Wherein Monte Williams celebrates some more of the unlikely sources of inspiration for his toy photography hobby.
Disney Theme Parks: Waiting In Line
Thanks to the ambition of its clever designers and architects, waiting in line for a given attraction at Disneyland can sometimes be a treat. The Indiana Jones Adventure, for example; with its faux stone walls and its bamboo and its wooden shipping crates and other relics, you need only overlook the occasional exit sign or the neon-colored sweatpants of the family in line ahead of you to believe you’re in a secret temple, and that some deadly, implausible journey awaits you.
I visited Florida’s larger, more celebrated Disney World for the first time last summer, and for my money it’s got nothing on its smaller California predecessor. One thing Disney World does have going for it, however, is Animal Kingdom. Rides like Expedition Everest are a hoot, but more enchanting by far are all the wonderful things to see while waiting in line or loitering in the spaces between attractions.
That’s how I want my toy photos to feel: exotic and ancient and mysterious. I fear I have a long way to go.
Incidentally, for all the charm of these backdrops, I naturally assumed as I navigated them that they were not merely comically shallow on a cultural level, but also wildly inaccurate. But I photographed this vehicle in the Asia section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom last summer:
And I photographed this vehicle in Pakistan six months later:
Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Skull Island Scenes
There is so much to enjoy in this extended series of action sequences from Peter Jackson’s 2005 film.
You’ve got Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler), a phony actor portraying and eventually sorta becoming precisely the kind of two-fisted safari hero I favor, and then there are dinosaurs and giant bugs and spooky natives and a giant goddamn ape, plus the setting for all this nonsense is called Skull friggin’ Island. Fun!
I despise CGI, but the Skull Island sequences in Peter Jackson’s King Kong are so fun that I barely notice they’re comprised almost entirely of CGI. This is not faint praise.
Marty Robbins’s Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs
Every item on this list boasts the dubious distinction of having somehow inspired my toy photography. This album of traditional country songs can also claim something even more unlikely: I love it and my father and my mother and my sister all love it. It is the only album my entire family enjoys. (Unless I am mistaken, Lonesome Dove is the only novel and film we all endorse).
From the classic “El Paso”, wherein a lonely cowboy risks death for one kiss from his beloved, to “The Master’s Call”, a Christian ballad so stirring it moves even a curmudgeonly atheist like me, to “They’re Hanging Me Tonight”, a murder ballad Nick Cave really needs to cover someday, Marty Robbins’s Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs is filled to bursting with the type of badass, two-fisted stories I try to evoke with my toy photos.
These songs also maintain the same sort of masculine-yet-innocent balance I so admire in the vintage G.I. Joe Adventure Team package artwork—I wonder if any critics in Nashville ever made the same connection?
My Fellow Toy Photographers
I’ll start this final section with a disclaimer: I put this batch of photos together by lazily skimming my Flickr Favorites, without the benefit of strategy or organization, nor any deliberate intention of including or excluding any particular photographer. If you are surprised or disappointed to see that none of your photos appear below, consider this: nothing from Ed Speir appears below, either, and he’s probably my favorite toy photographer.
I find inspiration in the photos below because they represent either a scale I don’t utilize or a unique approach to composition that would never have occurred to me, or even simply a different style of doll or action figure than I tend to favor; the results in some cases are delightfully cartoony, while others are lifelike in a way I can never hope to replicate. If nothing else, these photos should prove refreshing because many of them were photographed indoors, whereas pretty nearly every toy photo I have ever produced has been set outdoors.