I love taking pictures of the little plastic people. Its kinda my grown-up way of playing with my toys. As an adult, I don’t think its quite possible to replicate that very imaginative space children occupy when playing with their toys. Trust me, I’ve tried. Through the eyes of a child, toys become more than inanimate things. They come to life. For me this has evolved in such a way that now I simply enjoy trying to recapture that unique perception of a toy via whimsical photographs. Plus, action figures never blink.
Back around 2000 I enrolled in an intermediate graphic design class at The School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. One of the assigned projects involved designing a deck of cards based on something that interested you. About a year prior, like a prodigal son, I returned to the warm world of action figures. It took Star Wars Episode I and a Jar Jar Binks figure to make that happen but there’s been no looking back. By the time this class started I had amassed a decent little collection of post POTF2 figs and decided they’d make good subjects for a deck of cards. These were all shot with a manual SLR Yashica 35mm film camera. Which means, I took all these shots (one exposure each), had the film developed, got prints, scanned the prints, then clipped the figures. Don’t really miss those days!
Shooting the little guys remained a hobby but I eventually started taking more time to choose the subjects and the backdrops. I began to pay more attention to lighting and selective focus. I would take field trips to downtown and to local parks in search of cool environments. And I started to spend lots of time laying flat on the ground with people walking by wondering what the hell I was doing.
Thanks to lots of encouragement from friends, many here on AFi, I decided to submit a proposal for a coffee table style book of little plastic people portraits. I was going to call it Go Figures! and it would contain, not just my “on location” style shots, but also a bunch of “evolution” style photos. It would be well designed and have tons of cool tidbits about the figures in the photos. I put many hours into crafting a solid presentation. Well, my biggest hope, Chronicle Books, sent a nice rejection letter:
Thanks for sending along the proposal for Go Figures for our consideration. There are some really fantastic images here—I loved seeing the evolution of certain characters over time, as well as some of the more obscure action figures. However, I’m afraid the project isn’t quite right for Chronicle at this time. I worry that the wide variety of action figures would miss the fans of particular shows and films, while the market for this type of action figure collectors in general is a bit too narrow in scope for our publishing program. I wish you the best of luck in placing this book with the right publisher—and thanks again for thinking of Chronicle. With best wishes…
I was bummed. Tried a couple other publishers with similar results. Eventually I decided to make my own book. Just a one-off for myself. Did it using Apple’s iPhoto application and it came out really cool. Last fall I decided to show the book to Greg Esser, who is basically Phoenix’s arts ambassador. We met for coffee one morning and he flipped through Go Figures! I was relieved to see a smile on his face. He closed the book and said he’d like to show me a couple gallery spaces. I wasn’t expecting to be offered an exhibit quite so quickly but could do nothing but accept. Greg graciously offered two separate galleries that are a block apart right along Downtown Phoenix’s First Fridays art walk. I was elated and terrified. I had about a month to pull this show together.
Lots of work went into choosing photos, getting them output and mounted. Buying frames. Buying and cutting mats. Painting the walls of the gallery space. Hanging the pieces. Planning a small artist’s reception. Etc, etc. With the help of some special friends, it all came together.
Here is one of the flyers I created announcing the show:
Both exhibits were up for the course of a month. The Drive Through Gallery was only open two evenings of that time, however. The debut and reception was on the more low key “Third Fridays” art walk. Many friends came by and that totally warmed my heart. But being friends, they had no choice but to say they liked the photos! I was happy to observe, though, that most of the strangers that just wandered in would leave smiling. And, honestly, that in itself made the experience worth it.
After my month was up I was asked to contribute one of my pieces to a fund raising photography exhibit that took place in the main space of the gallery I showed in. I chose my old Ninja Turtles shot. Next to this gallery is a small boutique that sells locally crafted items. Its called “Made“. The owner, Cindy Dach, offered to put some of my prints out for sale. you can see my Johnny Cash shot on the top shelf.
In the end, not much sold. But, of course, that’s not why I did it. (Although, seeing how much it ended up costing I couldn’t help but hope for some big-time art investor to walk in and offer to buy it all!) It was a tremendous opportunity to show lots of people my quirky action figure portraits. And the reaction was nothing but positive. I’ve posted most of the shots I exhibited on my little web page CantinaDan.com.
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