First off I’d like to thank Shelly for inviting me to contribute to the stunning world of Stuck in Plastic through the “Why?” series. I feel truly privileged, but also a little apprehensive. My reasons for taking up Toy Photography are something I wasn’t too sure about until I sat down to write this. Well, I’ve always known ‘why?’, but I’ve been in denial of those reasons, until now.
Prior to taking up Toy Photography, my only experience with photography was Landscape Photography which I only practiced while on vacation. My primary outlet for creativity was through performing in Musical Theatre. I had always assumed that Musical Theatre was to be my career; I had performed in massive Broadway adaptations of famous musicals such as Sound of Music and Grease. But alas, all of that came to an end when reality hit. I realized that Musical Theatre wasn’t something I could support myself with. The enourmous time commitment with minimal pay was just too skewered to be taken up as a profession in India.
The few months after I finished performing in Grease, were spent moping around feeling I would be stuck in a 9 to 7 job with no real creative outlet for the rest of my life. I figured I couldn’t go on like that so I picked up my camera and started using it while not on vacation. I dabbled in various types of photography but nothing seemed to have the “oomph” factor and the kick that I got out of musical theatre. I decided to give it a long and hard thought of what would be the best style of photography for me because I sure did love photography. I just needed to figure out that one particular type.
After hundreds of “meh” feeling photographs across genres such as Portrait, Architecture and Event Photography I stumbled across the massive toy community on Instagram. I knew I struck gold the moment I saw incredibly detailed Lego Star Wars photographs. I have always loved toys and I’m a huge fan of movies; Star Wars and over the top action movies in particular. Ever since I was a child (I ‘m 24 now), my dad and I would attend 1-2 movies a week. We’d always make it a point to catch the latest flick in theaters no matter how empty or bad the reviews for the movie was. Combine that with the massive Lego and GI Joe collections I had as a child, and toy photography was a match made in heaven. I dusted off the remnants of my old toy collection and started taking photographs hoping for the best. My initial results were pretty underwhelming, but I knew that this is what I wanted so I persevered. I combined my knowledge of positioning and lighting of “characters” from theatre with my love of movies. I truly felt this was the best way to combine these two important aspects of me.
I watched tons of YouTube photography and photo retouching tutorials to teach myself about this art form. I initially started off with posting to my Flickr account but decided to switch to Instagram. I was absolutely blown away with the astounding work of artists such as @matt.burn @sgtbananas @avanaut @xxsjc @east_mountain @zenith_ardor @beardy_giant @bmyhero @x_captainkaos_x and many more. In addition, all of these photographers were helpful and approachable, which made the entire experience enjoyable. In fact, Shelly was the first person I spoke to in order to understand more about Toy Photography.
My process of photography is usually the “winging-it-as-I-go-along-with-it” style. I have an idea of what I want to do in my head and then I work to bring it to life. I accomplish this through either practical effects or through manipulation in Photoshop.
The one thing I have learned though this process is that yoga would probably be the best possible companion exercise for toy photographers. Yoga would help to give all the flexibility in the world you need to pull off those complex and surreal angles and shots. Seriously, one of the most important lessons I learned was to get on the level of the toy you want to photograph. Always let the lens be at the toy’s eye level and fill the frame with the toy. The lesser the dead space in the picture, the more lifelike your photograph seems.
Even though I come from one of the most populous countries in the world, India, it’s shocking to me how little people know of Toy Photography. My aim as a photographer is to raise awareness and gain recognition for Toy Photography on a national level. As a first step I am currently in talks with the National Institute of Photography (NIP), Mumbai to get featured in their annual photography exhibition which is visited by both photographers as well as the general public.
My want to excel is driven by my drive to push the boundaries of my own creativity by dabbling in new methods of lighting, practical effects and posing. I do hope to inspire other budding toy photographers just as the wonderful Instagram toy community inspired me. One of my personal highlights was qualifying for the Top 30 from West India in the Tamron Photo Challenge, 2015. While it was an exhilarating experience to be in the prescence of so many great photographers, I did realize that it would be a long way before Toy Photography would be recognized as an equal art form as other traditional styles of photography.
That said I do have one very important thing to say to every aspiring artist out there. Do Not Give Up. It might take some time to see the results you want but always keep yourself motivated. There is no end; everyday there is something new to learn. Maybe the next image you create will be your new masterpiece.
Thank you once again to the lovely toy community and thank you Shelly for giving me this opportunity. It has been a pleasure and quite a self-revelation as to why I do what I do and why it means so much to me. Thank you for that Shelly.
~ Shahzad Bhiwandiwala (Sbphotographs1)