the Moab region of Utah.
Four of those days involved photographing lego with decidedly mixed results.
I realized I was outside my comfort zone shooting in harsh light, with rocks and sparse vegetation as my only textures. Photographing in the lush Pacific Northwest with its mossy rocks and dappled sunlight seems like a walk in the park by comparison.

I love this area for its grand views, it’s sure subtlety of color and apocalyptic nature.
But how in the world do I translate that to the macro world?

Let’s just say I struggled with decidedly mixed results. 
But isn’t that the nature of growth, to challenge ourselves?
To learn from our mistakes?
To play outside our comfort zone? 
I’m very excited by tomorrow’s guest post.
He’s an artist that continually challenges himself with different techniques and also challenges the viewer with his message.

Stay tuned! 

~ xxsjc

Is it Worth Doing?

It seems Me2 isn’t the only one fond of posing questions: 

“Writer Henry James once proposed three questions you could productively put to an artists work. The first two were disarmingly straightforward: What was the artist trying to achieve? Did he/she succeed? The third`s a zinger: Was it worth doing?” ~ excerpt from Art & Fear

And that is the crux of the problem right there. I think I ask myself this question in some way everyday. Art isn’t about making pretty pictures, it’s not about perfect technique…art needs to go behind that. 

Certainly by embracing a small plastic toy peddled by one of the largest toy companies in the world makes me suspect my own abilities to move beyond these impediments. How do you challenge the status quo or capture a moment in time when you are essentially free advertising for Big inc.

Me2 posed a question awhile back that hit me hard and I’ve been unable to answer: would I exhibit my work in Shell Oil`s boardroom?  Honestly I don’t know?  I’d like to think I have high moral standards, but I’m a realist. Would it move my work to the next level? Could the work be a form of protest? Could I generate controversy and get the work to a larger audience? Or am I just fooling myself and selling myself to the highest bidder?

Right now I know I’m not challenging myself enough in terms of content. I’ve achieved my original technical goals and can confidently capture whatever scene I set up. But it’s time for me to take the next step and challenge both myself and the viewer. 

When I look at a finished image I want to be able to answer “Yes” when I ask that third question: “Was it worth doing?”

~ xxsjc

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

The Long View

Unlike +Me2 I am not ready to let go of summer and head to frozen Pluto. So before I rush head long into the future, I have one last summer post to get out of my system. Please bear with me. 

A little souvenir we picked up at the gift shop nestled in some freshly planted moss. 


I have a hard time separating my artistic life from my every day life. The overlap is so great it can be hard to differentiate. I don’t need to be a good artist to be an engaged mother or visa versa. But sometimes my two selves come together in unexpected ways.

A few weeks ago my kids and I took a road trip to Portland, Oregon to visit my brother-in-law who is working there for a couple of months. We decided to meet at the Portland Japanese Garden a place none of us had been before. My son and I were awe struck the instant we arrived.

We were the worst guests possible as we excitedly pointed out that cool bamboo fence, were awe struck by the amazing water features, admired the use of white crushed rocks, checked out the incredibly pruned Japanese maple trees or exclaimed at the reflections on the water. You get the idea. 

Did I tell you about the moss? OMG, the moss! Entire carpets of the lovely stuff…under trees, growing on rocks, growing everywhere! The garden is a beautiful, serene and wonderfully spiritual place. It is one that both Noah and I want to go back to and view during the different seasons. There is much to explore in this truly special place and we babbled about it all the way home.

The next day Noah and I started transforming our own backyard into a mini Japanese garden. We trimmed trees, pruned shrubs, hacked at vines and created a nearly blank slate to work from. We also hauled bags and bags of debris out of our yard. Then we scampered off to the nursery for moss and shade plants to help us realize our vision.

We still have to add a few rocks for accent, build bamboo fencing (harvested from our own bamboo) and create paths to protect our existing moss. But we are on our way. Of course we will need to be patient, it is going to take a few years for this project to start taking shape. But we are the patient types. 

You are probably wondering what this has to do with my photography. In addition to exploring my city through macro photography I also take many of my Lego photos in my own yard. I consider our hard efforts in the last few weeks as an investment in my own personal outdoor photo studio. Maybe a little more curated than it once was, but there will still be plenty of lovely moss and rocks to create interesting set ups.

And like all great art projects, we are taking the long view. 

~ xxsjc

What was your favorite photographic related memory from this summer?
Do you plan your photos hours, days or years in advance?

Art Reflects the Present

The other day I was feeling my usual bout of anxiety and doubt… Why am I doing this? My work is crap! You know, that kind of stuff. So I turned to my trusty copy of “Art and Fear” to find some words of consolation. I found words of encouragement and so much more.

In particular this passage really struck a cord:

“That’s also to say that usually – but not always – the piece you produce tomorrow will be shaped, purely and simply, by the tools you hold in your hand today.”

Of course the author was thinking more along the lines of painting materials like egg tempera, oils and acrylics. But can’t the same analogy be made for the rise of toy photography?

We are surrounded by plastic toys in the form of cheap imports from China, give aways at restaurants, movie tie ins and of course whatever we might have saved from our own childhoods. It seems that with all of these toys clambering for our attention something was bound to happen.

When the ubiquitous camera phone was combined with social media (especially Instagram), a movement was born. I know we are a niche group, and a small one at that, but the creativity exhibited by some of these photographers is awe inspiring. There is craftsmanship, social awareness and special effects being employed to create some very memorable images. 

I’m certainly not implying we are producing anything new. We have already seen with our previous guest posts that there are always pioneers in any field. But what we have now is a far greater range of styles and toys being used.

We will be hearing from a few of these new breed of toy photographers in the weeks ahead as we explore this amazing and creative movement we affectionately refer to as being Stuckinplastic.

~ xxsjc

Are there other influences that have created and shaped this toy photography movement? 

Avanaut

“The First Attempt” by Avanaut

Why do I take photographs of Lego? That is a question that took me by surprise a couple of weeks ago. I realized I had never asked myself that question before. Finding the answer was not easy, and it took a brief conversation with my wife for me to see it.

I am photographing Lego because I am a never-was movie director making a living outside the movie industry. That’s what my wife said, and it pretty much sums it up. See, I always loved movies. Star Wars, obviously, was huge, but many others as well, classics and contemporary. As a kid I made some movies myself with my dad’s Super-8 film camera, but film was expensive and my dad did not allow me to hack the camera’s filmport to produce a widescreen format picture. My movies were not very good; a widescreen wouldn’t have improved them, but still. I would build miniature sets and models to shoot, but the miserable camera could not focus on anything, since it had no macro. I grew up watching great movies and reading all about them. As a teenager I subscribed to Starlog, Cinemagic, and Cinefantastique. Cinefex, Premiere and Empire came along a little later. I’m soaked with that stuff; it’s in my DNA. I sometimes dream in 2.39:1.

That was a long time ago.

When I stumbled into photographing Lego Star Wars in 2009, I quickly connected to those times when I dreamed of making movies. I soon incorporated into the photos many of the cinematic ideas I had toyed with in my youth: widescreen, smoke, aerial particles, snow, blizzards, tight closeups and stories — the short stories that I like to write to go with the photos. I think this through via cinema; even my “Leftovers & Alternatives” album in Flickr is allegoric to a DVD “deleted scenes” extra. Lego is a perfect medium for all this. It’s playful, and there’s so much to choose from. You can have a minifigure on a piece of a coloured paper and still make a strong photo with that; yet there’s everything from a coffee cup to the Death Star to add, if you like.

This soon became a sort of creativity outlet, a free turf to express ideas I could not use in my day job as an illustrator. I see my photographs as single-frame plays I can write, produce, direct and shoot, but with characters and concepts I grew up with. In a way, I’m exploring an unfulfilled career path, but with Lego and present day tools, like the DSLR camera. It’s old but it’s new. It’s perfect!

~ Vesa Lehtimäki

“Breaking in the Tauntaun (Revised & Rejected) by Avanaut
“Last Ship to Rendezvous Point” by Avanaut