Ai Weiwei and Lego

As you all know I love my documentaries and especially ones about artists. Last week I watched a documentary called Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and of course it left an impression. If you are not familiar with Ai, he designed Beijing’s National Stadium which is often referred to as the Birds Nest. After his arrest in 2011 his travel has been severely curtailed and he has not been allowed to leave Beijing. This documentary tells the story of Ai’s activism through art which ultimatly led to his virtual imprisonment.

Ai is very active on social media and I soon found myself following him on Twitter and Instagram which then led me to his show in the famous United States prison, Alcatraz. By now you are asking yourself what does this have to do with Lego?  Well, it seems Ai created six large carpets out of 1.2 million LEGO bricks to depict 176 political prisoners. (More information on the Alcatraz show can be found here and here. )

Trace, the show’s most ambitious work, consists of six large carpets of Lego blocks that depict more than 175 prisoners of conscience, past and present Photograph: Mae Ryan
Trace, the show’s most ambitious work, consists of six large carpets of Lego blocks that depict more than 175 prisoners of conscience, past and present Photograph: Mae Ryan

It seems that our beloved LEGO brick is continuing to evolve from a children’s toy to a medium that in the right hands, protests a few of the many injustices of the world. Maybe this children’s toy is growing up?

As I continue to grapple with my own art, I am inspired by a man on the other side of this planet who uses his art to change the world. I follow him on Twitter and Instagram as a reminder that everything is not awesome.

~ xxsjc

Have you seen this show? Would you be interested in seeing this installation?

Do you think LEGO bricks are an appropriate medium for a political statement?

 

It’s Not Art You Are Buying, It’s Time

Sisyphean Task

When buying from an artist/maker, you’re buying more than just an object/painting; you are buying hundreds of hours of failures and experimentation. You are buying days, weeks & months of pure joy. You aren’t just buying a thing, you’re buying a piece of heart, part of a soul, a moment of someone’s life. Most importantly, you’re buying the artist more time to do something they are passionate about.

I found this quote floating around the internet as an unattributed meme and found it to be very accurate. It doesn’t matter if you are buying the creative output of a photographer, a musician, a fine artist or your local craftsman…the effect is the same. By purchasing someone’s creative output you will be telling them that what they do has value and that you want them to continue. You are buying them more time to create and delve deeper and farther into their craft.

I know I have talked about the importance of supporting artists before with my post on So You Want to be an Artist, but I think it is well worth our time to revisit important topics. Yesterday’s post by Avanaut on Michael Paul Smith brought this line of thought back with a vengeance. Before I had even finished reading the post I had already purchased Mr Smith’s upcoming book. (Of course the fact that it would be signed by the artist was an extra added incentive.)

So I urge you, if you see someone creating something that effects you in some way, buy it. It does matter if it is a song,  a book, a painting or even a photograph, by purchasing what you love you are sending a very clear message to the creator: this is valued. This goes double for all those beginning photographers out their starting on their own professional journeys.  Ask yourself,  what have I bought from an artist lately? How do I support the arts? If I want people to support my work, how can I support their work?

It may seem like a little thing, but trust me, buy from an artist and you will give them the gift of time. It is a gift beyond compare.

~ xxsjc

If you enjoyed the movie about Michael Paul Smith and learning what drives him, you should definitely check out Marwencol. It is about a toy photographer who creates amazing photographs with an equally dark back story as Mr Smith. 

Care to share the last thing you bought from an artist?  My husband and I traded for an 82″ High Wheel Hare. Can you top that? 

Eureka! (or the joy of toy photography)

People enjoy photography for many reasons; documenting their daily lives,  a creative outlet, an opportunity to be a part of a new community or just the cool toys they get to play with . Me, I crave that Eureka! moment. You know the one…when you look through your view finder and see your photograph  just as you envisioned it. Or maybe it’s later when you check your shot on your camera or computer screen and you see something that makes you go “wow!”

I had two of those moments while I was in Las Vegas for the #vegastoyphotosafari. Honestly, they are what I Iive for.

The first came on Saturday while we were shooting as a group in the desert. I knew I’d gotten the shot I had been thinking about long before I arrived in Las Vegas. I turned around and raised my arms and gave a victory shout. Wikitoybox was watching me and started laughing. I didn’t care, it was just one of those great uninhibited, joyous moments.

The second time came late on Sunday evening when we were shooting photos near a colorful fountain. Even though I had my ISO turned up it wasn’t enough to compensate for the changing low light. My shutter speed slowed down and created some seriously freaky effects with the skeletons I had placed behind Deadpool. I showed the results to krash_override and we both were equally fascinated with the crazy in-camera effects.

After 30 years of taking photos it’s nice to still feel those moments of joy and exhilaration at capturing something new and surprising with my camera. It’s one of the greatest feelings in the world and I truly hope you have had one (or many) yourself!

~ xxsjc

Have you ever had one of these eureka! moments? If so, would you care to share it with us?

Landing Party

Fair Play – Part III

At the risk of beating a dead horse  I want to revisit the issue of fair play and Lego System A/S that we talked about last week.  Me2 and I don’t always see eye to eye and his habit of adding the TM symbol to his words has always seemed pretentious to me, but after last week I think he is on the right track (he just promised me he will elaborate on his Why™ in another post here pretty soon).

Our original post was re-posted to Reddit and the reaction was alarming in its passivity. It seems that most fans in the Lego universe are more than happy to let Lego roll right over them without even a whimper as they believe it would only impact those who would want to sell their work. The over riding sentiment expressed in the comments was that Lego was well within their legal rights and that we, their customers, fans and LEGO artists need to watch our step.

Seriously? What has this world come too when we think corporations have the right to tell us how to create, show and ultimately sell our own creations? What would Andy Warhol have said if the Campbell’s Soup company had sent him a cease and desist order when he first exhibited his now iconic soup cans? I am pretty sure he would have laughed and kept printing his silk screens. So why are we taking this sitting down?

If the Andy Warhol example is too esoteric for you how about this one which hits a little closer to home: Peter Reid. If you are not familiar with Peter Reid he created the fabulous book LEGO Space published by No Starch Press. Oh and he is also the guy who designed Lego Ideas #6135: Exo Suit. You may have heard of it? You probably own one since Lego has been selling it for a few months now. I want to respectfully point out to Lego System A/S that you can’t have it both ways.

Recently a related issue was brought to my attention regarding a popular company (Ikea) and it’s enthusiastic fans (IkeaHackers). Last summer Ikea tried to shut down the popular web site that is dedicated to finding new and more interesting ways to use Ikea furniture. There was a public outcry and Ikea backed down. I guess it doesn’t pay to piss off your devoted core.

Do you really think that if Lego System A/S got nasty and removed ALL photos with Lego imagery off RedBubble and related sites (yes, including Flickr since the basis of the IP infringement claim starts at publishing and Flickr has been making noises about monetizing fan art uploaded onto their website) that the outcry wouldn’t be as outraged as the Ikea controversy? I am pretty sure it would be more financially damaging in terms of bad publicity and a pissed off fan base than any revenue lost due to these “illicit” products.  No one likes a $14.6 billion dollar bully.

Personally I think we are all well within our rights to photograph our toys and sell the images as a unique piece of art to enjoy in your home (we are not talking about licensing stock photography here to be used in a commercial campaign as that is a completely different topic, and we fully recognize that). I am pretty sure most of these artists photos would not be confused with Lego’s own marketing campaigns or franchise business and the financial damage (if any) the company might be incurring is well lets be real…it’s minimal and far less than the community gives back exponentially. If Lego doesn’t like us creating art with their shiny plastic bricks and having us share this with the world, than they should speak out now with a clarified Far Play notice rather than these random take down notices.

This whole fair play discussion is not about the ultimate sale of a piece of art (that is just the financial recognition that someone liked what you did), but about the fact we should own the unrestricted rights to do with our art what we want (as long as it does not violate any other laws like discriminating or racial ones), which is to share, publicize and ultimately gain some financial recognition from it if we choose to do so.

I for one will continue to promote my work with the ultimate end game of monetizing it. While I am not interested in selling through RedBubble, I applaud those who do. If I ever get a “cease and desist” order, personally I am going to laugh all the way to the fireplace where I will promptly burn it.

So I say to Big INC™, I am not afraid of you and I am tired of being bullied by you!

~ xxsjc

Should we let this topic die a slow death or keep talking about it?

Who knew?
Who knew?

Building Debates, a new Lego blog

I will admit that the needs of the Lego community are pretty specific and for most of the general public, full of minutia. So when a new blog like Building Debates comes along (Thank you Julie for alerting us!) that deals with Lego topics we want to share it with you.

Building debates only has two posts to date, Building a  Case for Lego Art and Authentic/Inauthentic Lego or what’s the right way to build?, but both articles deal with issues very near and dear to any Lego fans heart.

I hope you will take a moment to check out this blog and join the discussion. As our Lego community continues to find its voice beyond BrickCon’s, BrickSet, Lego Ideas and of course Instagram, blog’ s like Building Debates will help us break from our niche status and into the mainstream,

I hope you will give it a read.

~ xxsjc

If you checked out this blog, I would be curious to know your thoughts? 

An Oasis in the Desert

Dinoczars-2

Eight months ago, Shelly (@xxsjc) Paul (@bricksailboat) Nick (@wiiman) and I sat at a bar in Seattle, enjoying a cold beer on a warm afternoon, having just finished a group photography outing. We marveled at the engaging experience our photo safaris tended to be and decided to invite others to come meet us… in Las Vegas.

Last weekend, I found myself in the beautiful Nevada desert taking photos of toys with a dozen other people. They had traveled from miles away to hang out (and in my case bunk) with folks they had never met. Each had their own artistic abilities, interests and styles, but the rocky landscapes seemed to bring out everyone’s best. Figures were borrowed and techniques were discussed, all with a peppering of laughter and playful competition. We got to know each other throughout the weekend, but nothing was more impressive to me than the positive attitudes and good-natured sensibilities that I encountered from this amazing group of artists.

While waiting to board my flight home I thought about why I felt so good. Why did I have such a strong sense of pride about a silly little meet-up? Two things come to mind. First, because we actually did it. People talk all the time about things they ‘want to do’ but we just did it. That is tragically rare and utterly awesome. Secondly, because I have been fortunate to photograph toys with my friends and it was wonderful to help others see how great that can be. Photography tends to be an isolating experience in many ways, but if you can go shooting with another person it becomes altogether different, if not improved.

We’ve begun talking about the next #toyphotosafari and I look forward to seeing my friends again, but nothing has me more excited than the thought of adding to our numbers. Finding others who love to take pictures of toys, bringing them together and share the fun of group photo sessions; that’s the new challenge and reward ahead.
That’s why I feel so good.
Jaiken – @dinoczars

Dinoczars-3

#vegastoyphotosafari

If you are a regular reader of this blog then you have heard me mention the Las Vegas toy photography meet up for several months. I even wrote a series of posts about some of the people who I was excited to meet. This past weekend all that planning and anticipation paid off in four fun filled days in Las Vegas, Nevada, when 12 toy photographers met up to take photos, eat, share and even toy shop together for the amazing #vegastoyphotosafari.

Day one started out slowly as people trickled into town. While a few early birds managed to sneak off for some location scouting and toy photography in the desert the rest of us checked in to the Flamingo Hotel and got settled.  Later that evening we all met up for dinner at In ‘n Out burgers which turned out to be the perfect place for some casual conversation and of course a few toy photos.

IMG_2403
Group photo courtesy of Wikitoybox

No, Las Vegas convention would be complete without lanyards and our good friend Cindy (@coney_dogg) surprised us all with custom lanyards so we would fit right in with all the other visiting conventioneers.

IMG_2406
Photo courtesy of Brickandmordor

On day two we headed out to the desert together to photograph at Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area. It was a beautiful sunny day and the red rocks and desert scenery where a wonderful back drop for our toys. {A big thank you to Dennis (@krash_overide), Josh (@papajov) and Dean (@dean80s)} for providing transportation!) The time flew by as we moved to different locations in the park taking advantage of the scenery and changing light.

IMG_2409
Image courtesy of Bricksailboat

After dinner we met up in one of the hotel rooms for a more intimate evening of sharing toys, prints and laughter. Josh surprised us that evening with a toy raffle. Names were pulled from a “hat” and toys were chosen by the winners. It was interesting to see what toys people picked, there were even a few unexpected choices made. We also enacted our photo print exchange. Everyone was instructed to bring 20 copies of one image and we would exchange prints. I think we all agreed this was a great way to remember everyone and the work that they do.

IMG_7416
Image courtesy of xxSJC

On day three our local contact Sean (@amptoys_2), took us to an abandoned lot in downtown Vegas were several houses where covered in graffiti.  This was an interesting location choice because it encouraged most of us to stretch beyond our comfort zones. Watching each photographer approach this unique environment was interesting and several of us commented how much of a challenge it was.

After that we hit the toy stores, three of them. It was fun to watch the veteran toy collectors approach the toys and make their purchases. Those of us new to toy collecting or strictly Lego, learned a lot about collecting and the sheer variety of toys on the market. Between the raffle and the shopping I think everyone went home with more toys than they arrived with.

IMG_7430-1
Josh and Cindy go shopping! Image courtesy of brickandmordor 

By day four we had lost a few of our attendees due to differing travel schedules, so the last of the die hards decided to go back out to the dessert for one last photo adventure. Since this was our third day of shooting together there was no awkwardness. Everyone settled into the environment with their toys and got to work. Occasionally we would compare notes, show a recent photo we where proud of or join our toys up in some group photos. It was a very productive and enjoyable morning.

Now it was time for our final goodbyes. Already there had been lots of hugs and big smiles as we looked back on our action packed weekend. Luckily this bittersweet parting was made palatable as plans were already being made for future get togethers.

This event was incredibly successfull for all involved! We all left Las Vegas richer in friends and photographs; the two things that make the Instagram toy community so special.

~ xxSJC

Below is an Instagram feed of the photos we took over these four days. Since most of us took hundreds of photos this tag will continue to grow over the next few weeks and months as we post our edited photos. I hope you will continue to check back and see all the photos as the #vegastoyphotosafari tag grows. 

[instagram-feed type=hashtag hashtag=”#vegastoyphotosafari” imageres=full]

Think Like an Artist

Today is the day that I wish I could write better. The concepts rattling around in my head are bigger than I can express coherently. All these thoughts began to percolate when I attended a talk last week at the Bryan Ohno Gallery that was billed  as the first in a series of improvisational sessions around the topic “Think Like an Artist.”

As I was listing to Bryan talk to the various attendees on creativity, I heard  painters, sculptors and writers talk about their craft, it dawned on me how different the problems of photography are. Photography is not like other traditional arts mediums, we are more aligned with the music and writing industries.

So these thoughts go something like this:

  • How do you stay relevant in an industry that any one with a camera phone and an Instagram account can call themselves a photographer?
  • How can your work be seen when 70 million photos are posted to Instagram daily?
  • How can museums and galleries redefine themselves when these traditional gatekeepers and curators are no longer necessary?
  • Is this explosion of art creation the beginning of a new golden age of art?
  • When the creation of art becomes a part of our daily lives, and not something that is  seen as an activity of the special and gifted, isn’t this ultimately a good thing?

Which brings me to the final question asked to me by my good friend Kitty who is helping to promote the StuckinPlastic exhibition in March:

  • How do I define success for this show?
  • What do I want to have happen that will make me feel this show has met my expectations?

Community building, not sales have been my focus for the past two years. I have very low expectations of selling any work, although it would be nice bonus for all of us who are involved. Plus I have no faith in the art establishment to “get it”; toy photography is not exactly high brow. Basically I have know idea what success will look like.

Maybe just meeting Me2 and Avanaut for the first time in person, showing my friends, family and my city exactly what makes the toy community so wonderful will be enough.

So now you have an idea how this artist thinks; confusion, doubt and hope, all in equal measure.

~ xxsjc

Two Lego Chima birds gather their weapons in preparation for battle, toy photography
“I will prepare…”

 

I would love to hear your response to any or all of these questions? I know it is a lot to take in, but I value your input. 

What Else Did I Miss?

I have always felt that a university education is wasted on the young. I went straight to college after graduating from high school and I always felt this was a mistake. So when I picked up a new book last month called 101 Things to Learn in Art School I was intrigued to see what I had missed the first time around. It turns out a lot.

File this under things I have never thought about:

Photography forever altered our compositional sense. 

“The camera with its viewfinder that samples a portion of the world, changed our relationship to the frame. The understanding that the frame is artificial and that the world extends beyond it affects the way we compose images. Painters, such as Degas, allowed the frame to cut into figures and objects, implying that part of the subject lay outside of the view of the image. This was a radical change from the centered image of traditional painting where the space inside the frame was a metaphor for the world. Now, we see the edges of pictures as being vital and compositionally active, not dormant and arbitrary.” ~ 101 Things to Learn in Art School by Kit White

This seems at once so obvious and yet so completely foreign to me. In the photography world you hear so much about the Rule of Thirds, but that is only one approach; and a rather safe one at that.

As I move forward into the new year and continue to practice the art of toy photography, I will be paying more attention to this frame and its relationship to the subject. It is time to move beyond the old standard “rule of thirds” and be a little more daring.

I wonder what else I missed in art school?

~ xxsjc

Resistance is Futile

 

Why? and 20,000 Days on Earth

If you have been a reader of this blog for a while you know I love my documentaries, especially ones that illuminate the creative process like Marwencol and Burden of Dreams. When I finally sat down to watch 20,000 Days on Earth I was struck by how this pseudo documentary depicting a day in the life of Nick Cave was pertinent to our continuing series on creativity: “Why?

Drama and reality combine in a fictitious 24 hours in the life of musician and international cultural icon Nick Cave. With startlingly frank insights and an intimate portrayal of the artistic process, the film examines what makes us who we are, and celebrates the transformative power of the creative spirit. Written by Pulse Films

I am pretty sure that the amazing Nick Cave will never write for our blog, so I urge you to take the time to watch this wonderful documentary. If you are interested in music, the creative process and how an artists approaches his work not only on a daily basis but over a life time you will be enthralled.

~ xxsjc

nick-cave-skateboards

When I first saw this photo I immediately thought that Nick Cave would make a great action figure. Luckily I know someone who can create one for me. Hopefully there will be images of Nick Cave brooding on my Instagram feed in the not too distant future. 

Do you have a favorite documentary that depicts the creative process you would like to recommend?