I was lurking in a Facebook group where a question was asked: “What got you into photography or content creation?”
I have sort of answered this question before on this blog, but for some reason my answer to that post went in a different direction. It was then that I had what the cool kids call a moment of clarity.
So, in an effort to seem cool myself, I thought I’d share with all of you what that was, just to see if it resonates.
So, let’s jump back into the heady days of my youth.
The aforementioned heady days
I have always had an incredibly active imagination. I was born in 1974, three years before Star Wars was released and 16 years before Photoshop would be released. Back then, if I wanted to create images, I had to draw them. Using pencils and paper, like a caveman.
I drew a fair bit, but, and — I can’t stress this enough — I sucked at it. I never came close to achieving anything that looked like my vision. Even my stickmen ended up looking like they were made from cooked spaghetti, not sticks.
I had no better luck with paints — in fact it was worse. So much worse.
As a result, as much as I tried (and I did try), I never really found satisfaction in creating my own images with pencil and paper.
Fast forward to the late ’80s and I found myself spending a lot of time in the computer lab at my high school. Day after day recreating line art, like logos, pixel by pixel, or modifying images I found along the way. Despite getting decently good at recreating or modifying other works, I still couldn’t create an image on my own to save my life.
I wanted to, I just couldn’t. At least nothing that met my (admittedly high) expectations. So I soon gave up trying.
I didn’t give up on being creative, but I did give up on trying to create my own images. I dabbled in other things – playing instruments and writing mostly, but none of it really scratched the itch the way that I knew creating my own images would.
A venture into photography
I stared getting into photography around 2010, and took my first toy photo in 2012. I started off taking the traditional types of photos — landscapes, and images that I would later learn are called street photography, and travel photography. What my camera saw was what I posted online, with only minor tweaks like cropping and adding some filters.
However, those images were all scenes I stumbled across. It was kind of fun, and seemed to scratch some of that itch, if only a little.
Doing the math, if we must, I was… 37 years old when I took my first toy photo. That’s 37 years of creative frustration. 37 years of trying to get the things in my head out into the world and not succeeding.
But that toy photo actually did seem to satisfy that creative urge I’ve been so longing to satisfy. I was able to set up my own world, and capture it on my camera. It felt great. Getting comments from friends and fellow photographers about how fun and creative they thought it was made the whole experience almost addictive.
So I kept going. Don’t get me wrong, I still sucked at it — some of my early images were heartbreakingly bad. But instead of giving up, I kept going.
I started really studying the art and craft of photography. My first toy photos didn’t get my vision across completely, but over time I started getting better at it. I also learned how to take my images far beyond what can be captured in-camera and into another realm of creativity by using tools like Photoshop.
After many years, and many bad images, I was finally able to create almost any image I could think up and bring each one to life, right there on my computer screen.
Eventually I started post-processing my images so much I really questioned if what I was doing was still considered photography. Almost every pixel of some of my images was modified in post, even though they started out as a picture from a camera.
A starting point
It was here when I had my moment of clarity. Photography, for me, is not the goal. It is just a tool I use along the way to get to my goal.
Just like all that time spent in my high school computer lab manipulating images I found, I still do the same thing. I take images and I make them my own, in whatever way I can.
However, instead of using found photos, I now start with photos I’ve created myself. Photos of characters that I’ve selected and posed, using props I’ve either purchased or built with my own two hands. Using lights I intentionally placed — all to get a photo I can then modify in post to turn into the sorts of worlds that are impossible to experience in this one.
Toy photography is the solution to the pencil and paper I could never master. Like a portal between realities, it bridges the gap between the real world, and the one that exists in my imagination. It is a way to go from nothing to something. Something I can then manipulate and mould into my own vision.
That’s what, for me, toy photography really is. A beginning.