Recently I wondered: Why am I still a toy photographer? I was updating my website and I noticed that I’ve been doing this for nearly 10 years. That’s a really long time to be doing the same creative project. I’ve seen so many toy photographers come and go over the years, I’ve lost track. Realizing both the longevity of this project and the number of people who have left it behind has made me question my own motives. Why am I still a toy photographer and many others aren’t?
The answer that came to mind was that for me this is more than simply toy photography. If my only motivation was a toy photo, I would have moved on long ago. There are only so many photos of toys you can take unless you’re a collector. There is no denying that A steady stream of new toys keeps the ideas flowing. But I’m not a collector, I’m a photographer.
Why am I still a toy photographer?
Why am I still a toy photographer? From the very beginning, the world of toy photography has been a journey to something else. At first that was to help elevate this hobby into something more. Then it morphed into a community building exercise. Along the way I:
- Was one of the founders of Brick Central. We started BC to showcase toy photography featuring LEGO minifigures, because the action figure guys gave us very little respect.
- Was asked to be a founding member of Stuck in Plastic whose original aim was to see our artwork hung on gallery walls.
- Started my first toy photography community on G+.
- Founded this blog because I thought that LEGO and action figure photographers (and everyone else) should interact. We have much to learn from each other!
- Started another community (Hello, MeWe!)
- Orchestrated yearly printed retrospectives of our community.
All of this was accomplished with the help of many friends. I’ve learned over the years that I’m stronger and learn so much when I work in a group. The variety of viewpoints and experiences always makes for a richer end product. Not to mention, the process is more fun!
All of these projects and the friends who have helped me have acted as a support as well as an incentive to keep going. I think of it all as support and accountability. Without both of these, it’s very hard to lead a creative life.
Challenges = growth
Each of these challenges has required me to grow. One project has led to another with the challenges and learning experiences, growing larger each time. But I’ve never had to face the challenges alone. There has always been a community around to lend a hand and help move projects forward.
The possibility of growth has kept me going as a toy photographer for nearly 10 years. If I was simply taking photos without the benefit of a project, a personal goal or some larger purpose, I would have left long ago. Each new challenge is an opportunity to grow. Some of these challenges are relatively easy and in my wheelhouse; herding cats for instance. Others have nearly broke me; being a LEGO ambassador or beta testing a new lens, for example. Although looking back on the last decade, I wouldn’t change a thing. Each opportunity has been a learning experience preparing me for the next challenge.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”– Ursala K LeGuinn, Left Hand of Darkness
It’s so easy to fall into a comfortable groove. Grooves are easy! They can be predictable, easy to work into day-to-day responsibilities and don’t ask much in return. In my experience, grooves aren’t very satisfying.
“I certainly wasn’t happy. Happiness has to do with reason, and only reason earns it. What I was given was the thing you can’t earn, and can’t keep, and often don’t even recognize at the time; I mean joy.”– Ursala K LeGuinn, Left Hand of Darkness
I’m not sure if the current challenges I have set out for myself will be enough to sustain me for another 10 years. But I’m sure that between them and the current projects in place, I’ve got a couple more years of toy photography fun in me.
As you look at your own creative life, I encourage you to challenge yourself. If you want to continue to be a toy photographer—awesome! If it’s time to move onto to new areas of exploration, I wish you well. But whatever you decide to do, know that you are stronger than you think. And while you’re busy challenging yourself, make sure you put your support system in place. It doesn’t matter if you call it your friends: scaffolding, accountability or support, they are the difference between your success and just another learning experience.
If you’re already challenging yourself, let me know in the comments. There are many ways, big and small, that we can challenge ourselves every day. Let’s learn from each other!
Yes…totally agree with you on the point of Challenges! How to do things differently , creating big personal projects that is beyond shooting a single photo. Being brave and silly enough to reach out to corporations or even government bodies and pitching ideas to them, just to see if they will respond! And keep improving and throwing work out there and be surprise at what comes back in terms of opportunities. It’s what keeps me going I feel.
Sunny – I love your comment. When I see how hard you push yourself, how willing you are to go the extra mile, Im impressed and inspired! You are amazing! I think its awesome that you’re reaching out and creating your own opportunities! Way to go!!
I enjoyed reading this article Shelly and 100% agree that we need those new challenges from time to time to refine our craft in photography and storytelling. There are times I want to step back from toy photography because the growing homogeneity does get to me, but then conversations with friends in the community keep me engaged. Also finding that internal motivation through challenges helps as well. This year, I decided I’ll reach out more to putting my prints in the real world and (surprise surprise) I’m going to delve into editing my images on my computer more as I want to explore more of digital manipulation. I love my mobile edits but do feel some limitations that I want to overcome. Not sure if I’ll venture long down that path but I’m sure I’ll learn more about myself from it.
Janan – I love how you describe the community: homogenous. So true!! I love these challenges that you’ve set for yourself. I like how you’ve seen where your growing edges are and you will make it happen. I cant wait to see what evolves from your exploration!
Totally agree with you on the homogeneity bit! Am always excited whenever I come across accounts using toys that are obscure or not so popular. Or even if using IPs from big franchises, but done in unique and quirky ways.
Challenges for sure… but there is more to that. Toy photography encompasses all the photographic styles. Toys are tools that can be used to accomplish almost anything. Landscape, portrait, abstract, street, action, sports, travel…. whatever. In fact, having toys at ones disposal makes expolring different styles and disciplines much easier. It’s not easy to get harrison ford to pose for you in real life, or Rexy from Jurassic park. But all these things can happen for 20 bucks in the world of toys. So toy photography will always open access to worlds of photography that would otherwise be closed to most people. Multimillion dollar sets, props, actors and effects are all at your fingertips for pocket money.
Matthew Im glad that you see the tremendous opportunities that toy photography holds. You really do have access to all the genres! Its great practice as well as opportunities to (re)create your favorite storylines or work with favorite actors. We all have to find the challenges that make sense to us. Each challenge is an inspiration to keep going and an opportunity for growth. Without growth, I think toy photography could get super repetitive…even with he toy releases. I look forward to seeing where your challenges take you!
I find your thoughts very interesting, Shelly. And you’re right, you have to move forward to stick with what you are doing. Sometimes I am glad I did not sign on to be a toy photographer. I can always walk away and do somethinig completely different. What a relief! However, I’ll stick with toys till I run out of ideas. There’s still so much to explore … I feel like I am less driven by challenges; it’s rather curiosity. much inspiration
The MeWe challenges always present a welcome diversion from the project(s) I am working on. I try to stay on track with my stuff while excercising my craft – which in turn might open paths towards new projects…
Whatever. I think my favourite challenge is summed up in one of my favourite quotes: “It’s impossible. But doable” (Sean Connery in Entrapment).
Tobias Im so glad that whatever I wrote caught your attention. Curiosity is a great concept. We use it all the time in my coach training but I rarely apply it to my art – which is silly. Curiosity is such a big part of what we do: what would it look like it I did….? What would happen if I did this….? Where is this taking me…? Thank you for bringing that idea back into the conversation. We have this saying around my house: grow and go.
Im so glad that our little challenges are a diversion for you. Sometimes these side projects…can lead to unexpected places.
What a great quote! I think that can be applied to all art projects! I may have to ad that to the mix!!
Thanks for adding your perspective to the benefit of challenges and curiosity.
Love the work of Shelley Corbett….enjoyed her story and the background to her views of toy photography….some really good work Shelley…..keep going with toys…..their is still a big world of toys out there…..Best regards Richard Dixon – TOY PHOTO DESIGN STUDIOS UK….
Thanks for the comment Richard Dixon! Im honored that someone with your reputation and career has found our little blog and my work. With every step I take in this crazy and lovely world of toys I realize how BIG it really is! I LOVE IT! Thank you so much for your kind comments about my work. 😀
Hi Shelly…..Thank you for your reply….I appreciate your comments about my work….its nice to know people have noticed my Toy photography over the years…..I still love what I do….even after thirty four years taking pictures in the Toy Industry and Children’s Comics….the pictures you do caught my eye on here….I really like them….keep up the good work….Best regards Richard Dixon / TOY PHOTO DESIGN STUDIOS UK .
Wonderful piece Shelly. I appreciate your reflections on a decade (!) of toytastic photography. I love your work and your new and changing roads. My dive into that June daily photo challenge was really fun and hard, and I’m grateful for both. Expanding the types and lines of toys I photograph has been a joy, too. LEGO is where it started and is always a rock, but Sofubi and others are joining the parade. And the community that I call home keeps changing and crystallizing. As you know, I’ve struggled at times with parts of the community seeming non-inclusive, free of values, and overwhelmingly straight and male and white and all that often (happily not always) comes with those three things. (I’m two of those things myself, as you know). Anyhow, we all find our fellow travelers as part of the journey and I’ve met some amazing and inspiring humans and lasting friends. Thanks to you for being a friend, a teacher, and a leader. I’m so glad we remain on this wacky set of trails together. 😍🤩🙏✊🦄
Thanks for this post Shelly.
My suspension is too crazy to keep me in grooves. I wish I could take “just a toy photo” that’s not related to my “crazy wall” of ideas, memories, puns, the whole pop-culture magma, hashtags, challenges etc. Almost every time I see a challenge, I dive into it headlong, getting entangled in this web of connections again 😀
In my case the challenge is to make a “clear” shot of toy, that isn’t a challenge entry, that isn’t related to anything. There’s almost always some broader context behind my pictures and I can’t do anything about it 🙂
Challenges are great, that’s why I started to build my own LEGO world builder community, using toy photography to create characters, places, vehicles etc.
And for me every photo is the challenge actually. I try so hard to push my limits, especially now, because I finally noticed the progress of my photography.
I am glad you wrote this post. Although, I haven’t been taking toy photos as long as you, I’ve realized after doing the podcast with you, and doing the challenges is that every challenge I’ve participated in, yes teaches me about photography. But, the bigger take away is the stuff I’ve learned about myself. Even though it’s about the photography, and a little bit about the toys, the lessons I’ve taken away are more from the people, or the conversations I’ve had with the community about a photograph about an idea. I might have stopped last year, except I went to a meet up.
I think like Matt, I see so many possibilities in toys when it comes to photography. I can take a landscape shot that I might never experience in real life. I can recreate scenes from my favorite movies and tv shows without having to leave my apartment. I can try street photography style photographs in the bathroom, and if I want to I can also travel with two toys in my pocket and my iPhone. The Toy Community lets you see the world, and meet people from everywhere.
It’s crazy to me that I was just trying to make one little scrapbook, and it has brought me here.
Thanks for the post, Shelly – it helps me think about the reasons I work with toys or anything else in the crazy world of photography. This year has proven to be a tough year for my participation and I need to find my way back to my imagination and the toys always help me with that.. I need the continuing challenges and sense of fun to make sure the world doesn’t swallow me up.