Inspired by light, passion and mystery. All images are copy-writed to myself, unless stated otherwise. No images may be used without consent.

Posts tagged ‘David Levinthal’

Symposium DVD Script Bibliography

Bibliography

Quotes

1. http://www.davidlevinthal.com/article_Stranger.html for quote “nothing more or less than childhood recovered at will.”

2 and 3. http://exposurecompensation.com/2007/01/21/%E2%80%9Cshooting-toys-to-make-art%E2%80%9D-david-levinthal/ for quote ‘I began to realize that by carefully selecting the depth of field and making it narrow, I could create a sense of movement and reality that was in fact not there.’

And “Ever since I began working with toys, I have been intrigued with the idea that these seemingly benign objects could take on such incredible power and personality simply by the way they were photographed”.

4. (http://www.mikestimpson.com/photography/page_bio.html) for quote ‘I seem to take a lot of photographs of toys. I also like messing about with light.’

5. http://www.columbia.edu/itc/architecture/ockman/pdfs/dossier_4/Baudelaire.pdf Page 8 5th line down, for quote ‘A child sees everything in a state of newness, he is always drunk. Nothing more resembles what we call inspiration than the delight with which a child absorbs form and colour’.

6. http://www.columbia.edu/itc/architecture/ockman/pdfs/dossier_4/Baudelaire.pdf Page 8, 33 lines down ‘a person who is never for a moment without the genius of childhood, a genius for which no aspect of life has become stale.’

7.  Walter Benjamin Old Toys Page 100 Benjamin, Walter. “Old Toys: The Toy Exhibition at the Märkisches Museum,” in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 2, part 1, 1927-1930 (Walter Benjamin). Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2005 ISBN 0674008960 “When the urge to play overcomes an adult, this is not simply a regression to childhood. To be sure, play is always liberating. Surrounded by a world of giants, children use play to create a world appropriate to their size. But the adult, who finds himself, threatened by the real world and can find no escape, removes its sting by playing with its image in reduced form.’

Images

http://www.davidlevinthal.com David Levinthal Images

http://www.artweek.la/issue/july-18-2011/article/david-levinthal-toyland David Levinthal Images

http://www.mikestimpson.com Mike Stimpson Images

http://www.oculoid.com/lego-showcase-by-mike-stimpson Mike Stimpson Images

http://www.hans-bellmer.com Hans Bellmer Images

horror-movies.wikia.com Child’s Play Chucky Image

Videos

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdndTE8ZFig    Toy Story Video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rridXskgWg     Halo Video

Research

http://thesaurus.com/browse/antagonist

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny

http://www.hans-bellmer.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chucky_%28Child%27s_Play%29

http://www.mutuallyoccluded.com/2009/01/benjamin-on-toys-play-and-the-joy-of-repetition/ Extracts from Walter Benjamin’s Old Toys publication.

Plus much more research on my blog

Books

Barbie Millicent Roberts: an original David Levinthal San Jose Museum of Art

New York: Pantheon Books 1998 Found in Coventry Library Main Collection Floor 3 (739.41 LEV) IBSN: 0375404252 1ST Edition, Pantheon Books

A room full of toys : the magical characters of childhood By Alberto Manguel, Michel Pintado, Jean Haas and Simon Saulnier. Found in Coventry Library Main Collection Floor 3 (739.4 MAN) ISBN: 0500513171 Thames & Hudson

Final DVD Script with citations

Why do we like playing with toys? A look into how and why people use toys in art, photography and film making.

 Charles Baudelaire described artistic creativity in The Painter of Modern Life as “nothing more or less than childhood recovered at will.” (1 http://www.davidlevinthal.com) And I believe you do have to have a sort of playfulness when creating art, an innocence, so you can stop look around and see the beauty that has always been around you, you just have to look with your imagination like a child would and create something new. I like many photographers before me photograph toys; I have been fascinated by how they can be used in photography for a while. In my research I found many others who photograph toys too, and this got me interested in the reasons behind why people use toys to grab audiences and to portray their messages. I wanted to research many different uses of toys, and hopefully understand my fascination with toys better. I started off researching David Levinthal because he was the first photographer I looked at that started my fascination with using toys in my photography.

David Levinthal was born in San Francisco California in 1949. His work contains hints at iconic symbols of American culture, especially his Barbie series and Baseball series. He works mainly on large format Polaroid’s photographing toys and railway figures. He creates all of his sets by hand, and lights them to achieve the atmosphere he requires for his image. He first became interested in using this aesthetic when he started cutting up a cardboard box and foam board then joined them together with tape. He realised he had an enthusiasm for this type of work when he noticed he was creating a room, which turned into an office, a hotel room or a corridor depending on how he looked at it, he was creating something that could tell a story. So he started to cut windows into the building he had made, letting the light shine through at different angles, creating brightly lit scenes, that could showcase everyday activities or dull scenes which gave the viewer an eerie, mysterious and voyeuristic feel. The scenes were not perfect in their manufacture; he had made them to look good enough to be photographed, wanting to transform them into narrative using lights and figures placed within the frame. His spaces were only parts of a suggested larger place, one the viewer of the photograph can only imagine when they look at his images. Levinthal says of his work ‘I began to realize that by carefully selecting the depth of field and making it narrow, I could create a sense of movement and reality that was in fact not there.’ (2 exposurecompensation.com)

Hobby shops contained everything Levinthal needed to create his scenes. He would buy mini sheets of wall paper for his rooms, using many designs in his different creations. This attention to detail shows in the atmosphere created by his images, sometimes the background would be almost obscured by how blurry it was, but it has been changed into blurred colours for us to image what is there.

David Levinthal works with mini figures intended for use on adult’s model railways, they are less than an inch tall but very detailed. The most detailed and highly coloured ones Levinthal likes to use are made by a German company called Preiser. Preiser offers a large selection of figures in many different poses and for many different purposes.

He used large format Polaroid’s to photograph his sets, so he could achieve the short depth of field his images are so well-known for today. The shallow depth of field, meaning the blurred background and small centre of focus, gives the photographs even more mystery because the background is removed from the image, turned into blurs of colour by the camera. This adds to the realism of the photograph, especially because the shot is blurry focused on one small part of the image, which suggests movement with in the frame. He uses lighting that brings out the colour but also takes some of the detail away, so that it is even harder for the viewer to decide if the image is real. Take this image for example, number nineteen from his Wild West series. The orange-yellow colours Levinthal has used in the background really bring an image of the Wild West into any viewers mind, and not being able to see the detail adds to this illusion. The short depth of field has blurred the background and the horse, giving the image the sense of movement. We imagine the horse is galloping into the distant, that the cowboy on the horse gun drawn, in is pursuit of something or someone.

Levinthal knew how to manipulate each part of the lighting in his sets to achieve the atmosphere he wanted. He imitated the shine of neon lights on pavements, the welcoming warmth of light from an open door, and the dull, green hue of distant alleyways. The places he created always seemed to be hiding something, he manipulated the light in such a way that he could turn a toy figure in a photograph into something you have to look at for a long period of time wondering whether it is real or not. Toys always had interested Levinthal; he said about them “Ever since I began working with toys, I have been intrigued with the idea that these seemingly benign objects could take on such incredible power and personality simply by the way they were photographed”.  (3 http://www.exposurecompensation.com) This is how I feel about the use of toys; you can change the image and the story by photographing them in different ways.

David Levinthal’s most recent body of work entitled Attack of the Bricks, a Star Wars Series. The series is comprised of photographs of Star Wars Lego mini figures, mainly on their own, with dark atmospheric lighting. Take his photograph of a Stormtrooper aiming his gun, I do like this image because of its shallow depth of field, your eyes are focused wholly on the mini-figure. This blurs the background which gives the image a sense of mystery, anything could be happening just behind the Stormtrooper but we can never find out what. To me what makes the images stand out as being David Levinthal photographs is the blurred background and how sharp the mini-figure is. Although I find I don’t like these photographs as much as his old work, because they lack the creativity and realism of old Levinthal works. I remember looking at some of his baseball series photographs and spending a while trying to work out what I was really looking at, I didn’t believe they were toys. With the Star Wars photographs, I know straight away that I am looking at Lego mini-figures; there is no mystery, nothing to make me look twice at the images. The images being blurred hinting at movement does relate to his early work, but they don’t have the same uncanny realism that fooled your mind when you first looked at them.

Mike Stimpson is a photographer who says ‘I seem to take a lot of photographs of toys. I also like messing about with light.’ (4 http://www.mikestimpson.com/photography.html)

His work can be mainly seen on flickr on his Balakov flickr page, or on his website. His work is as detailed as David Levinthal’s but he uses his sets and props in a different way. Stimpson like Levinthal has used Star Wars Lego Stormtrooper mini figures in his images, but he has used them to tell a new story or re-create an image. In Levinthal’s images I think he trying to tell the Star Wars story, and highlight the different characters. Stimpson such in this image entitled ‘Desire’ uses the figures to create a surreal story; he also uses handmade props and sets to enhance the narrative in the photograph. Stimpson’s Stormtrooper images went into a book entitled ‘Stormtroopers We Love You’ a collection of all of his Stormtrooper images. It also contains this image called ‘Raintrooper’ this image stood out at me firstly because it reminds me of David Levinthal’s work but also because with the movement in the water it tricks your eyes into believing the toy is real for a few seconds. I could almost imagine this image being a still from the Star Wars films, until you notice the figure is made of Lego. The small depth of field connects this piece of work with David Levinthal’s work showing it is one of the best ways to create images of toys that are mysterious and fool the viewer’s eyes into thinking they are real.

Mike Stimpson also re-creates famous photographs out of Lego, such as this image here entitled ‘Dali Atomicus’, I always look at this image and think back to when Dali was trying to capture the image, how it took many shots to get the photograph right. Dali had someone throw the cats and a bucket of water into the frame, and looking at this image I appreciate how long it would have taken to create the original image, and this re-creation of it. This photograph shows how easy it is to manipulate Lego to tell any story you want, this is one of the main reasons I like to use Lego, because I can manipulate it and get it into the position I want before I take the shot. I can position lights around it and make sure everything is perfect, compared to shooting live subjects or time sensitive events, Lego won’t move unless you move it. I can create large sets to encompass the Lego and add to the narrative shown in the image. There are also photographers who use toys as a way to portray their desires or feelings.

Hans Bellmer created abstract doll-like figures that were photographed erotically. His work is said to be from his unconscious mind, and his sexual desire for younger women. Hans Bellmer’s dolls are very different to the works of David Levinthal and Mike Stimpson because his images are uncanny and creepy. I find myself turning away from them, like I don’t want to look at them. They are so disfigured that our eyes can’t comprehend what we are looking at. We see limbs and sometimes faces, and start to imagine nightmares. The uncanny is when something can be familiar but foreign to us at the same time, we can be attracted to an uncanny image but also repulsed by it at the same time, causing us to because confused and slightly frightened by the image. Someone looking at Bellmer’s work wouldn’t know if what they were looking at was a real manipulated person, or a doll. The figures are twisted and grotesque, but what makes the images interesting is that they are a projection of Bellmer’s mind, I can’t even fathom what he was thinking when creating them, and looking at the figures, I don’t think I want to. But there is something creepy about dolls, they sit with their big staring eyes unmoving until you may catch a glimpse from the corner of your eye and believe that it moved.

This is used to an advantage in horror films such as the Child’s Play franchise, the doll Chucky is used as the main adversary in all of the films. This makes the film seem even scarier because most people would have had a doll or figure sitting in their room at one point while they slept. The association with dolls and horror is now accepted, but Hans Bellmer’s figures still shock and repulse today. I think this is party to do with the sexual connotations the figures have, but also because they are so abstract that we must turn away before we look too closely and see something we didn’t want to see.  Toys have been used in many different types of films not just horror, they can be used to tell a story or even as a tool to suggest realism.

This advert is for a video game called Halo, toys have been used here to show the realism of the game, a strange concept, but they have made the toys look almost real with their use of lighting. The people filming the piece would have needed to make choices over which figures to use to achieve this realistic look. This film in my opinion really shows the game to be immersive, even the emotions on the action figures faces show me that when playing the game you will feel the emotions of the people on the screen. Using the tagline ‘Believe’ for the video acts as something to get viewers thinking, do we believe that the toys are real, or do we believe the characters are real when we are playing the game. This is a way to get us to feel for the characters in the game, and hopefully keep people playing it. Using toys may be seen by some people as a bad way to advertise a video game, but this film proves it can work. So why use toys in a video game advert, I think this is because toys are versatile tools to use, they can be positioned to play out any scene you want, and with clever uses of camera angles fool your mind into thinking what you are seeing is real and put the message of the piece across.

A good example of the image of toys being used to film is the Toy Story franchise, true they are computer animated toys, but they still have the aesthetic of toys. Using toys means we can relate to the characters straight away, we take a while to connect to a human character on the screen, but with toys we all remember them from our childhood, and memories help us connect to the toys on-screen. This made the films resonate with children and adults because everyone can enjoy watching a story being played out by toys. Films can use toys to help the audience connect to the characters easily so more time can be spent on the main story than on character development.

Film and photography are similar in many ways, using toys to grab their audience and keep them and manipulating the toys to portray a message to the viewers. Films use toys to make us forget we are watching toys and really feel for the characters. This is similar to David Levinthal’s early work where you had to spend a while really looking to see if he photographed people or toy figures, but looking at the Flickr photographers of today, and people who photograph Lego mini-figures, they don’t really want to make the scenes look real, the want to create a fully fictional scene from toys. Then again there are photographers like Mike Stimpson, who like to recreate films and photographs from Lego, so this could be seen as fooling your eye into believing what you see is real. It seems everybody uses toys in a different way to achieve their project, but then this is the nature of a toy. Even if a child had the same toy as another child, he would not be playing out the same imaginary story with his toy as the child next to him. This is showing the power of the imagination and how it can inspire people to create art, films and photographs. The fact that toys can be manipulated into any message, create any scene and tell any story is one of the main reasons people choose to use them. I certainly use them to portray a message and to keep my audience hooked onto my images as they remember playing with the shown toys as a child. Researching how many other people have used toys in their work, has really helped me understand why I like using toys to tell my stories, it is something we can all relate to, and toys can be manipulated to tell any story I want. I can light the scene in many different ways to change the atmosphere of the story, so I can tell any story, or let the viewer imagine their own narrative like children do when they play with toys.

Baudelaire says ‘A child sees everything in a state of newness, he is always drunk. Nothing more resembles what we call inspiration than the delight with which a child absorbs form and colour’. (5 http://www.columbia.edu/itc/architecture/ockman/pdfs/dossier_4/Baudelaire.pdf Page8) This relates to how photographers take a photograph, they work with light looking for the colours and shadows it produces.

Children are fascinated by everything, because it is all new to them, and if a photographer can look at the world with that philosophy his practice can only benefit. Baudelaire would describe this as ‘a person who is never for a moment without the genius of childhood, a genius for which no aspect of life has become stale.’ (6 http://www.columbia.edu/itc/architecture/ockman/pdfs/dossier_4/Baudelaire.pdf)

The nature of play and toys means every time you pick them up a new scene can be made, a new story played out. We may lose this as we move into adulthood, but your inner child is still inside you.

Walter Benjamin said in Old Toys “When the urge to play overcomes an adult, this is not simply a regression to childhood. To be sure, play is always liberating. Surrounded by a world of giants, children use play to create a world appropriate to their size. But the adult, who finds himself, threatened by the real world and can find no escape, removes its sting by playing with its image in reduced form.’ (7 Walter Benjamin Old Toys Page 100) The photographers and artists who use toys in their work may use them because they find solace and security in what the toys represent, a way to hide from the world. Toys can be used in many different ways, to intrigue, amaze and repulse the viewer. Toys are so versatile that they can become anything, this is the nature of a toy, and how you use your imagination to create stories with them. Photographers use them because of this quality, how versatile they are, and they can be used in any situation. I use toys not to hide from the world or portray any hidden need; I have now realized I use toys because I enjoy building them into scenes and using my adult knowledge to make them into something more than just toys.

Finished Script for my Symposium DVD

Why do we like playing with toys? A look into how and why people use toys in art, photography and film making.

 I photograph toys; I have been fascinated by how they can be used in photography for a while. In my research I found many others who photography toys too, and this got me interested in the reasons behind why people use toys to grab audiences and to portray their messages. I wanted to research many different uses of toys, and hopefully understand why my fascination with toys better. I started off researching David Levinthal because he was the inspiration that started me off working with toys.

David Levinthal was born in San Francisco California in 1949. His work contains hints at iconic symbols of American culture, especially his Barbie series and Baseball series. He works mainly on large format Polaroid’s photographing toys and railway figures. He creates all of his sets by hand, and lights them to achieve the atmosphere he requires for his image. He first became interested in using this aesthetic when he started cutting up a cardboard box and foam board then joined them together with tape. He realised he had an enthusiasm for this type of work when he noticed he was creating a room, which turned into an office, a hotel room or a corridor depending on how he looked at it, he was creating something that could tell a story. So he started to cut windows into the building he had made, letting the light shine through at different angles, creating brightly lit scenes, that could showcase everyday activities or dull scenes which gave the viewer an eerie, mysterious and voyeuristic feel. The scenes were not perfect in their manufacture; he had made them to look good enough to be photographed, wanting to transform them into narrative using lights and figures placed within the frame. His spaces were only parts of a suggested larger place, one the viewer of the photograph can only imagine when they look at his images. Levinthal says of his work ‘I began to realize that by carefully selecting the depth of field and making it narrow, I could create a sense of movement and reality that was in fact not there.’

Hobby shops contained everything Levinthal needed to create his scenes. He would buy mini sheets of wall paper for his rooms, using many designs in his different creations. This attention to detail shows in the atmosphere created by his images, sometimes the depth of field was so small in his images that you can’t see the detail in the background, but it is there, just out of view for us to imagine.

When he was photographing these scenes he worked in the dark, needing to focus on the lighting of each set. He used doll house lamps with hidden pin lights inside them to give them a dull light-bulb glow, adding an even further sense of realism to his work. Pin lights could be hidden in any area of the photograph to draw your attention to that area of the picture. He would shine lights through his modelled windows, to simulate natural light. Each scene needed a different atmosphere so Levinthal would create it using the lights, to show the drama and story in each photograph. He would use tape on the windows to simulate the light shining through blinds, making his sets fool our eye into believing they are real, or at least making us look twice at his images. He used coloured acetate to enhance his images, red and orange could give a room warmth, while blue and green could create an eerie cold atmosphere. Levinthal knew how to manipulate each part of the lighting in his sets to achieve the atmosphere he wanted. He imitated the shine of neon lights on pavements, the welcoming warmth of light from an open door, and the dull, green hue of distant alleyways. The places he created always seemed to be hiding something, he manipulated the light in such a way that he could turn a toy figure in a photograph into something you have to look at for a long period of time wondering whether it is real or not. Toys always had interested Levinthal; he said about them “Ever since I began working with toys, I have been intrigued with the idea that these seemingly benign objects could take on such incredible power and personality simply by the way they were photographed”. This is how I feel about the use of toys; you can change the image and the story by photographing them in different ways.

David Levinthal works with mini figures intended for use on adult’s model railways, they are less than an inch tall but very detailed. The most detailed and highly coloured ones Levinthal likes to use are made by a German company called Preiser. Preiser offers a large selection of figures in many different poses and for many different purposes. They are all hand painted, which helps the colours stand out even in the dull lighting Levinthal likes to use. Even looking at the new figures Preiser has released recently I can imagine Levinthal using them in one of his photographs; the figures still have the same aesthetic today.

To photograph his elaborate sets he used large format Polaroid’s, this was so he could achieve the short depth of field his images are so well-known for today. The short depth of field gives the photographs even more mystery because the background is removed from the image, turned into blurs of colour by the camera. This adds to the realism of the photograph, especially because the shot is blurry focused on one small part of the image, which suggests movement with in the frame. He uses lighting that brings out the colour but also takes some of the detail away, so that it is even harder for the viewer to decide if the image is real. Take this image for example, from his Wild West series, it is number nineteen. The orange-yellow colours Levinthal has used in the background really bring an image of the Wild West into any viewers mind, and not being able to see the detail adds to this illusion. The short depth of field has blurred the background and the horse, giving the image the sense of movement. We imagine the horse is galloping into the distant, that the cowboy on the horse gun drawn, in is pursuit of something or someone.

David Levinthal uses figures because he can manipulate them to show what he wants, he can also build a set around them, using lights to create the atmosphere he desires for the narrative. Using figures also took him back to his childhood, the times he would spend dreaming and creating stories with his toys. Levinthal’s love of toys followed him from his childhood into his college years and it was this love of toys, especially toy figures that he found again as an adult. I find it fascinating to find out that the photographer I find most inspiring enjoys taking photographs of figures and toys for the same reason I do. We both like to manipulate them to tell a story, creating the sets takes as much work as finding real life sets, we just work in miniature, enjoying being able to manipulate the light and setting more to achieve the atmosphere we want.

David Levinthal’s most recent body of work entitled Attack of the Bricks, a Star Wars Series. The series is comprised of photographs of Star Wars Lego mini figures, mainly on their own, with dark atmospheric lighting. Take his photograph of a Stormtrooper aiming his gun, I do like this image because of its small depth of field, your eyes are focused wholly on the mini-figure. This small depth of field also blurs the background which gives the image a sense of mystery, anything could be happening just behind the Stormtrooper but we can never find out what. To me what makes the images stand out as being David Levinthal photographs, is the small depth of field he uses to blur the background and how sharp the mini-figure is. The images remind me of his Wild West series of photographs, how they were focused just on the figure, but the small depth of field would make the figure look like it was moving, so for a second when you looked at the image you though it was of a real person.

Mike Stimpson is a photographer who says ‘I seem to take a lot of photographs of toys. I also like messing about with light.’ (http://www.mikestimpson.com/photography/page_bio.html)

His work can be mainly seen on flickr on his Balakov flickr page, or on his website. His work is as detailed as David Levinthal’s but he uses his sets and props in a different way. Stimpson like Levinthal has used Star Wars Lego Stormtrooper mini figures in his images, but he has used them to tell a new story or re-create an image. In Levinthal’s images I think he trying to tell the Star Wars story, and highlight the different characters. Stimpson such in this image entitled ‘Desire’ uses the figures to create a surreal story; he also uses handmade props and sets to enhance the narrative in the photograph. Stimpson’s Stormtrooper images went into a book entitled ‘Stormtroopers We Love You’ a collection of all of his Stormtrooper images. It also contains this image called ‘Raintrooper’ this image stood out at me firstly because it reminds me of David Levinthal’s work but also because with the movement in the water it tricks your eyes into believing the toy is real for a few seconds. I could almost imagine this image being a still from the Star Wars films, until you notice the figure is made of Lego. The small depth of field connects this piece of work with David Levinthal’s work showing it is one of the best ways to create images of toys that are mysterious and fool the viewer’s eyes into thinking they are real.

Mike Stimpson also re-creates famous photographs out of Lego, such as this image here entitled ‘Dali Atomicus’, I always look at this image and wonder how he managed it, wondering if he used strings for the figures and photo shopped them out after wards, and asking what he used to get the splash of water across the frame. This photograph shows how easy it is to manipulate Lego into the images you want, this is one of the main reasons I like to use Lego, because I can manipulate it and get it into the position I want before I take the shot. I can position lights around it and make sure everything is perfect, compared to shooting live subjects or time sensitive events, Lego won’t move unless you move it.

Toys can be seen in many different areas of art and media, showing that people do enjoy using them in different ways and to portray different messages. Like in this advert for a video game Halo, toys have been used here to show the realism of the game, a strange concept, but they have made the toys look almost real with their use of lighting. The people filming the piece would have needed to make choices over which figures to use to achieve this realistic look. This film in my opinion really shows the game to be immersive, even the emotions on the action figures faces show me that when playing the game you will feel the emotions of the people on the screen. Using the tagline ‘Believe’ for the video acts as something to get viewers thinking, do we believe that the toys are real, or do we believe the characters are real when we are playing the game. This is a way to get us to feel for the characters in the film and game, and hopefully keep people playing the game. Using toys may be seen by some people as a bad way to advertise a video game, but this film proves it can work. So why use toys in a video game advert, I think this is because toys are versatile tools to use, they can be positioned to play out any scene you want, and with clever uses of camera angles fool your mind into thinking what you are seeing is real and put the message of the piece across.

When thinking about films using toys to put a message across everybody thinks of the movie Toy Story. It uses CGI toys to portray 3 stories, in Toy Story, Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3. This creates a charming movie for any age of viewer, the reason behind this is because anyone can relate to toys, and we were all children once and can remember creating the imaginary scenes that we see Andy creating in the film. In Toy Story 3 we re-visit Andy when he is moving away to college; this film especially resonated with me having just moved away to university myself. The use of toys in this film helped us connect to the characters and feel the emotions they were feeling. Using toys gives us something to connect to, we have to learn a lot about a human character in a film before we can connect to them, but with toys this is instant so we can connect with what’s going on. I think this is one of the big reasons why the Toy Story franchise is so popular with people of all ages, because we were all children once so can imagine the toys being real like when we created imaginary stories with our toys. Toys are so versatile that they have the ability to become almost human in our eyes, when watching Toy Story we forget we are watching a story about toys, and get sucked into the story. Toys can be used to put across many different messages, and can be manipulated into what you want them to be. A toy can be placed into any scene and a story will be played out. In films they use toys, especially in toy story to help us connect to the story and the characters easily.

These are the same reasons photographers use toys in their images. Film and photography are similar in many ways, using toys to grab their audience and keep them and manipulating the toys to portray a message to the viewers. But films use toys to trick us into believing they are real, or to make us forget we are watching toys and really feel for the characters. This is still true with David Levinthal’s early work, but looking at the filckr photographers of today, and people who photograph Lego mini-figures, they don’t really want to make the scenes look real, the want to create a fully fictional scene from toys. Then again there are photographers like Mike Stimpson, who like to recreate films and photographs from Lego, so this could be seen as fooling your eye into believing what you see is real. It seems everybody uses toys in a different way to achieve their project, but then this is the nature of a toy. Even if a child had the same toy as the one next to him, he would not be playing out the same imaginary story with his toy as the child next to him. This is showing the power of the imagination and how it can inspire people to create art, films and photographs. The fact that toys can be manipulated into any message, create any scene and tell any story is one of the main reasons people choose to use them. I certainly use them to portray a message and to keep my audience hooked onto my images as they remember playing with the shown toys as a child. Researching how many other people have used toys in their work, has really helped me understand why I like using toys to tell my stories, it is something we can all relate to, and toys can be manipulated to tell any story I want. I can light the scene in many different ways to change the atmosphere of the story, so I can tell any story, or let the viewer imagine their own narrative like children do when they play with toys. Charles Baudelaire described artistic creativity in The Painter of Modern Life as “nothing more or less than childhood recovered at will.” And I believe you do have to have a sort of playfulness when creating art, an innocence, so you can stop look around and see the beauty that has always been around you, you just have to look with your imagination like a child would and create something new.

Preiser Figures Research

The worlds top manufacturer of miniature model figures, family-outfit Preiser are based near the German city of Nürnburg.  They manufacture in all major scales, including G Gauge (1:22.5 scale), O Gauge (1:43), HO Gauge (1:76), N Gauge (1:160) and Z Gauge (1:220).  In addition they also manufacture figures in a variety of other scales for such interests as Military and Architectural modelling.

Preiser offer the most comprehensive range of model figures around.  Whichever scale you model, you will find that Preiser offer a varied selection of figures to liven up your layout.  All painted figures are detailed by hand and offer exceptional quality at a reasonable price.

You will also find that all types of scene are catered for, whether it be railways, town or country life, the Circus, Military scenes or in the home.  There are also ‘Adam & Eve’ Combination Figure Kits available in many scales to allow you to create your own figures.

The HO range features two main series, the Exclusive Figure Series and the Standard Figure Series.  These cover the full range of scenes that you could wish to recreate, even including some Military and Period.  An unpainted selection including combination kits are also available.  A selection of HO Vehicles are also available, as well as Animal figures, both domestic animals, wild animals and some exotic species.

In N Gauge, a similar selection of figures can be found, and again in Z Gauge.  The G Scale selection caters for railway and many other modelling scenes, and the huge ‘Elastolin’ variety offers both painted and unpainted military figures from around the world and a number of different historical periods, including the Wild West, Prussia and WWII.  As in HO Gauge, there is also a large selection of animal figures, including many exotic animals that you might find at the Zoo or circus.

Preiser figures are also ideally suited to architectural models, in scales as small as 1:500, and so can be used for professional dioramas as well.  Finally, Preiser also manufacturer a range of accessories in most scales, and many of the figure packs also contain appropriate accessories.

David Levinthal’s Most Recent Photography Series ‘Attack of the Bricks, Star Wars Series’

These are some of David Levinthal’s most recent photographs from his Star Wars Series Attack of the Bricks. I had never seen this work before so when I came across it I was quite shocked and interested to see that he had moved from photographing railway model figures to Lego. But then I realised that he photographed Barbie’s which were very popular at the time, and Lego is very popular at the moment. I really enjoy Levinthal’s photographs of models, I can see one and instantly know it is one of his photographs. So many people are doing Lego photographs at the moment, me included, that there is a risk for images to be lost in everything, but to me David’s still leap out as being works by David Levinthal. It is the backgrounds in most of his images, the short depth of field reduces them to blurs of colour, just like in these photographs. Thats how I know they are Levinthal’s work.

Why David Levinthal Photographs Toys Article (research)

“Ever since I began working with toys, I have been intrigued with the idea that these seemingly benign objects could take on such incredible power and personality simply by the way they were photographed”

“I began to realize that by carefully selecting the depth of field and making it narrow, I could create a sense of movement and reality that was in fact not there.”-David Levinthal

His initial success came early with his series Hitler Moves East. The collection depicts the German invasion of Russia in 1941. Levinthal grew grass seed in potting soil on a plywood table to represent the Russian Steppes. He had to trim it every week with scissors.

It started without his exactly willing it. One night he took a mat knife and started cutting into shoe boxes, cardboard, and foam core. Joining the pieces at the corners with tape, he began to arrange them to suggest a miniature office, hotel room, pool hall, foyer, or a narrow corridor viewed through a doorway. He was intrigued by what emerged without much conscious direction and by how little he needed to produce an effect.

His big hands were clearly unsuited to the task of fashioning what the reveries called forth. Completely absorbed, he had no difficulty. Besides, he was satisfied with constructions of the crudest sort. Paste-togethers, they were for himself alone, nothing he would have wanted to show family or friends. Nor were they anything that fanatics of the small, among model-railroad hobbyists or dollhouse aficionados, would have admired for their intricacy or seamless true-to-life detail.
The spaces were suggestive, fragments of larger unseen wholes. Excited, feeling his way, he contrived diners, motel exteriors, garden apartments. He was in love with their promise of narrative. It inspired him with a plan: all he needed to do was make the sets look good enough to be photographed.

They had to contain certain specifics. From hobby shops he bought a selection of wallpaper in tiny designs he liked “Dauphine,” a pink French stripe, but he used many others. Plagued by a bleeding gut, he had a fondness for the refuge of bathrooms; for a miniature of one of these, he cut a shower curtain from clear acetate and decorated it with colored-dot adhesives. He cut up pink dollhouse flooring, called “Nostalgia,”11 that simulated bathroom tiles. He used a larger black-and-white or red-and-white check for pavement alongside what took shape as a motel swimming pool, a newspaper kiosk, a restaurant, or a forties-style jive joint. He got hexagonal tile for subway stops and plastic brick for streets.”

From this website.

Like the night-shrouded California house where he initiated these tabletop theaters, nearly all were nocturnal. It was essential to distinguish between the kinds of artificial light that each scene required. He put dollhouse lamps (standing and desktop), with hat like shades, into the hotel rooms or lobbies. He bought tiny, round-globed street lamps and positioned them at his fabricated curbs. The light sources had to spot, graze, or flood the spaces, selectively, to convey the dramas he was after.

He enhanced the geometry with light’s mercurial moods. A pattern of venetian blinds in windows and doors, achieved with strips of transparent tape, threw stripes on the walls, turning the three-dimensionality of a room into a kind of urban prison, warding off fictional sunshine.

Hidden pin lights, taped to the cardboard and directed under dollhouse lamps, gave them a dour electrical glow, suggesting a poetics of alienation and estrangement. The places were insomnious, with eyes, ears, and infinite patience. They might be waiting for the return of a departed inhabitant, or conceal the body of a victim, or shroud a lonely young woman, staring at empty walls. The paintings of Edward Hopper come to mind, as does Walker Evans’s affinity for abandoned habitations. Hopper’s multiple angles and receding rooms had been an important point of departure, but the fabricator’s lighting soon replaced the painter’s psychological restraint with a new kind of emotional heat. Evans’s classic American documents were obvious prototypes, but their detachment was too cool to be inspiring.

Yellow or red acetate over the pin lights blasted streets and offices with infernal heat. Blue in movie theaters, subways, parking garages, train-station waiting rooms, and hotel cubicles was deliberately “thin” to conjure a world of depleted, dying-on-the-vine, door-to-door salesmen, third-rate con men, “bald-headed men who comb their side hair across the top,” lost souls waiting for the next deal.

His lighting didn’t imitate the sun or moon. It abstracted the space, heightening the aura of being lost. He liked neon bleeding from pulsating advertising signs and theater marquees onto shiny pavements.

Neon was heroic. Like spilled paint, its reverberating hues linked situations logically disconnected. Night light in the city exposed hidden corners–the entrance to a motel, seen from the street, striptease artists in their dressing room. It transformed the office of a lone employee, absorbed in an after-hours phone conversation, into a lurid hellhole. Eerie, nuanced, bold, tragic, the light “made something out of nothing.” As anything he wanted it to be, it seemed entirely new.

But nothing he was doing was new to him. The spatial emanations were figments of a lifetime of dreaming. From the beginning, as with his grandfather’s room, this had to do with the way physical enclosures harbored the hidden.

Engrossed in a philosophy of deep play, he made the unintended visible. Energized by tabletop trial and error, he was amazed by his attention to detail and the need to get things right. If a scene required a police car, he painted an ordinary toy car black and white to convey the effect.

Manipulating the small in deliberately contracted spaces, he felt himself expand. Controlling memory and time, strangely, he became a tourist in atmospheres that suggested his own inner life and, more mysteriously, its elusive prehistory.

He chose miniature personages, less than an inch tall and perfectly articulated. He poured over vast offerings of these diminutives in the model railroad catalogues. The most vivid ones, “intended for modelers . . . not recommended for children under 14 years” because they had “pointed extremities,” were made by Preiser, in Germany.  Plastic and “carefully hand-painted,” many Preiser figurines, connected with railroads, feature signal-box workers, track-maintenance gangs, delivery men with loads.

Preiser’s figures also emulate every imaginable modern, human gesture. Collected, mostly in groups of six, housewives spill buckets of plastic water, beat carpets, sweep; on their knees, they scrub floors. There are wedding parties (choice of Catholic or Protestant), film and television crews, hospital emergency teams, groups of photographers, passersby, dancing couples, shoppers, teenagers, moped riders, figure skaters, every posture of the modern commuter, chefs, wedding guests, graffiti sprayers. For crowds, a single package contains twenty-six “passersby, standing and walking.” At a “bargain price,” one could acquire a tiny mob of 190 people

Testing the water in 1982, he photographed, in black and white, a toy-furnished street scene with lamppost, mailbox, parked cars, and a male “commuter,” seen from behind. Isolating the figure gave the vignette its charm, but it remained a street scene of toys.

Ever the strategist, David Levinthal risks seeming idiotic, throwing off those who seek to understand him. He likes declaring, with innocent aplomb, how much “fun” it is to make art with toys. Some apologists play along, naively taking him at his word. Others seek to give his method the currently acceptable artistic cachet by grouping it with that of practitioners of goofy, postmodernist theatrics. Peter Schjeldahl describes Levinthal’s style by saying that he “belongs to a 1970s generation-post-Vietnam cohort of disaffected ironists ranging upward in refinement from David Letterman to Cindy Sherman,” whose attitude is “marked by ferocious skepticism.”

Such categorizing not only misleads; blindly, it robs the artist of his actual intentions. Garry Trudeau, who knows him well, observed differently.

To hear David Levinthal talk about his art is to sometimes come away with the impression that he couldn’t possibly be up to anything consequential. He smiles too much. He’s too self-effacing, too slow to rationalize any ambiguities in his work. He actually respects his audience, believing them capable of processing powerful, provocative images on their own. This child-artist with his toys expects the rest of us to act like grown-ups.

Finding supreme comfort in a near-maniacal search to possess all kinds of small things from the world of children, David Levinthal discovered in manipulating these things the necessary arenas for addressing an open city of artistic possibility.

In the mess of play, David discovered something he’d never been taught, the intelligence of rapture, the sacredness of enthusiasm.

Because little figures are the bedrock of his work, their various assignments have been recounted endlessly. It is well-known that from age eleven through high school he sustained battles with toy soldiers for days on end. He was faithful to his tiny comrades longer than anyone would have deemed appropriate. As a college freshman he filled two rooms in the family house with the figures and played with them during vacations behind locked doors.

In his twenties, nostalgia for this sort of solitary aggression was so strong that after buying a new box of the little fighters he made a photographic record of each step of unwrapping the package containing them. The “Combat Series” sequence is a dialogue of hiding and display, from an initial view of the mysterious object, concealed under paper and string.

Every philosophy of play insists on the fact of this authority, whether the player be child or adult. Where artists are concerned, Baudelaire’s “Philosophy of Toys” explored play through a romantic theory of artistic creativity by linking it to the “spirituality of childhood.” Later, the poet elucidated this more completely in “The Painter of Modern Life,” calling genius “nothing more or less than childhood recovered at will.”

Furnished, lighted, and populated, David Levinthal’s tabletop settings, versions of the dark rooms of his own brain, would be subjected to greater abstraction by a process that he’d determined from the beginning. He photographed them, but not as he’d photographed anything before.

Find the rest of the article here.


David Levinthal Research

David Levinthal has produced a diverse oeuvre, utilizing primarily large-format Polaroid photography. His works touch upon many aspects of American culture, from Barbie to baseball to X-rated dolls. Levinthal uses small toys and props with dramatic lighting to construct mini environments of subject matters varying from war scenes to voyeurism to racial and political references to American pop culture.

Levinthal creates miniature scenarios using shoeboxes, cardboard, and foam core to make miniature offices, hotel rooms, pool halls, foyers and narrow corridors. These shadowy and dark scenes expose the secrecy and intimacy of small spaces. Levinthal is particularly interested in exploring the different emotions that each scene produces, such as reactions to an office corridor in contrast to those to a hospital or a private bedroom. Indeed, there is an inherently voyeuristic aspect to these early works.

Most of Levinthal’s series stem from his experiences as a child with popular culture. His early encounters with his family’s color television in contrast with daily reality have also marked his work. The subjects of Levinthal’s work, the toys and dolls themselves, are often confused with real live people, causing his audience to question the ambiguity found in this dialectic between artificiality and reality.

With the use of skilled photography, Levinthal animates his small toys, sometimes to the point of artificially created movement. On his toy use, Levinthal said that “Toys are intriguing, and I want to see what I can do with them. On a deeper level, they represent one way that society socializes its young.”Furthermore, Levinthal is aware of the power of toys: “Ever since I began working with toys, I have been intrigued with the idea that these seemingly benign objects could take on such incredible power and personality simply by the way they were photographed. I began to realize that by carefully selecting the depth of field and making it narrow, I could create a sense of movement and reality that was in fact not there.

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