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.
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!
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.
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+…
I’ve been a photographer for a long time; some might even accuse me of being an artist. I don’t like labels, so I will continue to resist these labels and settle for being just a photographer. But one thing has remained constant throughout my life as a photographer: the struggle to create art. Even after 30 plus years I still struggle with the question: “Am I a real artist?”
As I was reading Steal Like an Artist, I realized chapter two had some pretty insightful things to say on this phenomena. Even if you follow there advice and look to your heroes to study, copy, emulate, attribute, transform, remix their influences until your source material becomes your own. Even if you do all of this successfully, then what? If you are like me you may still feel like a fake. I ask myself all of the time: Am I a REAL artist?
It turns out I am not alone in this feeling and they even have a name for it: impostor syndrome or the “psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” It means that feeling like a phony, a fake, a charlatan, is perfectly normal.
Earlier this year the EMP asked me to be apart of a one night only panel of experts on different areas of the Lego community. I was billed as the “expert” Lego photographer. I laughed and told people I was an “expert in my field” (complete with air quotes). But little did I realize that maybe I am an expert in my field. Ok, I will admit it’s a very small field, one that has just a handful of participants. But hey, I am an expert! If the EMP called me one, I must be one! I’m going to go out on a limb and call Me2 an expert too. (I hope he doesn’t mind.)
Which leads me to the most important question: Are you an artist? Are you an expert in toy photography? If so, let me know. Let’s be experts together, we can fake it until we all make it…together.
As I wait for me2 to recover from his latest secret mission I have been struggling to find interesting topics to write about. This blogging business is not easy.
As I have been casting about looking for topics, a particular book title kept popping into my head: Steal Like an Artist. This little book made its way into our house a couple of years ago and even though it has an awesome title I never read it. In my desperation for a blogging topic I tracked it down and cracked it open. Eureka!
With chapter topics like: “Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started” and “Side projects and hobbies are important” this book was speaking my language.
The first chapter alone is worth the price of admission. Somehow the author makes over used nuggets like “Nothing is Original” and “Garbage in Garbage Out” seems fresh and original. My favorite quote he chose to illustrate this chapter was by Jim Jarmusch.
“Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be a authentic.”
In the world of toy photography where everything is emulated and much is passed around without attribution, it’s important to note that by using the world “steal” the author is encouraging you to be inspired by everything you see, but don’t plagiarize.
Unless me2 suddenly shows up, I’ll talk about some of my other favorite chapters later this week. Stay tuned!
Homage to Robert Mapplethorpe
One thing I learned while I was getting my BFA in Photography was that I am really bad at black and white photography. Color is my medium. And if you don’t believe me check out my pre Lego work here.
One of the first apps I looked for after a good basic editing app for my iPhone/iPad was a good black and white photo editor. I was thrilled when I discovered Noir Photo. This little single use photo app is great for quickly creating dramatic black and white photos. It has an easy to use interface that lets you quickly turn your photos from this
So if you are looking to branch out with your photography and want to try to creating some dramatic black & white photos, might I suggest you give Noir Photo or Dramatic Black & White (another good black & white editor) a try. If you are like me and are black & white challenged, an app like this will fool people into thinking you know what you are doing. And isn’t that what it is all about, faking it?
Some times when Me2 and I debate we have to agree to disagree, but we rarely disagree on the value of Instagram. Of course Instagram will always have a soft spot for me because I met many great toy photographers, like Me2, on Instagram but I also developed my own voice and personal vision.
There is something thrilling about posting images to Instagram and getting instant feedback from your peers. For almost two years I was posting daily pictures to Instagram, participating in the toy photography community, looking at others peoples feeds, trying lots of different styles and generally playing around in a no pressure environment. I have posted comics, interior studio set ups, quickie iPhone photos and over edited shots as I have experimented finding my personal voice. I have also experimented with a variety of Lego mini figures to find the ones that convey what I want say. All this intense editing, shooting and looking helped me to narrow my choices and find my place within this community.
Recently I was asked how I created the image below. The hope was that I could quantify the image into a f/stop, a film speed and an ISO to show others how it is done. But really, the secret is pretty simple: take lots of photographs. Did I say lots of photos? I mean A LOT of photographs, hundreds, thousands, whatever it takes. Of course luck has its place, but with more shooting this becomes less important. After you take a million photos you will know what works and what to avoid.
Sure, knowing the rule of thirds, how to control focus, depth of field and basic editing skills are also essential, but shooting thousands of photos will get you their even faster. And having a place like Instagram to post them is a wonderful outlet to all this content you have created along the way. The feedback (or lack of feedback) you get on your photos is essential. Having a supportive community to cheer you on as you struggle with your personal vision is a pretty heady experience.
So utilize the heck out of Instagram, get involved, share your passion, meet new friends and watch your photography improve along the way. Because Instagram is a great tool to finding your personal vision, becoming a better photographer and improving your editing skills. Plus, its lots of fun!!
Weird things happen when Me2 disappears into one of his top secret assignments. I tend to go off topic…like now.
“The time of getting fame for your name on its own is over. Artwork that is only about wanting to be famous will never make you famous. Any fame is a by-product of making something that means something. You don’t go to a restaurant and order a meal because you want to have a shit.” – Banksy
This quote was included in the comments in one of my previous post by the talented @mister_bricks. He altered the quote slightly by replacing “fame” with “likes”. This quote resonated with me and I felt it was appropriate to revisit the topic “Is Their Life Beyond Instagram?”.
I’ll be clear, I’m not looking for likes for my photos. I create them for my own pleasure. I enjoy the Instagram community that has nurtured and inspired me for the last two years. But posting pictures on Instagram can only be satisfying for so long.
I believe that one of our goals here at Stuckinplastic is to unite like minded photographers who would like to take their toy photography to a new level. Specifically, showing them in real life. This could include displaying them at a cafe in your neighborhood, creating a pop up art gallery or some version of gorilla street art a la Banksy. Whatever or wherever our imaginations take us is fine by me.
Let’s storm the gates, let’s create an art movement, let’s rejoice in the fact that we are brothers in arms that just happen to be stuck in plastic!
Yesterday, I was out taking photos with my good buddy Mr. S (the genius behind Bricksailboat) and we had an interesting conversation regarding our involvement in Instagram and if there is life beyond Instagram for our photographs. After some introspection (not my strong suit), I realized this is what Me2 and I are trying to find out. He is currently attempting to move our mutual fans from Instagram to Facebook or Google+ and ultimately to this blog, through his generous print giveaway. He of course has had some initially success, but I began to wonder what the ultimate end game was?
Through my professional career I have watched photography become embraced by the masses with the advent of the phone camera. Many of these photos are distributed through social media sites like Facebook (350 million per day as of 2/2/13) and Instagram (55 million a day as of 3/6/2014) and many more never even leave the phones or cameras they are taken on. That is one hell of a lot of photos per day!! How does one even get noticed amongst this fire hose of images? Is it even necessary to get noticed? Why do we take photos in the first place?
Me2 mentioned a Pandoras Box when we talked earlier about editing apps, but to me this might be the ultimate question: Why do we do what we do here? Or more specifically: Why do I take photographs that will (realistically) only be seen by a few friends and my family?
Below is my most liked photo ever on Instagram and it makes me wonder if getting 500+ likes is about as good as it’s going to get? What do you think?