Why do I take photographs of minifigures? Until Shelly invited me to write a post for the “Why?” series, I never gave this question much thought. On the surface, the answer seems obvious: LEGO minifigures are fun photo subjects and I enjoy sharing the photos with the growing community of toy photographers on Flickr and other social media platforms. However, there must be another reason why I’m willing to spend long and often painful hours hunched over the camera on my kitchen table to create these photos and additional hours on the computer to edit them.
First of all, I like taking inanimate objects and making them come to life. When I was a kid all my stuffed animals had names and personalities and now I’m doing the same thing with my minifigures. I didn’t plan for this to happen, it was a happy accident. My first minifigure photos were recreations of Star Wars scenes but then I got two of the LEGO gymnast mini figures (from the Team GB Olympic series) and that was the catalyst that led to me creating my own scenes and characters in my photos.
I could instantly relate to the gymnast minifigures because I was a gymnast for more than 20 years and although it was a rewarding experience, the training took a physical toll on my body. I went from being able to do double backflips to having trouble functioning in daily life without constant pain. Even as an adult, gymnastics was my main hobby. I used to live, breathe and eat (or not eat) gymnastics but suddenly I couldn’t do it anymore. Also, it didn’t help that we abruptly uprooted and moved to Texas for my husband’s job. I needed to reinvent myself and find new interests and hobbies. I’ve always enjoyed photography and I already had a lot of gear (including the macro lens and flashes) but with my limited mobility, I struggled to find a photo subject until a LEGO store opened in Austin. Shortly after, I bought myself a Death Star to build while I recovered from surgery and that’s how it all started.
I fell in love with LEGO minifigures right away. They have great expressions and wonderful details to photograph. They can bring a smile to my face on almost any day. They are also the perfect photo subject for someone who isn’t able to spend a lot time outdoors contorting into positions to get the best angle. I can set up on my kitchen table and if I get too sore, I can take a long break. Minifigures are patient that way – they don’t seem to mind waiting for me to come back and finish the shot later.
Once I got my two gymnast minifigures, Beth and Rebecca, my whole thought process for taking photos changed. Instead of just recreating scenes from Star Wars (although I still do that), I became motivated to create my own scenes for them and to start building my own, small MOCs. Not surprisingly, my very first custom build was a string bed trampoline for the gymnasts. After that came a series of photos showing them in various scenes that are loosely based on my own experiences: gymnastics workouts, cortisone shots and physical therapy (the gymnasts smile through everything – no matter how much it hurts). Not only have the gymnasts been very therapeutic for me but they also got my creative juices flowing and now there’s a whole city of characters on my Flickr page: Frank the Hot Dog Vendor (who sometimes gets into unusual situations while selling hot dogs), Angel and her Cupcake Store (she started a trend of female entrepreneurs in my photos), Finola the ballerina (I built a ballet studio for her), Ace Brickman (who is almost always photographed in black and white), and Selina the Jewelry Thief (who is currently dating a LEGO City police officer). Another one of my favorite themes is to pair my mini figures into “Cute Couples” for a series of portraits and other adventures.
Creating scenes for these characters has encouraged me to improve my lighting skills as well as my building skills. I needed a cupcake store for Angel, so I built one. I needed a ballet studio for Finola, so I built one that incorporated LEGO’s mirror element and allowed me to play with reflections. Finola also has the added challenge of trying to pose her so she looks like she’s dancing, which is not easy to do given the limited range of motion in mini figures.
I try to keep my lighting and setups very simple. I jokingly refer to my lighting style as “lazy” although I am not lazy, I just don’t have the physical stamina to set up complicated lighting in a big studio or spend hours trying to get the right effect in camera. Sometimes I feel frustrated when I see amazing and complicated lighting from other photographers but I realize that keeping my lighting simple allows me to focus on what I enjoy the most: posing the minifigures and bringing them to life.
When people on Flickr started referring to my minifigures by name, I was thrilled. I enjoy knowing that people believe in these characters enough to check back and see their latest adventures. Some of the characters have taken on a life of their own. For example, some of my Flickr contacts enjoy Frank the Hot Dog Vendor so much that they got their own version and have photographed him selling hot dogs in their own scenes.
As I reflect back on it, I feel very lucky to have accidentally discovered this hobby and the wonderful community that surrounds it. It’s giving me a way to be creative despite my obstacles and it gives me the opportunity to meet new friends. I’d like to thank Shelly for inviting me to be part of the “Why?” series. It was a great challenge and a wonderful exercise to put into words how much these minifigures and photos mean to me.