It’s time to address another question with an absurdly long answer! I asked the ToyPhotographers.com editorial team to submit questions. Shelly replied with a few, and I am going to answer another one of them here.
Shelly asks: When do you cross the line from toy photographer to toy collector?
There is an interesting assumption baked in this question because it implies that there is a straight line that can be drawn between being a toy photographer and being a toy collector. In fact, people can exist somewhere along that line. If you are closer to one end, you are a toy photographer. If you are closer to the other, you are a toy collector. However, I don’t believe this is correct in reality, as one can either be a photographer, a collector, both a photographer and a collector, or neither.
While I’m nitpicking the question, there is an implicit assumption contained in the way it is phrased, that one state is better than the other. The phrase “cross the line” is normally considered a negative thing. I am not sure that aspect was intended in the question. Knowing Shelly the way I do, I would be surprised if she meant it in a negative way. That said, whether it’s there intentionally or not, I want to address it.
We are all fans
Regardless of whether you consider yourself a toy photographer, collector, both or neither, we are all fans. We all have characters, worlds, stories, universes, that we nerd out on. I wear my geekdom, my nerdery, proudly. As hard as it can be for people born before 1990 to believe, It’s cool to nerd out about things. As Wil Wheaton once said, “being a nerd is not about what you love, it’s about the way that you love it.” In other words, being a nerd means finding something and loving that thing as hard as one can. Some of us love our chosen universes by collecting toys that represent it, others love our chosen universes by making photographs using those characters. (There are other ways to geek out on things, but given “toy” is in the name of this blog, I am going to limit this to toy-based geekery).
Heck, sometimes that universe *is* the toys. Consider all of the different minifigures LEGO makes that are not tied to other franchises. Think of all the LEGO Towns, Castle, Space, Friends characters. The charm of those universes is the figures themselves, and some folks are more into the actual figures, as opposed to the stories they tell. That is still a fandom—just a fan of LEGO in general, and not, say, Star Wars that happens to be in LEGO form.
We are all fans of things, and engage in our fandom with toys. Whether we express it via collecting or photographing, or both, we’re all part of the same tribe. We just show our love in different ways. It’s just two sides of the same coin.
But seriously… toy photographer or toy collector?
If I could read into the question a bit, I would rewrite it to ask, “How do I know if I am primarily a toy photographer or a toy collector?” How should I label myself? I think that depends entirely on intent. In other words, why do you purchase the toys you do? Is it about owning the figures, maybe sticking them on a shelf and enjoying the look of them? Or is it primarily to put them in front of your camera and make an image?
On the other hand, why can’t you be both?
This can be doubly confusing as collectors often take pictures of their collections. Does that make them toy photographers? I would argue that intent, again, makes the difference here. Toy photographers are very intentional about the images they create with toys. They are not just documenting a figure, but trying to put their own unique spin on the character by telling a story with the images they make with that figure. Without the intent of adding to the story, taking a photo of a toy is just taking a photo of a toy. You are documenting an object that is a toy, but not engaging in the art of toy photography.
So if the intentional act of using toys to create something new by use of a camera is what makes a toy photographer a toy photographer, how does one label oneself if they engage in both?
Around the time I got into photography in general, the very first toys I purchased were specifically for making images with them. I was not really interested in putting them on a shelf and looking at them. I would actually say the reason I own most of the figures I do is because I intend to use them for photos. The fact that they also look good on a shelf is secondary. However, being a huge fan of Deadpool, I have purchased many Deadpool figures simply to increase my collection of them. I want more Deadpool figures to have more Deadpool figures… but for most other figures, I purchase with the intent of using them as props in my photos.
That said, I also take a lot of photos with my Deadpool figures. So am I really collecting Deadpool toys, or just stocking props?
As I typed those last two paragraphs, I thought back to before I got into photography and realized I did buy several action figures simply to have them on my shelf. I owned several Lord of The Rings characters after Fellowship of the Ring came out, and in 2006 (a decade before my first toy photo), I definitely took my girlfriend (now wife) to Toys “R” Us specifically to purchase an Optimus Prime, and I sang, “I have an Autobot, you don’t! You don’t!” in the car on the way back home. So I am likely a collector first, at least chronologically.
So am I a photographer or a collector? The naive answer is sometimes I am one, sometimes I am the other. I am stronger in the photography spectrum as I tend to visualize ways I can photograph the action figures I buy—even the extra Deadpool figures I never actually end up putting in front of my camera.
It is an interesting line of thought on an academic level, yet I can’t help but reveal my gut reaction to such a question: Does the distinction really matter? I do what I do because of the fandoms I love, and the way I choose to engage in that fandom is through action figures. Sometimes I create photographs with them, sometimes I just stick ’em on a shelf and enjoy how they look, or how they remind me of certain stories. Either way, it satisfies my desire to engage with the universes I care about.
I am a geek at heart, and odds are, if you are reading this blog, you have at least a bit of geekery in you as well. We do what we do because we love what we love. Whether that is as a toy photographer, toy collector, both or neither is entirely irrelevant.