Little women, little dinos

5 October 2019

The German figures received a well deserved weekend off and I turned my attention to two figure-groups which I had recently acquired: dancers and dinos. I picked up the 1:48 scale vintage plastic dancers on Etsy for just a few dollars and the dinos from a local feed store. My husband encouraged me to work with both model types- why not dancers and dinosaurs? As the obvious way to approach this combination would be dinos eating dancers, I attempted to leverage the juxtaposition- grace with power- and create dance scenes.

I like these images. I am very pleased by the image of the ballet dancer on the chair, where her dinosaur is gazing up at her with admiration. Technically, the composition is interesting and balanced, the colors in the floor are complex and the chairs behind the dancer serve to create an internal frame.

Below are photos demonstrating my method. I have created a small, collapsible stage of off-cuts of wall-board and use duct tape to hold the back in vertical. I have used gel to line the walls and floor of my set in my previous photos. This time, I pulled pages from a home furnishing catalog and taped them to the back of the stage. As I shoot in low light, the short depth of field blurs the background and adds to the illusion of depth.

13 October 2019

Certain images and ideas have been of such great evolutionary importance that we store prototypes in the brain that predispose us to react in certain ways to them – an infant’s cry, the human face, mating signals (innate releasing mechanisms). Similarly, Richard Wagner and Carl Jung (among others) noted that myths around the world repeat quintessential characters and situations that reveal human nature in profound ways (archetypes). For example, the idea of a dragon appears in myths and fairy tales of all cultures, predating the discovery of dinosaur fossils. This may represent a residual fear of giant reptiles dating from a time when our mammalian ancestors struggled with them for survival on the earth. Our prehistoric terror emerges in the popularity of museum exhibits and films like Jurassic Park.


October 20, 2019

I am continuing to work with the dinosaurs and dancers, however, have been questioned about what it all means. In it’s original state, dancers and dinos are literally two things that I put together somewhat randomly. I had constraints on subject matter, and while I was not feeling well, decided to continue to work in miniature because it’s convenient and fun.

I tried an experiment today related to my former project of Willful Blindness. I somehow want this work to have more meaning, yet continue to have the same style and lighting that I have created. I found some images of the atom bomb tests in western USA, and some of Hitler’s massive crowds. I wanted to see if I could create a situation where the viewer clearly sees the dancer and the dino, and can see enough of the background to see that it is something, but not sure what it is. I use a very short dof so the background is quite blurred.

The Bomb over the Pacific Ocean
Nuclear family: Operation Doorstep- mannakin family waits for the blast.

I think that the images are fairly successful: the colors are rich and interesting, the dancer and dino are in focus and the composition is fine. I don’t think that the images can stand on thier own, that is, they need an explanation. I am not sure of the idea of combining historical events with the dancer/dino. The duo is successful when in a fantastical place, however, the historical events beg the question of reality and the viewer may think “why a dino”?

October 26, 2019: I have been reading up on Operation Doorstep, the US Department of Defense nuclear experiements in Nevada. I understand that nuclear weapons were new and that there was a need to better understand the effect of weapons on human dwellings, but it’s just weird. Friendly family scenes in fully outfitted homes- there to be blown up. All mannakins are Caucasian- and the house was large, for a well-to-do family. Operation Doorstep would be a very interesting project to research.

In this experiment (above), I printed the family picture onto silk organza which has diaphenous and has a very open weave. Shining light on the front of the picture shows more of the family, and shining light behind the fabric reveals more of the background. It’s essentially what is called a scrim in theater. I printed out a picture of NATO forces watching an explosion and placed it in the back of the theater set-up. I wanted the dancer to seem out of place and oddly celebratory. I am not happy with the result – the scrim material if obvious. The dancer, while out of place, doesn’t really have a purpose. I was hoping to explore willful blindness, but it doesn’t fit that idea. I will try the scrim idea again, but will consider the content.

Polaroid follies

3 October 2019

I am currently working on project which is a variant of work I planned for term 2 in my Research proposal. I had been exploring the idea of willful blindness, including denial, status quo, etc. As I had mentioned in Week 1, I enjoyed creating scenes with the miniature German figures, but was looking for more: more depth, more of a point?

Fortuitiously, I received a JollyLook camera in the mail. I had backed the JollyLook project on a start-up platform nearly three years ago. The camera looks a lot like the old top-view medium format cameras, but is made of cardboard and uses mini Polaroid film. I was very excited about this model as it seemed to be configured in such a way that I could photos with a tilt/shift approach. This camera seemed to be an ideal way for me to explore the use of the figurines in a different way.

This thing is, this camera is cardboard and has no lens. I opted to use the pinhole and, out of approximately 20 shots, I managed to get two which had recognizable content!

I thought it would be interesting to use the images I produced to create an emulsion lift. I approached this experiment like a geometer, but was disappointed and puzzled that I did suceed in getting my hands covered with black developing chemicals, but no emulsion. My husband did a quick Google search and we learned that Polaroid transfers require Polaroid film. I was using Fuji film.

I ordered Polaroid film for this little camera and tried again. Turns out, this alternative process does not work with any instant film that is currently in production. Good to know… but disappointing. More about emulsion lifts in my next post.

10 October 2019

Repurposed family history

My curiosity for alternative processes and wish to find a visually interesting solution to apply to my figurine project led me to purchasing old Polaroid pictures on eBay. The first lot— 100 of them- contained some interesting family scenes which I thought I could use as background for my figurine work. Disappointingly, the film type was incorrect and an emulsion lift was not possible.

I purchased a second lot of old Polaroids- labeled “1980 trip”, on eBay. These appear to be mostly national park scenes. Curious to know if I had finally found the correct type of film, and I chose a photo to sacrifice to another Polaroid emulsion lift- and was really thrilled that it worked! While the emulsion is thicker than I imagined, it’s quite fragile and poked a couple of holes in the picture. The emulsion expands in the water and, when wet, gains about 30% in area. I transferred the image to drawing paper.

Selection of family photos taken out West (USA) circa 1980
Emulsion lifted and placed on wet paper.
Finished product: emulsion shrinks and regains clarity. The holes formed spontaneously during the soaking process.

I like the look of the transfer- to me it’s slightly other-worldly, maybe painterly. I will continue to experiment with these emulsion lifts, and am looking for a more translucent product. I have some sheets of silk organza — designed for the printer– which I will use as a back from the next round of experiments.

Of note, it’s a little sad to look at other people’s abandoned photographs. As Susan Sontag had said in “Society of the Spectacle” that family history is made by the photographs taken. It seems a shame to put these personal pictures on eBay, however, I appreciate the photos as art.

Ich bin ein Elastoliner

2 October 2019

Over the past several weeks I have been experimenting with a project I have titled “Ich bin ein Elastoliner”. I am using small (1:48 scale) vintage German toy warriors to create tiny tableau- some funny, some irreverent. The warriors were made by a now defunct company, Hausser out of a patented plastic material deemed “Elastoline”. The title plays on President Kennedy’s famous speech in Berlin where he proclaimed in German “Ich bin ein Berliner”. While Kennedy meant to say that he was also a citizen of Berlin at heart, he actually said “I am a jelly-filled donut”. My work with these toy soldiers explores the idea of using a toy in a way which it was not intended.

Among the hundred or so detailed and beautifully painted figures, there are three women: A queen, a princess and a milkmaid. To me, the situation provides an opportunity to explore the juxtaposition of power between the male and female figures. The consistency of aggressive posturing of the warriors also provides an opportunity to play on incongruity- of size, of modern vs period figurines and of the roles of men and women.

I have enjoyed solving the problems of working with small-scale figurines. I don’t have any professional studio-lights, and am working with a single flashlight for spot-lighting. Backdrops are created using a three-sided box made of scraps of wall-board and I use colored gels to line the walls and floor. Each photo shoot takes a few hours including set-up.

I have had a lot of fun brainstorming ideas and playing them out. I like some of the results, but struggle with the straight-forward nature of the picture. The photos lack depth and are too literal. I am considering how to add depth and interest to this work and have started to experiment with alternative processes. More on that in my contextual research post.