Much of writing my book involves the undramatic and non-photogenic act of sitting at my computer, there typing, or re-reading something, or googling something, or cross referencing something. Me, chair, monitor, frown. Far more camera-ready are the occasional photoshoots I have at Glad Works in Rhode Island. An entire room is devoted to cyc backdrops and lights and such. (Well, half an entire room. The other is filled with things once important to an office but now occasionally useful as backdrops for toy photography.)
New photographer Tim Marshall has been with GW for six months, so I wanted to start him off with something straightforward. Two weeks back, for my book’s 16th photo session, I brought one loose 1988 Joe, and ten or so mint-sealed ones for what we call “product” photography — shooting an object to look like what it is, without embellishment. No story or fantasy, just a toy with a color as a backdrop. The primary challenge here is lighting it such that the various contours and curves of the plastic bubble on the package don’t feature too much glare. If it’s a loose action figure, there’s not even that.
I’ve tried not to do too much of this kind of shoot. One can easily see toys both loose and MISB on ebay, yojoe, and in various collector publications, so I don’t want to reinvent the wheel and show my readers things they’re already familiar with. But now and then my book needs to just reacquaint you with where packaging stands in the timeline of 1980 to 2000, or right next to an anecdote about a specific toy, so we should just see that toy and not some development artwork or memo. Instead, I’ve tried to focus on pre-production and behind-the-scenes artwork and photography, or when it is time to show just-a-toy, to show that toy in some kind of fantasy setting. (We don’t get carried away, and there are fans out there shooting at practically professional levels, making wonders with Joes and members of the Rebel Alliance and such at the real beach and in real blades of grass.) But I’m happy with the handful of “fantasy” shoots we’ve done, and it’s certainly less stressful to just capture a toy on a table, inside, with colored paper behind it:
That green box is something I drew in Photoshop, sorry. Not yet ready to reveal what we shot, but I will say it and the rest were to replace some placeholder images I’d pulled off ebay for chapters 4, 12, 13, and 14, a mint-sealed figure eventually for Chapter 18, and two licensed products for when I go back and revise and beef up Chapters 2 and 5.
Photoshoots are bursts of book-adrenaline, visceral examples of accomplishing something. And then a few weeks later I get a contact sheet, another box checked off that lets me send notes to Liz for what images go with what text. Tim Marshall handled everything with ease, and we chatted about low budget film, toy marketing, and, well, G.I. Joe.
Welcome aboard, Tim Marshall.