One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do

Okay, so we’ve had posts about the magic of 3 and the power of 2, so now I feel I must advocate for 1 (or maybe just ramble about number symbolism).

One

Sure I’ve used various numbers of toys and figures in my photos, but I have a soft spot for one. That being said, I do tend to create solemn photos and 1 then comes to represent either lonliness, or  a solitary journey. This doesn’t mean, in the whole scheme of things that the figure is in life alone, but for this moment, when we see inside their head, they’re on a philosophical path that they must travel alone.

More

So then would 1 figure be solitude, 2 relationships, and 3 balance? Or at least this is my interpretation, but number symbolism in art is a thing – although not the easiest to research. Here’s what I’ve found so far for numbers 1 – 13. Check out the links below for further information on this sometimes odd list.

  1. unity, self, God, the universe
  2. opposites, duality
  3. mystical, spiritual, the family unit, beginning, middle & end, the Holy Trinity
  4. earth & body – the four elements, cardinal directions, yearly seasons, the four humors
  5. magic, human life
  6. perfection, days of creation
  7. astrology, virtue & vices, rest, music, luck
  8. resurrection of Christ, paradise
  9. pain, sadness
  10. completeness, finality
  11. negativity, monsters
  12. the zodiac
  13. bad luck

Sources:

  • https://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc/math5.geometry/unit4/unit4.html
  • https://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc/math5.geometry/unit8/unit8.html
  • https://www.britannica.com/topic/number-symbolism

While I love to sometimes consider color symbolism in my photos, I only very occasionally play with numbers. It’s interesting to see how numbers have been used historically, and I wonder how much this effects how people view the number of items in my photos and others.

One of these days, maybe I’ll create a 13 part series with items that represent each of the things in the list above…or maybe I’ll just stick to my beloved ‘1.’

Survival – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

What number is your favorite to use in your work? And what do you feel that number represents?

Jennifer Nichole Wells

Product Photography

**Just a disclaimer, this is not a critique on Kristina’s recent post. I completely understand her point, and relate. If you read between the lines, this post even reiterates a few of her points. This is instead a response to comments I’ve read and heard in the toy photography realm at large.**

Product v. Commercial Photography

‘Product photography’ seems to be a four-letter word in the toy photography community. A fear of a corner you’ll be placed in, an insult… But I don’t think it’s something to even remotely stress over.

Yes, toys are in part products, but the photos we create of them tell stories – they’re not items shot to specific standards against a stark white background.

If you were commissioned by a company to make a toy photo to their specifications, in most cases it would be commercial or adversarial work, but still not quite product photography.

The main difference is a creative photo platform v. a standardized one.

Product Photography

Product photography looks a bit like this:

However, in the photos above I used miniature toy products, not meant for individual consumption. I did photograph them to GS1 product photography standards. Yet, because of the subject matter, I’ve probably taken the whole thing out of the product photo arena anyway. These photos are useless as far as a manufacturer or retailer is concerned. But creating them allowed me to focus in on every minute detail of these already tiny pieces. I think there’s a statement to be made there. And product photography does not exist to make statements.

Commercial Photography

In terms of commercial toy photography, I think it’s really interesting for the public and brands to see how much life a toy photographer can breathe into their products and thus their advertising. A toy figure shot at various angles against a white background can be important in advertising for those wanting the technical details – figure size, articulation, detail, etc. But, to a child or collector, seeing that same figure realistically photographed in an atmospheric battle scene is so much more engaging and awe inspiring. A story can be woven around the figure, which burrows that product deeper in the consumer’s heart.

Needless to say, even with the most leeway, commercial photography isn’t for everyone. Some need complete creative control without these possible limitations.

Long story short…

unless you’re taking planogram and marketing shots of your action figures in their original packaging and then selling those images to a company, or using them to sell the product pictured, you are not even slightly a product photographer.

As you are, whether commercially or artistically, if you are telling a story through your toy photos rather than simply and starkly showing what a toy looks like, you are a creative photographer, a narrative toy photographer, maybe even a fine art photographer. And as long as you stick to your gut, no one can try to tell you otherwise.

Jennifer Nichole Wells

“It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.”

-Paul Caponigro

What if?

What if there were no social media sites?

What if there were no online ways to share images at all?

You could show your images to friends and family.

Find a like-minded community.

Post them on the walls of abandoned buildings.

Drag them from gallery to gallery hoping for interest.

Show them at art fairs hoping for sales.

Scatter them about the park or mall for a random stranger to find.

Stack them at the coffee shop counter.

Hang them on café walls.

Keep them to yourself.

What if there were no social media sites for us to post to instantly and hope for follows and likes?

 

Would you still create?

Would you still share your work?

What would change for you?

 

I don’t mean this as a critique. I mean this as a thought piece. It’s not bad if this would change things for you. In reality, it would change the way all of us create and share. It would have to. But, if you’ll humor me, and if you care to define them, use this as a jumping off point to think about your goals.

I think the more we know ourselves and what we intend to make, the better pieces we create.

 

Jennifer Nichole Wells

“We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.”

-Ralph Hattersley

Alternative Photo Printing

“For me the printing process is part of the magic of photography. It’s that magic that can be exciting, disappointing, rewarding and frustrating all in the same few moments in the darkroom.”

– John Sexton

I’ll be honest, I don’t typically print my work. When I do, most times, it’s specifically for a show or sale. That said, it’s something I aim to do more, at least to keep images in a solid portfolio. Photos seem much more real when physically in your hand.

That said, sometimes the printing process can be a part of the art making itself.

The Concept

Awhile back I took portraits of 2 cm tall worry dolls with my iphone. I was in awe of how expressive these tiny dolls, meant to carry our worries for us, were and I wanted to make them larger to expose their odd body movements.

 

The Process

After taking the photos, I made them into digital negatives and printed them on transparency film. I then roughly painted Lumi Inkodye (a paint on, light sensitive dye for fabric) on the paper, placed the negative over top and then directly exposed the paper to a halogen work light for 35 minutes. I washed the print as Lumi Inkodye instructs, and set them out to dry.

Once dry, I used pastel pencils to color the prints. I kept the images to 2-4 colors each, to keep the color schemes simple and less distracting. These dolls are filled with worry, so the schemes are mostly cooler colors, nothing too warm and inviting, and the background lines close in around each doll, symbolizing their burdens and pressures.

Looking Forward

It was an at times frustrating, yet overall rewarding process and something I hope to work with again in the future if I find the right images for it.

Do you ever print your work? Are there any alternative forms of printing or working with photos that you have experimented with?

Jennifer Nichole Wells

Photo Fakery

Each photo we make tells a story, and for many of us, we aim to bring toys to life through our images. Generally, this is done in one of two ways – showing the life of a toy, or showing life through a toy. The latter aims to blur the line between fantasy and reality and thus cause the viewer to think twice about the size of the objects within the photo.

While I’ve discussed the history of toy photography here before, I’d like to now focus on the genre that sometimes overlaps with toy photography – photo fakery.

Photo fakery, at its core is probably something you’re very familiar with. Think magazine covers with heavily photoshopped models, or more closely related to this blog, cinematic film sets made entirely of intricate miniature models (see ‘further reading’ below). But for 100 years, if not more, people have been using small objects within photographs for large-scale results. And no matter the desired goal, this has been done in part to trick the viewer into believing the photo before them is of the full scale, real world.

Photography’s roots lie in truth. While in modern times we recognize photos are easily, and quite often, manipulated, photos still tend to be considered representative of what was in front of the camera lens, and therefore, a more believable medium than say painting.

While photo fakery ranges from merging photos, deleting and adding details through dark room or digital techniques, and using photos in unintended ways – such as with misleading news-like captions, for the purposes of this post, I’m only going to discuss those which involve toys or similar small-scale objects.

1917

Elsie Wright and Francis Griffiths began to create the images, later referred to as the Cottingley Fairies in 1917. These photos of cardboard fairies captured the public’s attention as proof of the existence of fairy creatures when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used them to illustrate a story in 1920. The truth behind the photos, while it had been questioned, was not revealed until the early 1980s.

1933

“The most extraordinary photographs ever taken of air flights in war.” (The Illustrated London News) were some 50 images compiled in the book ‘Death in the Air: The War Diary and Photographs of a Flying Corps Pilot‘ (a book still available for purchase today) published in 1933. These images however were of model planes and created by model maker Wesley David Archer. Examined and believed to be of models, by a CIA photo expert in the early 1950s, deemed as fake by Time-Life Laboratory in 1979, these photos were not officially proven false until after Archer’s death, when some of his belongings were given to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in 1984, over 50 years after their publication.

1934

The most famous photo of the Loch Ness Monster was captured in 1934 by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Kenneth Wilson. This photo however was actually of a 14 inch toy submarine with an attached serpent head. This was not revealed however for another 60 years, when one of the men involved confessed on his deathbed.

1972

Photographs involving realistic depictions of toys haven’t always been so manipulative however. David Levinthal who began photographing toys in 1972, has always been upfront about his subject matter. Yet many of his images, most notably those of war, successfully blur the line between plastic toy and real world.

1990s

Referring to herself as a faux landscape photographer, Lori Nix is known best for her still photos of small scale post apocalyptic worlds.

Michael Paul Smith, a diverse model maker, takes his cars outdoors to photograph in the real world with forced perspective. While he’s received online media attention quite recently, he’s been photographing toys for over 25 years.

2000s

In modern day, there are plenty of us who create images with this goal in mind. But there are a few I’d like to mention who are truly succeeding in making this phenomenal form of art that are not always known in the toy photography community.

In 2000, Mark Hogancamp started taking photos of war figures as a form of art therapy. Many of his images appear so realistic, one was even shared across facebook as a depiction of ‘real American courage.’

Matthew Albanese began creating insanely real scale model photography in 2008. In his outdoor landscape photos, every details is scrutinized over before the photo is created.

Felix Hernandez Rodriguez, most widely recognized as of late for his work with Audi, has a keen eye for detail, atmosphere and light and uses it to make some very believable shots.

Further Reading

And that’s where I’ll leave you today.

What toy photographers do you think are making the most realistic images?

And do you prefer photos that show the lives of toys or photos that try to make toys look real?

Jennifer Nichole Wells

Vesa left an intriguing comment on my history of post, wondering about toy photogs of history that haven’t received widespread attention – those that have been dabbling in the hobby that we just don’t know about. In response I made an Ask Panda over on Bored Panda, and hopefully, in time we will have some contribution. Go ahead and add your toy photo to the mix if you’re so inclined and share it about – http://www.boredpanda.com/have-you-ever-made-a-toy-photo/.

Being in the Game

The very first play in The Photographer’s Playbook asks the reader to figure out what game they’re playing. So, I say to myself, “I’m creating because I have a creative drive.” But this needs to go deeper. What are my goals, how do I intend to achieve them, and what is the best way to go about this? All things I have very vague answers to in my head.

And then I remembered a quote from Netflix’s The Incredible Jessica James, spoken by real world playwright Sarah Jones.

“And you’re doing it. That’s why we’re here right? This is it! There’s kinda not more to it than that.”

Continue reading Being in the Game

Am I Creating Art?

Art as Emotion

“Art is the expression of those beauties and emotions that stir the human soul.”

– Howard Pyle

Art is an extension of the way we each feel about the world.

Emotions are what make us human. The fact that no matter how different our backgrounds, we all grieve, feel joy and show anger, is something that connects each of us on a deeper level – it bonds us together in this human experience. It can be so important to feel through every experience, good or bad. And negative emotions can be just as beautiful as the positive. Without the bad there is no good. Continue reading Am I Creating Art?

Learning to Travel with Toys

In my post a couple weeks ago I declared –

that in my upcoming travel toy photos I wanted to have “a reason for the location and [to] find a way to interact with [my] new environment.”

During my 2 weeks out of state, I took a ton of pictures –

most of a touristy nature with no toys present. But, one night I did find myself at a sculpture park, with the perfect opportunity to put to use my 2″ tall plastic, electric dollhouse chandelier that I brought with me. I purchased the chandelier with the idea of creating outdoor rooms, of playing with the juxtaposition of inside v. outside space and therefore a looking out on new opportunities, new starts, open windows and doors. Continue reading Learning to Travel with Toys

Making Toys for Toy Photography

There are various way to approach the creation of new photos. Personally, I like to think of an idea then figure out what toys and other props would be best to make that vision a reality.

Sometimes I look through my collection, other times I’ll browse online or in shops, and sometimes I’ll make my own objects. I don’t typically make the precise, detail oriented, gorgeous work you’ll see of miniaturists or customizers, but I do make simplistic models that fit my end goal. I like to think of the camera lens as a tool of transformation. Through it, I can make my simple sets come to life. Continue reading Making Toys for Toy Photography

The $5 Photograph

I’ll readily admit I have a lot of supplies for my toy photography – various toys, camera equipment and other gear.

I don’t have the latest and greatest anything, but I make what I have, and what I can further source, work for me.

This concept can be true at any range of your budget. While social media can make it seem like you need a $2000 camera and $300 figure to make it in this field/hobby that’s far from true. Continue reading The $5 Photograph