(ˈsɪəriːz; -rɪz)

npl -ries

1. group or connected succession of similar or related things, usually arranged in order

What happens we you apply this concept to photography? What happens when you decide to create a Photo-Essay?

photo-essay is a set or series of photographs that are made to create series of emotions in the viewer. A photo essay will often show pictures in deep emotional stages. Photo essays range from purely photographic works to photographs with captions or small comments to full text essays illustrated with photographs. – Wikipedia

A photo essay can be found in the form of an article, a book, a web site or an art show. There is no doubt that a series of photos loosely arranged around a topic, theme, emotion or story line will have more impact than a single image. This concept was driven home for me yesterday when I was working on a new photo book featuring my images based on the characters of Mouse Guard. {My local BrickCon is just days away and it’s my first time attending as both a participant and as a Lego Ambassador and I want to be prepared. (I’m nervous, but thats a different blog post.)}

As I was finishing up with my book I was struck by how great the images looked together in this loose series. The photographs had more impact when shown in context with each other. In fact, by assembling the images together I had impressed myself with the quality of my work. That may sound weird, but like most artists I tend to be my own worst critic.


A small gem I turned up when editing for my book. While I took this over a year ago, I never did anything with it. Today it seems fresh and the perfect addition.

When I think about other toy photographers that have inspired me, or left a lasting impression, they’re always photographers working in a series. By working for a period of time around a particular subject you’re able to delve deep into the story and explore depths you can’t achieve with only one or two images. I’m thinking about Vesa and his work that led to the publishing of Small Scenes from a Big Galaxy, Mark Hogancamp and his book Marwencol, Brian McCarty’s War-Toys project or Kristina Alexanderson’s parent / child stormtrooper images. But beyond these outstanding examples I’m also thinking about Brett Wilson and his simple and long running series of photographs that played off of the word ‘probably’. Each of these artists has worked on a series of images over many years and the sum is greater than the whole.

In my last gallery exhibition I created a series of four images around the Peter Reid robot ‘Keko’; each image reflecting a different season. There is no doubt in my mind that those four images were stronger as a group than they ever were as individual images. I was able to tell a better story over four images than I could with only one.

Another great reason to purse a photo series is the creative inspiration it can provide. By creating my small book of Mouse Guard images, I was able to see I had created a compelling and interesting viewing experience, but I also revealed where the ‘holes’ in my story were. When I was arranging the images to create a mini narrative there were certain activities I wanted to see and others that I had too many of. Now I know where to devote my energies the next time I have a chance to photograph toys.

 Its unfortunate that the photo sharing sites that we all post our work to don’t support or encourage the creation of this type of deep work. With an online audience that devours imagery at a record pace, its hard to create a story or series that unfolds over days, weeks or even months. Online sites are not ideal for looking at work that is created in series and meant to be viewed in relationship to each other. This is unfortunate because it’s these in-depth works that hold our attention and ultimately inspire us.

Photography is more than pixel counts, ISO numbers or camera type, it’s a conceptual medium. It’s a medium that can be used to express your thoughts, your feelings and your ideas. By using a series of images, rather than just one, you have the opportunity to create a carefully constructed story, one that will have more meaning for both you and your viewer. Why then do we so often limit ourselves to only one photo to tell our stories?

~ Shelly

When you look back over your work do you recognize themes that are repeated? Have you considered grouping your images into a loose story or photo essay for greater impact? Have you created a book of your images that was thematic rather than simply a ‘best of’ grouping? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions I would love to hear about your experience. Did you find it helpful? Have you continued to work on your series? 

I named only a few toy photography series that I have enjoyed and admire, but I can think of many more examples? Can you name a toy photographer who created a series that you enjoyed?