“What happened?!?!”

Earlier this week I listened with rapt attention to the delightful, hilarious, and insightful latest installment of James Garcia’s epic podcast series through toyphotographers.com. It featured not only the amazing James, but also two accomplished toy photographers who I’ve come to count as personal friends: Leila Chieko and Cindy Dockter. OMG I loved this podcast. Such a blend of fun and pro-tips. During the show, Leila is talking about last month’s #ORToyPhotoSafari and how packed the experience was. She reflects that the weekend, for her, was sort of a big “what happened?!?!” blur. And I thought YES. Me too, Leila. Me too!

Safari : “Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore”
“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”

Safari #2!

The Oregon weekend was my second such safari. Last year I took my maiden voyage with the San Francisco/Bay area one. I was super nervous about taking the dive but had few compelling excuses since I live in the Bay Area. But NOW my anxious, hesitant mind had a more cogent case: drive or fly? Bring the husband and kid? Take the extra time off work? My mind calmed down, my family decided they were all in to witness the secret life of one of its own, and BOOM.

We’d never been to the Oregon coast before and my goodness it is as gorgeous as I’d heard. Johnny, the Boy and I stayed in Cannon Beach at a hotel. As much as I was intrigued by the idea of crashing with some other toy geeks at a rental, an 8-year-old with an early bedtime ritual just didn’t seem like the perfect fit for the kind of whiskey-induced late night chatter and plastic play I knew would go down. (And, alas, all of that would be 8-year-old appropriate, but the boy needs his sleep or nobody makes it through the next day). Ok, granted, the whiskey isn’t really 8-year-old appropriate. The Boy would point out he’s been helping me make cocktails (“I make the Blood & Sand and the Mai Tai!”) since we became a family when he was six, but still.

Safari : The Boy and Johnny setting up some shots.
The Boy and Johnny setting up some shots.

Zooming In

After all those weeks considering which LEGO Minifigures to invite on the trip, reading up on what gear to bring (thanks “what’s in my bag” series!), and imagining some shots, being out in nature with all my toys and these impressive photographers was glorious. We never really got very far — maybe twenty feet max before at least one of us stopped for the first shot of the day. But we sure went deep.

I loved watching others work their magic, asking questions about their work, asking questions about my camera, setting up shots, and taking pics that are quite close to what I actually had in mind and others that are way better or way worse. The Boy became a toy photographer himself over the weekend and he’s got an impressive eye. Shelly let me try out her Lensball and I took a totally sucky shot with it, but then I got home, ordered one, and am having fun playing with it. Perhaps most dramatically, I had the genius idea of taking a shot on the beach with the waves just behind me. Johnny and my Boy were playing nearby and next thing they knew there was a rather large wave and then me yelling “Boy, save Alfred!” and “Johnny, Alfred’s cherries… where are Alfred’s cherries.” Even LEGO Batman Alfred and his cherries survived the weekend. #donttrythisathome

Safari : “Well, it's time Ursula took matters into her own tentacles.”
“Well, it’s time Ursula took matters into her own tentacles.”

Hugs & Awkwardness

So, what was it like? It was awesome. I loved it. What’s my secretly favorite part? A weekend of reassurance that I am not at all the only socially uncomfortable person who likes their downtime. Yup. The toy geek tribe is loving and generous and smart and funny — and a bit awkward. #mypeeps.

Other favorite parts?

  • I got to hug Leila and Cindy and Kiwi after too long and even see part of Leila’s captivating documentary about the Seattle Toy Safari before I had to go back to the boy for the night.
  • I got to show Shelly and Leila that actual camera I now own thanks to their massive and indulgent advice when I hit them up with “Um. Ok. Hi experts. I know nothing about DSLRs and I’m ready to switch from an iPhone. Any advice?” (I adore this Canon 80D and EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens. Thank you two so much!)
  • The Boy and me sorting through Dennis’ collection of custom Porgs. Boy: “I want as many as I can possibly have.” Me: “We each get two, sweetie.” Boy: “Fine. Then I want a Uniporg and a regular Porg… please.” And the sorting commenced as Dennis smiled above us.
  • The end. The goodbyes were so kind and special and we barely know each other. But in the end, we KNOW each other. I hugged goodbye with people I’d basically just met. And others I’d met a year ago and seen only once since — this very weekend. Too many to mention as this is an incredible group of people from all over. Brett and I connected over some deep personal history that didn’t even involve LEGO or the geopolitical disaster of this moment — and we’d only previously met in the comments sections of Instagram and G+. David came all the way from Minnesota and as the goodbyes were underway I heard his sweet, booming voice say, “Doug. Come. Embrace me!” OMG. Are you feeling the love? I was. Shelly walked the Boy, Johnny and me to our cars, we hugged, we might have scored a LEGO gift, and off we went. All three of us the happier for it.


About a week later, Johnny and the Boy were with some friends. One of the grownups asked about the weekend. Johnny told her that it was “basically 30 toy photographers, the Boy and me.” Without missing a beat, the Boy said, “Papa. You mean 31 toy photographers and you.” #endscene

Until next year that is…

Safari : The Boy set this shot up and stood at the flip screen with me to be sure he was pleased with the capture of his shot.
The Boy set this shot up and stood at the flip screen with me to be sure he was pleased with the capture of his shot.

Doug Gary (@doughleyg)


  1. brett_wilson

    Such a wonderful tale of Oregon Doug.
    As I’ve already told you, “Papa. You mean 31 toy photographers and you.” is one of the sweetest things I’ve read about the Toy Photo Safari! Watching him proudly show his photos to Shelly on the second day at Oswald was gorgeous. And we’re all going to have to lift our game next year if the Boy’s there. He’ll sweep the prize pool!
    I had a blast in Oregon, and hanging out and talking with you was one of the many highlights. Thanks.

    • I’d live in fear of the Boy if he wasn’t my (almost) constant inspiration. Thanks for the kind words and for helping to make this blog possible. Hope to catch you in some hemisphere or another soon. Thanks mate!

  2. Leila @brickandmordor

    You are the sweetest, dear Dougie!! I’m so glad you braved that Toy Safari in San Francisco. One of the treasures I got from that one was the start of a friendship with you. I was definitely thrilled you were able to come to the Oregon one too, and love that you were able to bring the whole family. I mean, you woulda lost Alfred and his cherries had they not attended! 😉

    I’m really happy all my camera-gear knowledge helped you upgrade, and I am super impressed with the images you are producing now, my friend! Seriously! And how adorable is your Boy, claiming toy photographer status with the rest of us?!

    Really glad you are part of this awesome toy geek tribe, and also a part of our little tribe within the tribe. 😉 Hope we can see each other soon! Virtual hugs for now! xoxox

    ps. Did David really say, “Come. Embrace me.” ?? LOL

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