My Journey to Toy Photography: Scott Metzger aka @fstop_rebel

How does a person go from being a manager/curator at a contemporary fine art gallery to becoming a dad working a “blue collar” job and taking photos of toys in his free time, in just two years? A lot of good choices, a lot of bad choices and a lot of choices that live somewhere in-between. 

I’ve always been involved in that giant space we call the art world, starting all the way back in high school, when I graduated intent on becoming a classical French horn player. I was accepted into the music program of my dreams and promptly burned myself out, developing some pretty serious depression and anxiety along the way. With only one year remaining until graduation, I left school to set off on what has become a lifelong quest for artistic freedom in a broader sense. 

I lived in Nashville for eight years, Boston for a few, as well as Ohio, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I worked as a supervisor at a Walgreens photo lab back when people still shot film, and in a small indie boutique doing everything from ad photography to fixing the air conditioner. I photographed album covers and headshots for people in the music industry and played bass for a country music singer on some of Nashville’s famous honky-tonk stages. I even worked overnight at Toys R’ Us one holiday season. I’ve done it all. But the journey always revolved around trying to identify the creative space where I belonged. Life was a constant, metaphorical game of Twister. One limb in photography, one limb in art, one limb in music and one final limb always reaching for some stable job that gave me the freedom to create. In all honesty, I’m still playing the game.

Fast forward to 2017. I was working at a small startup gallery curating shows and meeting with artists. Drinking champagne with the coolest people, visiting artists’ studios and being invited to hip, contemporary art shows was just part of the job. I was part of a “pretty cool” community and I felt “pretty cool.” In 2018 the gallery closed its doors, as many galleries do every year. After a lifetime of believing that artistic expression was one of the most important things ever created by humankind, I decided that art was dead. Art no longer mattered and nobody seemed to care. I left with my tail between my legs and decided to find a “real job.”  My wife and I bought a house, had a kid and became “real adults.”

For me, toy photography was more than a decade in the making. I’ve always loved figures. I’ve been collecting Star Wars figures on and off for at least 25 years, and other figures for nearly as long. They’ve always been an escape for me, but I would often avoid buying them for fear of not looking like a responsible adult. I would wander the toy aisles just to see what was out there. My girlfriend (now wife) would always say the same thing: “Why don’t you buy one?” To which I invariably responded, “Nah, there are other things I should be spending money on right now.” 

I would collect random pieces of junk, promising myself that someday I would make dioramas and photograph my toys. Inevitably, the accumulated, unused junk would be thrown away before each of our many moves, only to start accumulating again at our next place in a nerdy, cyclical fashion. This takes us right up to “2020 Scott”—homeowner and father of a nearly one-year-old, working in a stable, albeit creatively unfulfilling job with decent pay and great benefits.

Enter COVID-19. The catalyst for my Instagram page @fstop_rebel. I had serendipitously scheduled the remainder of my paternity leave (yes, my company offers paternity leave) to start on March 16, 2020. My wife and I had big plans to travel and really make the most of the weeks I had at my disposal, visiting family and friends and introducing them to our little guy.  Well, the great COVID wrench crushed all of those plans. I was devastated.

I started my leave sulking a bit and doing nothing out of the ordinary, until it dawned on me one afternoon while my son napped that I needed to make the best of these extraordinary and unfortunate circumstances. I grabbed a handful of Star Wars micromachines and started taking photos of them battling on toilet paper with my iPhone. I posted them to my personal Instagram with the hashtag #covidwars.

First photo of a 6-inch figure.

Then I took a few more…and a few more. The feedback I received from friends and family who enjoyed my quirky Instagram posts encouraged me to pull out my Black Series Jannah and my real camera. Years and years of saying I was going to do this finally came to fruition courtesy of an unprecedented global health crisis. Being quarantined gave me the time and space to start this journey and even build my first diorama.

When people look at my photos and interact with me on social media, my hope is that they see the community first. It is a space filled with fascinating  people from all different backgrounds. We each do it for different reasons. For some, toy photography is a community where people can be themselves and live vicariously through the fictional imagery they bring to life. For others, it is a manifestation of a bit of a Peter Pan syndrome. For many, it’s a form of therapy. I have met dozens of toy photographers (including myself) who use it as a way of coping with anything from mild depression to PTSD. For others, it’s just plain fun and that is more than enough.

At the very least, my hope is when people look at my photos they see something that makes their day a little brighter and helps them disconnect from the stress of the “real world.” My greater hope is that they decide to do something that lets them be creative and connects them to their childhood. I want people to live their lives with confidence, be who they are and not take life so seriously that they forget to have fun. We are all unique and the world should see it.   

– Scott Metzger (@fstop_rebel)

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