I’m not a punk, how can I be?

I’m not a punk, how can I be?

Serious works with limited means

I grew up on a steady diet of punk rock.

Three decades have passed since I bought my first punk album, In My Head by Black Flag. My musical tastes have broadened and, some might say, mellowed. But my belief in the punk rock ethos hasn’t waned.

Punk is often viewed as a youth culture based on teen angst, leather jackets, Doc Marten boots and Mohawks. However, punk as a subculture goes much further. The do-it-yourself, or D.I.Y. aspect of punk is one of the most important aspects of the subculture. Independent record labels, the D.I.Y. press, communication through ‘zines’, and the D.I.Y. venues are what started the movement in the late 1970s and what has kept it alive until today.

To me, punk rock is the freedom to create, freedom to be successful, freedom to not be successful, freedom to be who you are. It’s freedom.
– Patti Smith

It’s this D.I.Y. attitude that links the punk ethos to toy photography. Maybe the link is tenuous? Maybe it’s not really a link, but the punk D.I.Y. attitude has just safety-pinned it’s self to toy photography, whether toy photography likes or not? No one told us how to photograph toys. No one told me that toy photograph had to be a certain way, that I had to use a fancy camera, or that I had to have all the paraphernalia. I just did it. Punk rock!

Punk bands such as Death recorded their early records in a bedroom without any professional equipment. Sound familiar? Haven’t we all found ourselves, at some time, in a room taking photos of toys without any professional equipment? I know I have.

According to the punk ethos, anyone can express their self and produce poignant and serious works with limited means. Again, sound familiar? Anyone with limited plastic can still produce interesting photos. You don’t need all the latest and greatest toys to create amazing photos.

The D.I.Y ethic is tied to punk ideology, using existing systems or existing processes to form a narrative. Maybe every toy photographer, with an online presence, is a little bit punk?

The Stuckism art movement (I’ve been asked to point out that this isn’t where Stuck In Plastic found inspiration for their name.) had its origin in punk, and titled its first major show “The Stuckists Punk Victorian”. Charles Thomson, co-founder of the group, described punk as “a major breakthrough” in his art.

I’m not a punk, how can I be?
I’m Not A Punk – Descendents

So maybe we all, whether we know it or not, embrace the punk culture and D.I.Y. ethos associated with it everytime we take a photo of plastic and share it? Maybe, every time someone takes a toy photograph in a bedroom without any professional equipment, the punk doctrine grows. Maybe, when existing systems or existing processes are used to share toy photography, punk pioneers smile a little? Maybe not? Maybe, listening to all that punk rock as a teen, damaged a few of my brain cells? Maybe, my mum was right? Just don’t tell her I admitted to that though. It wouldn’t be very punk of me!

“Punk and Disorderly”

“Someone was laughing and pointing at me”


  1. Great post full of food for thoughts.

    I can acknowledge some DIY aspects in toy photography, but isn’t it also the case in general in amateur photography? Now to say that photography, restricted to toys or not, is “punk” I think that’s something completely story. No matter how we’re shooting toys, most of us are doing free promotion for big companies: first and foremost toy manufacturers but also the Hollywood industry.

    I identify punk as a counterculture but don’t see toy photography as one. Yet maybe I just don’t see a big enough picture…

    • Reiterlied you bring up a good point. It’s certainly that very issue that led Kristina to leave SiP when we became officially associated with LEGO. I would counter that both LEGO and Hasbro are playing catch up with toy photographers. We took their toys and did something they weren’t expecting – adults ‘playing’ with toys. We’re photographing them in ways not before seen in their advertising. We’re also developing new back stories, alternative histories for some of the most iconic toys (Dearth Vader as a good guy and Mike’s precious Storm troopers come to mind immediately). So I say that yes there is definitely a punk rock ethos alive and well in the toy photography community but it’s important to remember that we need to lead the way, not suddenly become hand maidens to Big Inc.

      Thank you so much for this important reminder!

      • brett_wilson

        Well put Shelly. It reminds me of hearing a song by the likes of The Ramones or The Stooges on a television commercial. It’s not that these bands have sold out. Selling out is doing what you’re told. Maybe it’s that the advertising agencies have finally caught up? The same could be said of toy photography. I wouldn’t expect manufacturers would’ve thought toy photography could be an “easy, no outlay” form of advertising they could ride the coattails of when they dreamt up their latest line. More so, I think it’s now something that they are looking to, as a subculture of the photography and the collector worlds, which they need to embrace. It’s an alternative use/platform for their toys that the subculture has directed.

    • brett_wilson

      That’s an interesting take on toy photography, and one I’d not considered.
      I’ve never thought I was promoting a toy manufacturer, or the franchise associated with that toy, when I pointed a lens at it and shared it on social media, as I’m sure every time a punk put a safety pin through their nose, they never thought they were promoting Dame Vivienne Westwood, or the fashion industry.
      I thank you for questioning my words. Punk pioneer Henry Rollins once said “Questioning anything and everything, to me, is punk rock”, so by that reckoning, welcome to the counterculture!

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