The Good Son is the first book by Little Soldier Stories, the husband and wife team of Pierre-Jacques and Jules Ober. It’s an original story that uses miniature replicas of World War I soldiers to tell a compelling story of duty to family and country.
While The Good Son isn’t the first book to emerge from my toy photography community it may be my favorite. You maybe familiar with LEGO Star Wars: Small Scenes from a Big Galaxy by Vesa Lehtimäki which showcases his amazing LEGO photos. And who can resist The Short News: Making News Fun One Brick at a Time which is a compilation of very silly news stories by Sean Romero or Johnny Wu’s Ten Frames per Second: An Articulated Adventure. While I recommend you to purchase all three of these books they are very different examples of toy photography from The Good Son. By combining an original story with a compelling photography, The Good Son takes the art of toy photography to a new level.
The back story
Pierre-Jacques grew up in a family with a strong military history; both his father and grandfather were career military officers.. And while he traveled a different life path than his father and grandfather; he could never escape their influences or their stories. The authenticity of these stories and experiences permeate The Good Son.
To honor the memory of his paternal grandfather and to celebrate his father’s birthday, Pierre-Jacques started a photo series about what he refers to as “the little soldier”. The little soldiers are the people who actually fight the battles. These are the folks that either win or lose the wars; who’s very blood soaks the battle fields. By exploring war from the view point of the lowly foot soldier Pierre-Jacques and Jules want to “understand their true heroism: the way they (the little soldiers) retain their humanity through it all.”
I’ve been following the Instagram account for Little Soldier Stories since late 2014. Their recreations of battle scenes have always intrigued me. I’ve felt there is an authenticity to these photos, they don’t shy away from the horrors of war.
While I find images like the one above incredible powerful, their juxtaposition with the quieter moments away from the battle field give them an added resonance.
Even though the photos in the book are of toys, I can’t help but feel I’m stepping back in time. Each photo is infused with beautiful light. There is so much emotion captured in each image that its easy to forget that these are toy soldiers.
In the back of the book there are a few behind the scenes images. These show the process and the attention to detail that Jules and Pierre-Jacques go to when creating these images. I had no idea that they exclusivley use natural light. This choice brings another layer of authenticity to the images.
A seemingly simple set up of soldiers illuminated by a fire is another example of beautiful lighting. The below image feels so natural; its as if a moment in time is captured by a quick click of the camera shutter. The simplicity of this photo belies the hours it must have take to set up and light.
Because this is a tale of war and centers on the military, there are never a shortage of complicated scenes. Almost every image has multiple figures in it. These range from battle scenes, busy city set-ups and groups of soldiers engaged in conversation. Jules often uses a short depth of field and selective focus in her images. This decision helps me to never feel overwhelmed by the set-ups. My eye always knows were the focus of the image is. So many wonderful details are present that every image is a visual feast. I want to linger on each photo to take it all in.
There is such a variety of poses and facial expressions its easy to forget these figures are static. Unlike action figures, or even LEGO minifigures, these toys have no articulation. In fact, looking at the process images in the back of The Good Son, you quickly see how much figure modification is taking place. Arms and heads are removed and attached in new positions. New paint has been added to mask these changes and to create new facial expressions. The attention to detail is impressive.
At first glance The Good Son is a simplistic tale of a young man finding his way in the word. This is a world where forces larger than himself work against him. Our hero tries to do the right thing towards his mother, his country and his friends. Yet he finds that this is not always possible. He’s a soldier that realizes that performing his duty isn’t always easy. And even his enemies aren’t always as they seem. It’s a beautiful and tragic tale.
There is something profoundly metaphorical about a toy who is helping to tell the story about another pawn in a larger story. Just like the toy he is, life is simply beyond his control. He is forever a tool of the war effort and the photographer.
In conclusion I felt that The Good Son is a beautiful and tragic story accompanied by equally accomplished images. I recommend purchasing The Good Son by Pierre-Jaques and Jules Ober. This book will be an outstanding book to add to you’re growing toy photography book collection. It’s also a good reminder of the true costs of war. This high price of war is paid for by “little soldiers” who are pawns in a story written by politicians and generals. Who better to tell this story than the “little soldier” who is also the pawn of the toy photography?