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

 

The Best Laid Plans…

Today did not go according to plan.

I was supposed to work; it’s Monday and normally I am chained to my desk. I had a great blog post I wanted to write about Big Inc plus my to-do list is a mile long. But I didn’t do any of that.

I played hooky.

Or to be exact, I grabbed my mini figures, camera and headed into the mountains for a lovely hike with a friend. The day was beautiful, the photo gods were smiling on me and I even got back in time to pick up my son from school. It was a glorious day.

I guess this is why I don’t work for Big Inc.

~ xxsjc

Stay tuned, tomorrow we will post another amazing guest blog on the universal question of  “Why?

Another Point of View

Psst… want to know a secret?

+Me2 and I have been working together for nine months and have only talked once on the phone. All communications have been through Kik, this blog and an occasional e-mail. If you know anything about communication then you know this is a very limited palette.

Sometimes I think that +Me2  and I see eye to eye and then he posts a piece like yesterday and I know we don’t. Don’t get me wrong, we have much in common, more than we can both properly express. But we arrive at our mutual love of legography from such different roads it is almost laughable.

I have never worked for Big Inc. the closest I have gotten to a real job was a four year stint in an arts non-profit. I have been out of the corporate work force for so long that when +Me2 starts expressing business concepts I feel that he is speaking another language.

I am really trying not to take offense at this choice bit:

I feel a drive to take pictures and work my “art” but I need the touch with reality and big Inc. to feel that same reality and feel the power balance and not just live in my ivory tower seeking for inner beauty just within myself.

Seriously is this how he views artists? I am sure you can find this stereo type practicing their art somewhere, but I am pretty sure I can lift the lid off any corporate hive and find similarly delusional individuals. They are not limited to the arts world.

Any artist who can count themselves as successful (by which I mean they can pay their bills) has been playing the business game just like any Big Inc. The scope might be smaller, but the spreadsheets, meetings, budgets, advertising campaigns, search for marketshare is no different. We just get the work done without the buzzwords.

Maybe +Me2 and I need to pick up the phone more because something seems to have been lost in translation.

~ xxsjc

After this post I wonder if +Me2 and I will make it another 9 months?
An interesting article on Art graduates and income from the WSJ. 

I was surprised to run into this little Chima bird when I went hiking this weekend. A welcome sight after a tough hike

What is in a Name?

Sometimes an unusual social media handle means nothing, sometimes it means everything.

Take xxsjc for example. It’s a mouthful, it does not roll off the tongue easily and it makes no sense, but it has been my handle since the early days of Twitter. You know, back when people actually talked to each other, before Twitter became a fire hose of self promotion. It is an amalgamation of a person who introduced me to Twitter and my own initials. It is also a nod to the scantily clad women that I used to photograph. But over the years it has taken on a larger and deeper meaning for me.

You see I am not a nice person. I know I look like one and I act like one…most of the time. But deep-down, and in my not so distant past, you will find many examples of the mean s.o.b. that I really am.  My kids like to call those times when I really get pissed off as “when the masks slip”. My daughters current boyfriend is scared to death of me and honestly most of my current friends had to take a real leap of faith to embark on the road to friendship with me.

xxsjc is a play on the more common “xo” used in conjunction with a signature when conversing with a good friend or a loved one. For me using the xx before my name is a reminder to play nice with others, to spread good will and to leave this community a better place than how I found it. Playing with toys has been very good for me and helps me to be the person I want to be. I know I will have achieved my goal when the person behind the mask and the mask become one.

~ xxsjc

Does your Instagram / social media name have any special meaning?

Image by @BigToyPoo

Balakov

Why?

Why do I take photographs of small plastic figures?

Well, I’m not doing it to change the world. Neither am I bringing attention to worthy causes, or highlighting injustice with my photographs. I do it for the same reason most people do most things, I do it for me. I want to take the sort of photographs that I’d like to see. I want to look at my photographs and say “that’s cool, I want to hang that on my wall.”

The limitations imposed by LEGO minifigures are a big part of the fun of photography for me. Bernard Suits famously defined a game as “the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”. That perfectly sums up my approach to LEGO photography. I rarely use anything but standard LEGO smiling faces, or the expressionless helmets of Stormtroopers or Darth Vader. Trying to create an emotive photograph with a barely-posable, inert chunk of plastic is a challenge that I never seem to tire of trying to beat.

I take pleasure in the whole process. Combining ideas together within my own set of rules for what makes a good photograph. Finding angles and interesting lines in the viewfinder. Moving the composition around to balance the scene. Changing the lighting mood as I shoot. Playing with hues and saturation curves to add some life to the clinically clean digital capture. It’s all good.

Sometimes it works, and sometimes everything goes in the trash can. As I make more photographs I’m getting better at knowing when an idea doesn’t translate into a good photograph. Over the years I’ve tried to weed out poor qualities and work out what the essence of a good photograph is to me.

I read an excellent quote from Magnum photographer Constantine Manos today that summed up something I have never been able to eloquently put into words – “Try not to take pictures which simply show what something looks like.”. That’s why I take the photographs I do. To try and take LEGO photography above mere “photos of things” and make a story, evoke an emotion, or at least raise a smile.

Mike Stimpson

Autumn by Mike Stimpson

A guest post for stuckinplastic com by Mike Stimpson – mikestimpson.com
You can find Mike also on the following great social media platforms:
flickr
facebook
instagram
twitter


There is Nothing New Under the Sun

It would be hubris to think that what we are doing with toys and photography is any way new. No matter how innovative you may be, there is always someone who has done it before. Sometimes we know who these people are, sometimes we don’t.

This is true in art, music, business, even Lego…just about anything that involves creation and innovation.

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of room to find your own way. To acknowledge those who came before you as you move into the future is not only a matter of respect, it’s a smart decision. It says I know who I am, who’s shoulders I have climbed on and that I realize there will be others who come after me. It’s also the honorable thing to do.

I love this quote by Pharrell Williams

Some people say there’s nothing new under the sun. I still think that there’s room to create, you know. And intuition doesn’t necessarily come from under this sun. It comes from within.”

I couldn’t agree more. When I first saw Brett Westin’s underwater nude’s I knew I wanted to do the same thing. But the simple act of dealing with my own limitations in terms of talent and resources created results very different from his. This is how new things are created – old ideas run through the filter of a new artist.

So no matter if you are taking pictures of flowers, kittens, Lego or dinosaurs… look for your inspiration from within and you will create something new. In the mean time, don’t forget those early innovators who paved the way for us all.

~ xxsjc

“There is nothing new under the sun, not even dinosaurs.” ~ +Me2 

How a Lego Photo is Born

My son and I were fooling around with lego the other day and looking through his Master Builder Academy books and I came across this mini build for a cool camera. Needless to say, I whipped one up pronto.  It immediately reminded me of Weegee, so I made him too. Now if you’re going to make a Speed Graphic camera and a figure who looks like Weegee out of Lego, then the next logical step is to set up murder scene.
…and that is how a lego photo is born.  
I’m sure this is going to lead somewhere interesting, I hope you will stick around to find out where.  
– xxsjc