What are you doing this weekend?

My husband is constantly telling me that “If you want to know what someone wants to do, then just look at what they are doing. ” Normally he isn’t very perceptive…in this case he is.

I have a wonderful weekend planned that involves a trip to the toy store for photo props, a “photo safari”with three awesome fellow toy photographers, videoing Rodrigo y Gabriela for KEXP and a wonderful dinner with my family for that dreaded US Hallmark holiday, “mother’s day”.

Yup, this weekend is filled with so much awesome, just thinking about it puts a stupid grin on my face.

I haven’t always been this blessed, for much of my life I didn’t even know what happiness was. When you are completely miserable there really isn’t any where to go but up or out.

So I urge you to hang with your friends and whoever you choose to call your family this weekend. Play with your toys, take a few photographs and think about what makes you happy and then go and do it.

~ xxsjc

If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.” – Katharine Hepburn

What Is Your Inspiration?

Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how’, while others of a more curious nature will ask ‘why’. Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information. – Man Ray

I could spend my time explaining photography technique, talking camera gear or trading tips on editing apps…but I think a more interesting question is why do we (all of us toy photographers) take photographs of Lego mini figures.

I did not grow up with the toy, it is not a part of my history, it is not a big part of my cultural heritage. In fact I am probably one of the most inept brick builders on the planet. Think Emmet at the beginning of the Lego movie. My greatest skill I bring to my family’s Lego obsession (their’s not mine) is my impeccable sorting skills.

So what is so attractive about these little plastic friends? Is it our ability to project our own thoughts and dreams on the many different characters created? Is it a need to revisit our child hood and rediscover the joy of play? Is it sheer boredom? Is it a release from the stresses and pressures of life? Is it simply proximity and easy access?

What is your inspiration? What keeps you motivated and moving forward photographically?

Once you know this, life will not be able to side track you, no matter how hard it tries.

~ xxsjc

Ansel Adams, the WSJ and a bowl full of mush.

This morning while I was enjoying my morning bowl of mush and reading the Wall Street Journal I came across a wonderful article on photography. It had me on the first paragraph:

Ansel Adams, a piano prodigy before he picked up a camera, once declared that the photographic negative was like a musical “score,” while the final print was akin to the concert “performance”. – except from What does Art Look Like by Richard B. Woodward

This brought me right back to the conversations that +Me2 and I have been having about the pros and cons of printing your own work. Yes, printers are a pain in the ass and the ink expensive. Yes, you can send your files out and get a perfectly serviceable image back. But if you want to take your game to the next level there is nothing to compare to making minor and major edits to a print based on seeing a proof come directly out of your own printer.

When the world was only shooting in black and white it was not uncommon to have a dark room in your own house. With the advent of color printing this became unfeasible and most photographers where content to send their film to a lab for printing. Now with excellent inexpensive printers (a relative statement I know) plentiful, it seems a shame to send out what can be done easily in the comfort of your own home.

I’m not usually a control freak, but I find it indispensable to see what my images look like off the screen before I deem them worthy of showing and selling. Light, color, shadows, highlights all look different and once the image is on paper. I will often see corrections that need to be made that I could never have foreseen by looking at a screen.

So call me old school, but I agree with Ansel Adams and feel that to fulfill your potential as an artist you need to print your own work.

~ xxsjc

Go ahead and read the WSJ article I mention earlier, it refutes everything I just said. 

In further defense of printing, if I had not enlarged this image myself, I would never have seen the spider climbing on the rock. This is a detail that can only be seen at A2 or larger, but in my opinion it makes the image. 

May the Fourth and my stormtrooper theory

Today we are between May 1st and May 4th. Both days have major significance. Yesterday +Me2  reminded me it was International Workers Day in much of the world and right around the corner is May the Fourth. This is practically a Star Wars holiday in the geek world. The closeness of these two “holidays” is not a coincidence. I don’t believe in coincidences. 

Earlier when Me2 asked in a post if the seasons effected how and what we photograph, it got me thinking. Why do we choose the figures we choose to shoot? Why is the most photographed figure in the toy community the ubiquitous Stormtrooper? You’ve seen him, I know you have, he’s everywhere!

Personally I haven’t been attracted to the Stormtrooper figure but a lot of people are. He has been photographed in every conceivable situation in a variety of sizes and styles. He is portrayed as the bumbling fool, the guy who can’t shoot straight, the deep thinker, the adventure seeker and the doting parent. A far cry from the elite soldiers who used brutal tactics to keep the Empire in line. This photograph by +Cellblog 1138  is a great example of the humanization of the Stormtrooper into the stern parent sending his “child” off to bed. The Stormtrooper has morphed from a dreaded enforcer of the Emperor’s will to a representation of the fallible yet lovable every man. 

Maybe I’m stretching a point (it wouldn’t be the first time). I think the figures we are attracted to photograph actually mean something. I think we choose figures / character we can relate to. I think we then take it the next step and imbue them with our own emotions and personalities. 

Do you have a favorite mini figure you like to shoot? Have you thought about what that figure means to you? Would you be willing to tell us who your favorite is and why? 

Feel free to tell me I’ve gone over the deep end or tell me “Duh!”, whichever is most appropriate. 

And as always, May the Fourth be with you! 

~ xxsjc
For the record I have replaced the Pandas for Storm Troopers in my little plastic world; they represent my Everyman. My favorite mini figures are the Chima Eagles. I like that they come in both black and white and therefore can represent good and evil. 

Who are your influences?

We are all influenced in our work, whether we are aware of it or not.

Last fall I had to write an artists statement about my work that included its origins and influences. I named the usually suspects like Sally Man and Jock Sturges because I am first and foremost a figure photographer. These two photographers have been very influential in my work over the years, but I needed to bring my figurative work around to toy photography. As I wracked my brain one image came to mind immediately. 

Untitled (falling buffalo) 1988-89 by David Wojnarowicz

I remembered when I first saw this image in Aperture Magazine and it’s always stuck with me.  I think it may be the original seed planted way back in the dark ages of my youth that has blossomed into my current plastic passion. When I revisited this image I was startled to find out it was not a toy photograph at all. I had originally misinterpreted (or conveniently forgot) its origins. This was an image taken by David Wojnarowicz of a museum diorama in the late 1980’s. (For an excellent analysis of this deceptively simple photography go here.)
The humanity, agony and tragedy captured in this one off image quickly taken in a museum with a film camera with poor lighting before a guard stopped him is a very powerful image to me.  It’s one I turn too over and over again in the hopes that I too can create an image as powerful and simple as this one that will stand the test of time. 
So the question I ask you to consider is this: who inspires you? Who are your influences? What are the images that you have seen (in any relevant medium) that inspire you to do your best work?
If you care to share please leave a comment. I would love to know what stokes your creative fire.  
~ xxsjc

My Latest Near Win

I hope you had a chance to read +Me2‘s latest blog post “Day IV”. Even though he is already suffering from blogging fatigue, it was a good one. If you didn’t get a chance to watch the excellent TED talk on the near win by Sarah Lewis, I urge you to give it a view. If you would like the condensed version I refer you to the following quote by Imogen Cunningham

“ Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.” 

As an artist I can qualify the near win into two categories. The first is the image that I have created that doesn’t meet my expectations. The image I present to you today falls into this category. I really like the image and I felt I got close to the emotion I was trying to convey, a mother watching over her new children. I wanted a leading line towards mom and I will probably need to rearrange them to better achieve that effect. The main reason I will retake this photo is the rock surface; I would have preferred a softer ground for the baby spiders more suggestive of a nursery setting. I do love a challenge and I will be taking this picture again as soon as it stops raining. 

The second type of near win is the dissatisfaction that comes from growing as a photographer. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen an image for the first time as it emerges from the printer and have been blown away by the finished product. But over time familiarity and the emergence of the next new image has me feeling dissatisfied with the first image. No matter how wonderful it might have been at initial glance, I now barely give it a second look. 

It is these near wins that keep me motivated to move forward and to keep making new images. I hope you will value your near wins and realize they are a natural part of growing as a photographer and as an artist.  

~ xxsjc

Challenge Yourself!

This month I took on a 30-day photo challenge offered up by one of the many toy groups on Instagram. I have always resisted the 365 photo-a-day project or other challenges. For one thing, I knew I did not have the discipline to post a photo a day and I also wanted to do my own thing.

But lately I have been feeling lost and unispired.

This challenge has been the perfect antidote. I spend most of my waking days rolling the various words around in my head to see what images come up. Basically this has become an all encompassing pursuit. Of course I will conveniently ignore the fact that I was stuck on the phrase “too much” for three days and be happy for the image I did eventually create. Sure I pulled a couple of photos out of my back pocket (so to speak) that have never seen the light of day, but thats ok. Some times images sit on my iPad until the right time to post reveals itself.

Personally if I end this challenge with nothing other than the image below, I will consider this a month very well spent. One good image in a month of shooting seems like a pretty good ratio to me.

So, if you are feeling blah about your photography or need a little poke in the butt – then sign up for a photo-a-day challenge. You might surprise your self, I know I did.

If you decide to take on a photo-a-day challenge, I will be there to cheer you on!

~ xxsjc

The Toys Are Alive

One thing that +Me2 and I agree on is that a good image is one in which the viewer makes an emotional connection with the image. As I look back through the last six months of my images I wonder if I can tell the difference. What makes one image of a small plastic person look more alive than another?

Is it the tilt of a head, is it particular movement of the legs, a small gesture of the curved hand or maybe just a trick of the light? It’s not like Lego is a particularly moveable, expressive toy figure. Yet some images seem alive while others just lie flat on the screen / paper.

+Me2 and I also agree on the importance of the eyes being in focus. Yet, not all the images I deem to have been successful include faces and in some the eyes are obscured. So while I know this is a part of the equation, I don’t think it is the answer.

This may seem like an inconsequential question but I have always approached my toy photography as an attempt to “bring the toys alive”. As a young girl my toys were very real to me. We chatted, they listened, they went every where with me and for lack of a better description, they were my friends. I want my viewer to feel what I feel while I document the lives of my little plastic friends.

As always some images are more successful than others and I cherish the ones that achieve that emotional element. I think I would be happy if I could crack the code and help people see how alive my little plastic friends are to me. Until I do, I will keep taking photos and hope people will connect with them as I do.

If you have any tips to help bring the toys “alive” I would love to hear them.

~ xxsjc

The Big Blue Marble

My favorite chapter in Steal Like An Artist is “Geography is no longer our master”. Truer words could not have been published. Only in a world where we can connect socially on so many different platforms that your head starts spinning if you try to name them all, can you make friends all over the globe. Only in this crazy internet focused photography community would I be lucky enough to find a like minded friend on the other side of the world. (Hi +Me2!)

The internet has introduced me to so many great toy photographers who have influenced me over the last several years like Avanaut, Me2 (Again with that guy!), +Alessio Billi and Legojacker. Each, in their own way, they have shown me what the photographic possibilities could be. I have the world wide web to thank for connecting me to these amazing people who have all helped me to be a better photographer.

When I met with the writer Lyn Miller-Lachman (another IG friend) this past February she told me something I have really taken to heart. That we need to make connections beyond ourselves with other platforms and other people if we want to be heard in all the noise created by the internet. By creating a web of connections we are all made stronger for these bonds. Think of it like this: we are all in our own boat, but if we lash them together we will be bigger, stronger and hopefully more visible. Ok, maybe she didn’t say all of that – but that is what I heard. (please forgive me Lynn if I twisted your words!)

So yesterday Me2 asked if there were any like minded photographers out there who are interested in joining this arts collective we call Stuckinplastic and lashing their boat to ours. The silence was deafening. Maybe we asked too soon? Maybe we haven’t been clear about our aims? Maybe there are only two people on all of the IG toy community who are interested in taking their photography off the internet and into the real world? I don’t know, but we will occasionally keep asking until someone bangs on our open door.

In the mean time I will continue to nurture and be inspired by my curent friends as well as find new people to connect with on twitter, flicker, Instagram, Google+…

– xxsjc