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How I Began My Toy Photo Journey

Figure sits with camera on porch steps in all grey environment, toy photography by Tourmaline .

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Most of us mini enthusiasts can attest that we’ve loved the tiniest of objects from childhood. I, myself, absolutely adored Polly Pockets, and still have much of my collection to this day.

Add to that, a passion for photography I discovered around the age of 14. My family and I took a vacation to the Smokey Mountains. We stayed in a KOA cabin for a week and hiked daily. My dad and I even climbed the side of a waterfall. Through all those hikes, and even the waterfall climb, I carried my mom’s camera with me, loaded with Kodak film. Upon arriving home, and getting the 2 rolls developed , I fell in love. I made 2 collages of the images I liked in poster frames and hung them on my bedroom wall for years to come. I still have them in my closet now.

In high school, junior year, I took a darkroom photography class. I fell in love all over again. The hands on, calming process, of developing images in the dark room spoke to me.

It was this same year that I was assigned a project in my English class in response to William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. From the list of options I chose to illustrate 5 scenes from the book. I got permission to create photo illustrations, rather than the implied drawing illustrations. For these I used the only things that’s ever spoken to me in a narrative way – toys. Play dough, plastic horses, a wooden wagon kit, a dollar store fish, etc.

I considered myself too old for toys at this time. I was 17. But for some reason I never considered that being an issue in this application. And while I don’t really recall, I think these images were well received. In any case, I was quite proud of them. This was 2008, there were no Instagram toy photographers, and I had no knowledge whatsoever of the history of photography. My images, to my eyes today, were nowhere near good, but they were a hugely defining moment for my photography to come.

I took a digital photo class my senior year of high school, having already decided to major in photography in college. And that I did.

I attended UNF 2009-2013. I majored in fine art, with a focus in photography, and minors in art history and education. I returned again to toys in my freshman black and white photography class, with quarter machine monkeys posed in front of a painted circus tent, among other settings, and a Lord of the Rings action figure Aragorn, in a downward spiral of depression – posed with dollhouse furniture and accessories. Largely, aside from the mini beer’ cans, these were all items I already owned.

I still dabbled in other forms of photography – portraiture, etc. as some classes and projects required. However, after I was assigned a narrative project in a color photography class Junior year of college, I largely never looked back. I decided to illustrate the scene with N scale model train accessories. I had never worked with these before, but discovered the Hobby Linc website after getting permanently fixated on using toys to illustrate a woman receiving the news of her loved ones death during WWII. I ordered green filler, n scale figures, a metal n scale car, miniature trees and a house. The items arrived to my apartment the night before the assignment was due. I painted the car and the house Americana colors, gathered dirt from outside, and set up the scene on my bathroom counter. I lit the scene with my desk lamp, and photographed it with a combination of my 18-55mm kit lens, and a reversed 50mm lens, because I had no macro lens or capabilities at the time. I was up until 4 in the morning, went into class early, and printed the images with a few minutes to spare before the critique. It was here that I also discovered my love for color symbolism in photography and grew apart from the dark room.

The following summer I studied abroad in Italy, taking a photography class while there, but I knew my plan before I arrived. I purchased plaster monument souvenirs from street vendors for 1-2 euro each. I then photographed those miniatures in front of their full scale counterparts as a reflection of the souvenirs we take with us, and the memories that fade away.

For my senior project I illustrated my dreams using HO scale train miniatures. And here I am today 6 years later. I’d like to think my work, and concepts have improved greatly, but that they will also continue to improve as I continue working in this medium.

Miniatures serve as iconographic objects. Not real people, places or things, but simplistic versions of such. This allows for abstracted views of reality. The perfect medium for creating visual representations of memories and emotions – abstractions of reality within themselves.

Toys are iconographic of their time, nostalgic to their once owners, and allow for complete control of the scene before the camera.

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