Sunday, June 21, 2015

Elgin Park, by Michael Paul Smith

Michael Paul Smith is a master of models and time travel.  Using models, he travels through time to take pictures from another era.  The effect is truly amazing.  In his new book, Elgin Park: The 1/24th Scale Creation of a Fictitious Mid-20th Century American Town, Smith takes us behind the scenes of his remarkable photographs.

Using his collection of die-cast model cars as the centerpiece of his photographs, Smith sets up scenes that evoke the mid-20th century.  Using his hometown and current home in the Boston area as inspiration, Smith sometimes uses existing buildings, and sometimes builds detailed model buildings.  The trick is trying to decipher which are real and which are models!  He also peppers the scene with detailed miniatures.  Using jewelry parts, found objects, wood cut precisely with an x-acto knife, and other materials, he constructs objects and scenes that fool even a careful eye.

Smith's trademark process is to place the cars and other buildings or objects on a board, set up on a card table, with the rest of the scene in the background a block or so away.  The perspective trick is quite effective.  In Elgin Park, he shows several examples of the final product and the set up, revealing his secret methods.  Looking at the final product, it's hard to believe that it's in miniature.

Even though Smith does not include any people in his shots, every picture tells a story.  In captions, he sets the scene, personalizing each picture.  Elgin Park also includes his lively dialogues with fans who comment on his internet postings.  I love how old-school Smith is.  He does not photoshop his pictures. He makes all the miniatures by hand.  He relies on around-the-house lighting and natural lighting.  He claims not to know much about photography, using the camera's automatic settings ("I literally point and shoot.")  But his wonderful eye and eye-catching details make the shots remarkable and memorable.

Since he takes many of his pictures around his neighborhood, his neighbors have become accustomed to see him.  "I am now seen as the quirky old guy who photographs toys. . . ."  More that just taking pictures of toys, Smith takes the viewer back to an admittedly idealized past, preserving and recalling a slice of life in America.  The pictures are great, and the descriptions of his methods are fascinating.  Elgin Park is a fun, interesting book.

Learn more about Smith at his site:

Lots of photos on Flickr:

The publisher's web site:

His first book (photos without the behind-the-scenes and other additional material):

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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