It’s that time of year again, so suddenly upon us, yup, you guessed it… when everything gets all Star Warsy, just before Christmas, the excitement of the new installation of the next movie, which in this case, brings it all to an end. The rise of Skywalker. The culmination of so many adventures and stories and toys and what sparked the imagination of generations, and will for many years in time to come, our beloved Star Wars, and Star Wars characters, what got me into Toy photography in the first place…..
Why, in a world full of beautiful landscapes, portraits, city, sea and animal kingdoms, is there room for a bunch of dedicated enthusiasts, running around with top end cameras, and a bag of toys….
Getting in the way of those thousands of early rising photographers, all set up in their prime locations to capture that perfect sunrise or sunset, only to be seemingly agitated by a 40 year old man, splashing through their picture perfect scenery in waders and wellies carrying a small camera, a huge grin and a 12” Stormtrooper figure with matching sail boat and accessories.
Truth is, I don’t know, and I don’t really care…. because I am doing something I love.
We are not here to ruin your picture perfect landscapes, we are here to make our own, creating stories, making ourselves giggle, staying out of trouble….
It seems there is a place after all, as over the years, Eric and his adventures have gathered over 100k followers on Instagram, been featured across the globe in various publications, worked with top line clients such as Disney, BOSE, Columbia, ADOBE, Diesel, Maserati, Pirelli, O2 etc etc… and even had his own exhibitions in the Far East with a team of likewise dedicated enthusiasts called the Wonderfactory.
But why…. and what is this phenomenon called toy photography, or forced perspective.
Well, it’s nothing new of course, many came before Eric, and many will come after… from people dabbling in LEGO photography, to star wars, to marvel to Barbies… its generally the same formula, taking a small figure, and placing it in the real world to create a story. Enabling the figure to look real in this toy box world of ours. We have all done it, as kids, set up your figures in the garden, or in the house, and imagined them to be real… well, some of us just never grew out of it, and somewhere along the line, this world and the world of photography collided and, here we are. Firstly, it is not to be mistaken as product photography, for it is not that, rather, it’s breathing life into something inanimate, to provoke feeling, just the same as any landscape photographer does, without said inanimate figure. In many cases, such as Eric’s, it’s the humour attached to it which makes it stand out from simply being a figure in a real world. Sometimes, it’s to re-create a scene from a movie or famous play, sometimes, it’s simply for fun and the ridiculousness of finding tiny props to accompany tiny toys which make it more surreal. Most times for me personally, it’s the latter…
Eric, or at least, my early toy photography was borne out of wanting to do something a little different. I had dabbled in landscapes and portraits and one gloomy winters afternoon in the UK, finding myself trapped inside as it was dark outside already, a lone Lego Darth Vader figure called out to me from a top shelf, and seemed like a worthy model. I was quite excited to try out my SIGMA 105mm F2.8 EX DG OS Macro lens on him, seeing as outside was a no go. A few clicks, some hearty giggles, a few more ideas and setups and I was instantly hooked.
I had found the something different I had been looking for… almost immediately, I was on the hunt all around the house for different figures, I found myself furiously sketching ideas in notebooks, different setups, what props I could use, what figures, all tying into the same idea, of simply making myself laugh and telling little stories. These ranged from silly movie poster remakes, to a multitude of figures, stealing pizza at midnight….
I was having loads of fun, and that was all that really mattered.
A lot of the early pics were shared on deviant art, and were made using Lego figures, particularly Stormtroopers, who I have always been fond of due to their enormous lack of expression, which after all these years, is one of Eric’s best assets… he has undergone many transformations, from being a Lego figure, to a 3 inch un-pose-able figure, to the much loved 6 inch black series figure and finally, to the stupidly expensive sideshow toys collectors figure. I still get a barrage of emails saying, please do not tell me you are putting a £400 figure in rivers and streams…..
After the arrival of Instagram, everything changed. We went from sharing images on the website, to instant sharing to all our friends online… instant feedback. Initially I saw Instagram as a tool to just bounce ideas off friends, before doing a more polished setup to share on websites, quickly it became apparent that this community was growing rapidly, and with each idea I posted, I started to get more and more likes and followers.
The toy photography by then was already an addiction. Sourcing props, toys and vehicles, finding environments to shoot in had become almost an obsession. Most of my kids toys were missing parts and accessories, or in most cases, purchased for the sole reason of obtaining some random small accessory to use in a setup. Coupled with this growing community of people enjoying what I was doing, it became more like a full blown addiction.
I had connected with other toy photographers too and we were sharing ideas, learning as we went. It was fun to see the process we had all figured out, as Instagram was (and still is) a phone app, we all had a process of taking and editing the images using our DSLR’s and Lightroom or Photoshop, exporting the image and emailing it to ourselves, to be able to pick it up on our phone and post it into Instagram. A lot has changed over the years, but it still generally the same idea.
I have always maintained the same outlook, no matter how my Instagram grew and grew, I was doing it simply because I was having fun, it was always nice to gain new followers, and get emails from around the world telling me how I inspired others to pick up cameras and toys and do the same, or just messages from people saying how I made them smile, but at the end of the day, it was never to gain more followers or likes.
If I look back through my Instagram, it is amazing to see my life being told through Eric and his silly adventures…. how far we have come, the ups and downs… births, deaths and so on… it’s been a crazy ride, and through thick and thin Eric and these little stories have been there, I have been fortunate enough to make some great friendships, work with great companies, become a SIGMA UK ambassador and talk about how the little SIGMA dp Quattro series of cameras enabled me to leave behind the huge bodies and multitude of lenses I used to lug up mountains and into streams etc, and rely solely on the fixed lens Quattro’s to deliver insanely detailed images which have become the backbone of my outdoor kit, whilst the SIGMA Art lenses are a staple in the studio with both Eric setups as well as our @grumpycockstudios food and drink photography. I have been able to travel to wonderful locations, and work with extremely talented and wonderful people, simply because one winters afternoon, I picked up a little Lego man and took a snap…..
Keep snapping. And here’s hoping we all enjoy the Rise of Skywalker 🙂