A quick breakdown of the history of toy photography. I hope this will pique your interest and encourage you to delve in deeper at the links below.
Those of you who have been keeping up with my research, know that toy photography can be linked back to the invention of photography, even back to the practice of still life in art. However, within history books, toy photography is not a genre labeled outside of the umbrella genre’s of still life, staged, fabricated and directorial mode.
It’s important that we see toy photography as part of recognized artistic practices, but I think it’s also important that we see its unique qualities.
So let’s get into it.
Albert Smith and James Stuart Blackton create a short film with miniatures called ‘Raising Old Glory Over Morro Castle.’
Edward H. Amet creates a short film using miniautes called ‘Bombardment of Matanzas,’ passing it off as the real thing.
16 and 9 year olds, Elsie Wright and Francis Griffiths created the Cottingly Fairies photographs, passing them off as real fairy sightings.
Late 1920s – 1930s
Laszlo Maholy-Nagy, Herbert List, Herbery Bayer, Emiel Von Maerkerken, Vilem Reichmann, and Hans Bellmer, used toys and miniatures for some of their works
Kodak received 15 toy photography submissions to their picture contest.
Wesley David Archer, published his series ‘Death in the Air,’ passing it off as real.
Robert Kenneth Wilson (or more accurately, Marmaduke “Duke” Wetherell), captured a staged photo of the Lochness Monster, passing it off as real.
Dare Wright began writing and photographically illustrating ‘The Lonely Doll’ book series.
David Levinthal began using toys in his photography during graduate school, and still photographs toys to this day.
James Casebere began creating photographic works with self-made miniatures. He continues to work in this way today.
Ellen Brooks used toys in her photography from 1978-1985.
Henk Tas began creating staged images with toys, and continued to do so, at least until 2005.
Arthur Tress created ‘The Teapot Opera’ using staged toys. He then made ‘Fish Tank,’ the following year.
Walter Wick photographically illustrated the I-Spy books beginning in 1992. He had created, what he refers to as ‘picture puzzels,’ prior to this time, but the timeline and works created, are not well defined.
2000s and Beyond
Lori Nix and Kathleen Gerber, Matthew Albanese, Mark Crummet, Grace Weston, Tatsuya Tanaka, Felix Hernandez, the wonderful people I’ve met through the instagram toy photographers community, all those who got invloved during the pandemic, and so many more, have been, and are still, working within this world. I’ll update as the years go by.
Do you want to be recorded in the history of toy photography?
If you’re a photographer who began working in toy photography before 2000, I’d like to add you to this timeline. Please reach out.
If you’re a photographer currently working in toy photography, I’d like to add you to this list – Current Working Toy Photographers Listing
In either case, or anything in between, I’d love to know about you and your work. Please contact me or comment below.
What are you most interested in learning more about?
What I’m researching next – the historic use of miniatures in film
What I’m making next – more health inspired images, with some new props to help
Read more – The History of Toy Photography
Or get outside this blog, and read even deeper about the history of photography as a whole – Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Met, Photography
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