The One

Recently Me2 requested that each of the regular contributors at the blog answer the relatively simple question; “What is that one image that was an epic game changing experience?” Both Me2 and Avanaut have answered this question quite eloquently and I find myself trying to do the same.

Me2 does like to challenge us, and this question was yet another question that I struggled with.

For me it was never one image that changed everything, but a series of images. Unlike my partners here on the blog, I do not pre visualize my photographs; I never have. I am more the blind person bumbling around in the dark with a flash that occasionally lights up the room to bring a moment of clarity. Honestly this is probably not the best working method; I tend to get by…albeit slowly.

Rather than share with you that one image and talk about how it changed my life, I thought I would share with you a few of the little moments that have shaped my 30 year photographic journey.


This image was part of three images I presented as my final project before graduating from university. I think I surprised a few people, including my professors. I was a very quiet student (for those of you who know me in person, feel free to laugh) and these images were a huge leap from the work I had previously turned in. Little did I know that this would be the beginning of exploring the joys of shooting photographs underwater for over 20 years. This is also where my love of film grain began. When you underexpose 400asa film and then enlarge it, you can really get the grain to pop and resemble a pointillist painting. I love the effect, but realize for most people raised in the crystal clarity of the digital age, it can be unsettling.

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“Between Friends” by Shelly Corbett

“Between Friends” is the first time I realized that there was a huge gap between what I was seeing through the view finder of my trusty Nikonus and the image that appeared on the film. This gap went beyond the image shift that happens with a range finder camera, but bordered on capturing the unseen on film. I love that little bit of magic, and this is what makes photography to special to me.

“Faltering Voice” by Shelly Corbett

“Faltering Voice” is the first time the natural effects of the reflective surface that happens under the water line revealed itself in all its incredible beauty. I had glimpsed it in previous images, but to turn a simple arm into the wings of an angle was sheer magic. That reflective surface and I became the best of friends over the years.

“Stepping Out of Herself” by Shelly Corbett

“Stepping Out of Herself” will always be one of my favorite images. It is a photograph defined by a particular place and time that no amount of pre-visualization could have foreseen. It was another brief glimpse into what was possible.

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“She Be Wise” by Shelly Corbett

“She Be Wise” is an image that I consider a bridge image to my current work. It is a quiet image, an intimate glimpse into a hidden world. My work has always had a voyeuristic component to it. It doesn’t matter if I am photographing a women underwater or LEGO in a forest, I want the viewer to feel like an intruder into a world still filled with innocence, beauty and wonder.

“Untitled Portrait” by Shelly Corbett

This untitled portrait was taken about eight years ago and has never been shown before. I did a series of underwater shoots over a few months after my son was born. Lets just call them my farewell photos. Even though there are some spectacular photos in this final series, I will probably never show them and I am ok with that. I have found a measure of peace with the underwater images and I am ultimately very proud of what I created over 20 years of both film and digital images. I hope you enjoy this rare glimpse into what might have been.

Now, back to square one.

My First Lego Photo

If you have been following this blog or my Instagram feed for any length of time, then you have already seen this image. It’s not a very impressive image, but we all have to start somewhere.

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“How to Catch A Wiiman” by xxSJC

When I posted this image 140+ weeks ago, I had no idea the pandoras box I would be opening. It’s the first time I really interacted with the toy photography community. I connected with Dean80’s, Wiiman, Mad_Phoenix, Popapan, HerrK, Issogud.62, _me2_ and LegoJacker around this time and I am proud to say that they are still part of my Instagram family. Like Brett_Wilson, it is my friends and my community on Instagram that keep me going and inspire me daily.

“Every Villain is a Hera” by xxSJC

It was soon after the above photo was taken that I realized I was spending way too much time making my iPhone photos look like they were taken with a full size DSLR. So I broke down and took the Canon out of moth balls, purchased an inexpensive macro lens and got to work learning how this toy photography thing worked.

“I Will Be a Fisherman” by xxSJC

“I Will Be a Fisherman” is an image that I chased for several months and it taught me a valuable lesson:  pre-visualization and advanced planning are a good thing. l continue to struggle to find that middle ground between the magic of serendipity and the intense planning of pre-visualization. I need to dig deep and find the discipline to keep the balance. This is one of my favorite images of 2014 and now that my work is evolving again I realize this image was an important glimpse into what was possible. (Don’t worry, it does not escape my notice that this image was taken around water and I will explore that  connection in my next post.) 

Thank you for sticking around to the end of  this ridiculously long explanation go my “The One”. It’s been a long and rewarding journey for me and I enjoyed sharing it with you. In the mean time I look forward to the next time that flash goes off in my pitch black room of creativity and I find a moment of clarity within the chaos.

~ xxSJC


  1. Margaret

    Great post… you have a lifetime of photographic adventures, thank you for sharing. Interesting to see someone reflect their journey, a very interesting road indeed.

    • Thank you Margaret. I am very happy you enjoyed the post. It is hard to reflect back on so much time and film and somehow put it all in perspective. And “reflecting” seems to be a very appropriate word to use in this particular situation!

  2. Wonderful portraits and a few interesting facts about your photos! Great work on it Shelly! Glad to see your first lego picture. Now your photos look much better 🙂

    You started taking pictures with your iPhone? And what lens you’re using now for your Canon? (18-105mm of another??)

    “I Will Be a Fisherman” by you – Still one of my favorite pictures! I saw this picture in a Brick culture magazine. And I learn more about these photos with rabbits. Other photos from the series look as cool.

    Yes, toy photography community on Instagram is very AWESOME!

    I saw your pictures before. (since the end of 2013) But I’m sorry that I acquainted with you as a person, only 4 months ago.

    And now I’m proud that I support Stuck In Plastic!

    • xxsjc

      Thank you Phil! My first toy (LEGO) photo isn’t much to look at and I certainly can’t claim to have been doing this in my teens like my cohorts here on the blog, but it is what it is.

      I gave up photography for about six years (except for kid photos) because I was burned out and lost my love of it. It was a long road back and the iPhone was part of that journey; now I bounce between a 50mm and 100mm macro lenses.

      We are very happy to have you as part of the stuckinplastic family Phil. Thank you for all your support!

  3. ““Between Friends” is the first time I realized that there was a huge gap between what I was seeing through the view finder of my trusty Nikonus and the image that appeared on the film. This gap went beyond the image shift that happens with a range finder camera, but bordered on capturing the unseen on film. I love that little bit of magic, and this is what makes photography to special to me.” – so powerful and such a beautiful reminder of the magic. Thank you for sharing this with us!!

  4. Leila Brickandmordor

    These portraits are achingly beautiful Shelly. I LOVE how the water theme continues to infiltrate your work. There is always so much depth and poetry in each image. So glad to know you! xo

  5. Leila,

    Thank you for your kinds words. It is amazing how the water theme continues to infiltrate my photography. I don’t think it was until March that I realized it consciously. Now I embrace it deliberately. And I am so very glad to know you!! Shelly xo

  6. aliceincleveland

    Well this was a pretty fascinating find. That final series of photos, I think you’re robbing the world of an ethereal journey by not publishing them. Perhaps a natural way to show them would be to recreate those photos in Lego and then present them side by side. Based on the one that you did show, I think that would be just about the most magical thing to see.

    • Well, I see you found my biggest secret yet. It’s so very hard to go back and work on the underwater project. I put my heart and soul into those images, I created something new and amazing and then the world simply moved in new directions. It’s never easy being left behind. I like this new body of work and I will take it to its logical conclusion (whatever that may be). The world has changed and I have a new vocabulary to work with. As an artist and as a person, I’m ok with that.

      It’s interesting that you say recreate my underwater photos in LEGO. It seems that’s what the world is most comfortable with when they think of LEGO bricks. Recreate this building, replicate that car, build this scene from a movie. When it comes to truly creating something new, there is precious little our there. I don’t want to recreate my old work, I want to move in new directions with the tools at my disposal.

      • aliceincleveland

        That’s a good point. I will admit that when I think about Lego, I immediately think about re-creation. I’m glad you pointed that out because I want to keep it in mind.

        I got my first ever (dragon and skeleton aside) mini figures in the mail today. I have been interested in trying my eye out with them since finding the blog. I imagine imitation will play a part in my first photos.

        The mini figures arrived at a perfect time. In two weeks I’m going on a photographic retreat to help with my current creative block. A reboot of sorts. I’m glad to have a new genre of toy to start with. I bought the blind packs and received one I really wanted and one I’m ambivalent about. I haven’t had them a full day and I already want more. Is that normal? ☺

        I’m using the retreat to do all of the challenges that have been posted. The two I’ve done have really given me a sense of serenity and wonderment. I’m loving the thinking and talking about (toy) photography as much as I loved first finding it!

        • I envy your photo retreat. It doesn’t matter what is inspiring you to go, what a gift you are giving yourself!

          With photography it’s perfectly normal to start by imitating a photo you like. Thats a great way to learn how to ‘see’ with a photographers eyes. I look forward to seeing what you come up with after you complete a few more challenges. If you post them to IG be sure and tag me so I don’t miss them.

          And yes it’s perfectly normal to want more mini figures. It’s an endless loop. Even though I have well over 500 I ordered three more this weekend. :0

          Btw, can you explain to Kristina that she’s already in a photo club. It’s simply an online one called Stuck in Plastic. 🙂

          • aliceincleveland



            You are in a most excellent photography club at this very moment!!!!

            I meant only that you should do additional workshop like activities if you felt you were missing a face to face interaction!!!!

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