I think maybe this “Why” piece should be titled “Why it Took Me More Than a Year to Write This”. Thanks to Brett for asking and I apologize for the extreme lateness – I found this more challenging than most other things I’ve written.
I guess the obvious “Why” to ask is; why do I love doing toy photography? For myself, and I suspect many others here, it began with the love of collecting toys.
A Great Time for Toys
The 70s and 80s were a great time for toys and I had some cool ones; G.I. Joe (the 12” originals), Big Jim and his friends, the original Mego Super Friends, Planet of the Apes, and Star Trek figures, The Six Million Dollar Man, Some guy called “JJ Arms” who had all these cool hand-replacement attachments and, of course, Star Wars toys. Lots and lots of Star Wars toys. These were the pride of my collection and I really cared for them. So much so that I still have just about every figure to this day (and their respective weapons!)
My foray into toy photography began with posting pictures of new sixth-scale figures to collector forums and quickly evolved into more elaborate setups/poses and compositing shots in Photoshop. I revisited my long-neglected Instagram account as a place to collect them and was stunned to find a whole lot of other people (adults!) posting their images! This was a very…freeing…revelation. It looked to almost be a type of “outsider” art and definitely a new way of enjoying your collection.
So I gradually invested in some better equipment, set up a studio in my basement, and yadda, yadda, yadda, here I am. But getting back to the main question; why do I love it?
Creative by Nature
Well, firstly, I’m a creative person by nature. As the owner of a small marketing agency, my business is creative and I have an insatiable need to design, create, or make things. And secondly, of course, I love collecting. Sometimes I just enjoy sitting there, looking at my collection, re-posing some figures on the shelf, rearranging things.
But the added element of taking these figures and creating (or recreating) stories with them, creating moods and environments that others connect with and enjoy, brings a whole new element to collecting. As a kid, I wanted to be either a comic book artist/cartoonist or a film director (if I had been faster I might have had a shot at the comic book stuff). This hobby has fulfilled those desires, allowing me to “direct” characters I love to watch or read and create stories of my own with them – or create something wholly new.
These are two approaches I generally take with my photography; creation and recreation. I love taking a scene from pop culture that people are familiar with and shooting it from a different perspective or focusing on a different subject than the original. I love recreating the general look and feel of the scene – reverse-engineering the lighting from the scene to get it right and improvising or building/creating an environment. It’s a challenge, and kind of a puzzle especially when you don’t have a ready-made diorama. I strive to get the “feel’ right, even if I don’t have all the details.
Then there is the creation approach. No pre-conceived notions of an established narrative – I throw that out if it’s a franchise line I’m shooting. Sometimes it’s conceptual; a visual pun or a straight parody. Lately, I’ve been incorporating my love of fantasy/sci-fi artwork into my work using D&D inspired figures like Mythic Legions. I love these non-franchise figures for their lack of background story or mythos. Any figure can be whatever you want them to be in any environment.
A Therapeutic Outlet
Toy photography has become almost therapeutic for me. It’s a creative outlet away from the creative I already do day-to-day which unfortunately isn’t as open, free-form or frankly, sometimes, as creative or fun as I’d like it to be. But I’ve also entered into the professional world of it a bit, shooting promotional images for toy companies. It’s been fun to see these show up on retail toy sites, catalogs, and figure groups as well as appearing on the box art of the figures! Though this type of work and has to be done to the client specifications – and on time of course – it’s still fun and creative (with just a hint of stress!)
So that’s it. That’s why I love doing this. I’ve often thought I’d “graduate” to more “conventional” photography subjects; landscapes, wildlife, portraits, etc. but the urge hasn’t struck me yet beyond taking those types of shots on vacations or trips – and I always pack a figure or two to stick in front of the camera anyway!Trevor Williams
Trevor Williams @onesix_shooter