Why Miniatures? Part 4 – Marwencol & Toy Place

“This is how I work on patience. This is how I work on dexterity.”


Why Miniatures parts 1 through 3, can be viewed all together as a website page here.

Why are we so fascinated with miniatures? What makes miniatures useful in artistic work? In this ‘Why Miniatures’ series, we explore these ideas through quotes from various articles, books, and now movies. Today, we look at the documentaries Marwencol and Toy Place.

These films, presented today, I’ll admit, do not offer the wide array of statements in answer to the above questions, that the books discussed previously have. However, if you are interested in this topic, or in miniatures or toy photography in general I think you’ll be quite interested in these movies.


From PBS in regards to the documentary:

“On April 8, 2000, Mark Hogancamp was attacked outside a bar in Kingston, New York, by five men who beat him literally to death. Revived by paramedics, Mark had suffered brain damage and physical injuries so severe even his own mother didn’t recognize him. After nine days in a coma and 40 days in the hospital, Mark was discharged with little memory of his previous life.

Unable to afford therapy, Mark decided to create his own. In his backyard, he built Marwencol, a 1/6th scale World War II-era town that he populated with dolls representing his friends, family, and even his attackers. He used the small dolls and props to redevelop his hand-eye coordination, while he dealt with the psychological trauma from his attack through the town’s many battles and dramas.

Mark started documenting his miniature dramas with his camera. Through Mark’s lens, these were no longer dolls — they were living, breathing characters in an epic WWII story full of violence, jealousy, longing, and revenge. And he (or rather his alter ego, Captain Hogancamp) was the hero.

When Mark’s stunningly realistic photos are discovered and published in an art magazine, his homemade therapy suddenly becomes “art,” forcing Mark to make a choice between the safety of his fictional town and the real world he’s avoided since his attack.

Shot over the course of four years, Jeff Malmberg’s documentary intertwines the dual realities of Mark Hogancamp to tell the whole story of Marwencol — a surprising tale of love, secrets, pain, and adventure.”

An Image from Marwencol by Mark Hogancamp

So let’s get into it…

  • “My memories I do get, they come back in stills.”
  • “What’s the first thing I gotta work on? That’s my imagination.”
  • “This is how I work on patience. This is how I work on dexterity.”
  • “I know what it’s like to build things in miniature and want to have a society, outside of society. Smaller society.”
  • “There’s one major difference I found immediately between Mark’s work and a lot of other contemporary art that I look at and see, and life for that matter. That is, particularly when you’re using dolls or some kind of – you’re photographing something, there’s generally a very strong sense of irony in the work. There’s a distance. And it’s kind of a little wink-winky like, I’m photographing dolls. Isn’t that, you know, funny or subversive or clever or whatever. And I just – the thing that struck me immediately about Mark’s work is that there’s no irony in it as far as I can tell. I mean, he’s a very clever guy, very smart, but he’s in the work. He’s not using the work as a tool to do something else. The work is him. It’s a very authentic feeling to me.”
  • “Courage is to face the thing, do the thing, even though I have such great fear of doing it.”
  • “Everybody wishes they could have a double and could do things they could never do.”

Toy Place

From Ben Churchill, the creator of the documentary: “After accidentally discovering a toy museum in Vermont, I decided to make a documentary about who’s behind the collection of nearly 100,000 toys and why some people still enjoy them as an adult.”

View the full documentary here:

Notable quotes:

  • “We are truly living our childhood dream.”
  • ” For most people, toys offer the ability to escape.”
  • “connecting with a simpler time”


Are there any movies, books, articles, etc. you think I should delve into for thsi Why Miniatures series? Why do you find miniatures fascinating? Let me know in a comment below.

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