Violence in Toy Photography

I will be frank with you, this is not an easy post for me to write, but it has been a long time in coming. The recent events in Beirut, Lebanon and Paris, France have made me realize I need to say my peace.

I have been a toy photographer for four years, and in that time I have noticed a shift away from stylized photos of toys and figurines towards realism and violence in the Instagram toy photography community. I do not know if this is due to the popularity of certain toys based on popular tv shows (Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead), comic book anti-heroes like Batman, Wolverine, Bane and Deadpool or comic book villains like The Joker and Harlequin. Maybe it is due to our constant quest for realism in conjunction with pushing the envelope of special effects. What ever the reason, I find this trend disturbing.

This is not a scientific report based on any sound clinical data, just a general unease I feel when I flip through the photos of those I follow or look through one of the Toy Pop sessions.* I have noticed over the last several months that as photographers have tried to bring their toys to life a lot of blood is getting shed. Gone are the days when a simply beautiful photo with nice bokeh would get you noticed. Now you need to fling some dirt to emulate flying debris and shed some blood. I follow some pretty impressive photographers and they are able to make this all look surprising realistic.

But it is not just the special effects that I find disturbing, but the apparent glorification of some extremely despicable characters that dominate our pop culture world. Who hasn’t seen a gloriously beautiful photo of The Joker or Darth Vader? I know it seems like an insignificant point, but I can’t help but think that every photo that glorifies these characters brings them, and their actions, a little closer to an acceptable norm.

In a world in which school shootings, beheadings and suicide bombers are on the front page of the newspapers (seemingly daily) I can’t decide if the violence I see in my feed is a reflection of the violence consuming our world or is it feeding the violence in some subtle way?  Are we a society that is so numb to the chaos going on around us that it takes a toy being eviscerated to get our attention in the onslaught of images uploaded to the internet daily?

We here at Stuck in Plastic are all adults playing by adult rules and adult themes are not uncommon (any one remember Perv Woody?). But I also know that because we “play” with toys we have a responsibility to all the children and young adults who follow us on our preferred social media platform. I think it is imperative that we set a good example for our followers, that we reflect the values we want to see in our society played out in the photography that we post. Anything less is saying that we value violence above peace, blood above beauty.

These are extremely difficult topics to bring up and I know many of you won’t agree with me. But I sincerely believe that we each have the power to change our world and move to a path of peace and away from violence. Many of us have significant reach on our social media platforms and we should seek to use that reach to start a conversation, to set an example, to change the course of history.

I am not asking anyone to not show violence or the dark side of human nature. I am simply asking for the glorification to stop. The elevation of violence to an act of beauty when in reality it is often a cowardly action that has far reaching consequences. Many of which we rarely give a thought to.

I for one, am sick of seeing vigilante justice, mercenary anti-heroes and beheadings on my Instagram feed. Do people really think that somehow because they are toys that it is ok? Personally I think it makes it worse. We have the power to change our world, lets start acting like it. Let’s start posting photos that reflect the world we want, not the one we have.

~ xxSJC

How do you feel about toy on toy violence? Am I overreacting or do you feel the same way?

If you have a photo that reflects the world you dream of living in please tag it #toysforpeace. If we can visualize it, we can create it…together.

IMG_3502* Toy Pops are a way for new toy photographers to connect with other members of the community by participating in a “session” were you post one new image to a specific tag. You then like and comment on all the other photos in the same tag during the 45 minute session. If you want to know what the hip toys are that are being collected, or to see who the newest up and coming photographers are, Toy Pops a great place to explore.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Lyn Miller-Lachmann
8 years ago

Well said, Shelly! I’ve been speaking at a lot of schools this fall, and it’s made me aware of the kinds of images I post, because the kids love LEGO and do check my feed. It’s one of the reasons I’ve focused on building and photographing MOCs of late. If we can encourage young people to build and create, we offer them hope for the future.

8 years ago

Well written, Shelley! To me, violence is often the opposite of creativity. “The only way I can make this interesting, is by shock value.” I’ll take your serene shots of minifigures in nature over ketchup-drenched knife fights any day. And violence in toy photography has the added impact of being accessible to children. If my shots attract a young audience I feel a responsibility to serve suitable content. If I want to change the themes, I will also change the way I present my shots. Maybe a new private feed, but probably not Instagram at all because I feel it’s… Read more »

Matías (amwfotos)
Matías (amwfotos)
8 years ago

We live in a sick world . I always get shocked about the news. What’s up with all the terrorists? What have all the innocent people done to them? I don’t understand.
Great post, Shelly, and I agree

Stacy Phillips
8 years ago

Great article Shelly! On a similar note, I had some issues with the series 13 mini figures. I was collecting them with my 4 year old niece, to get her into Lego and allow me to build my collection. 8/16 of the minifigures had weapons, and trying to explain to a 4 year old what all the characters and accessories were was really tricky. It was easier for her to understand the unicorn girl than it was the samurai with two katanas. When I then photograph these aggressive or evil minifigures, I try my best to put them in more… Read more »

8 years ago

Great post Shelly. There is really only one genre of art that I can think of that glorifies violence (as opposed to reporting, protesting or parodying), and that is film and TV. Given that a good proportion of toys are based on films and TV shows you can see how toy photographs can easily drift towards violent scenes mimicking their pseudo-real-life versions. I don’t entirely agree with your comment about Vader, specifically LEGO Vader, I think the LEGO version is symbolically different to a more realistic model. The stubby LEGO version feels more like a toothless tiger, a classic bully,… Read more »

8 years ago
Reply to  Shelly

Great discussion to start Shelly. I guess with Vader in particular the complexity of the character can be taken into consideration – that and the fact that he does choose good over evil in the end. I really think the context we place Lego Vader in is what turns the image one way or another. The mini figure in and of itself is not necessarily violent. The same can be said for stormtroopers – who are essentially pawns caught up in the crazy world. Again the responsibility is with photographer and how they present the character… but maybe I’m just… Read more »

8 years ago
Reply to  Shelly Corbett

Bravo. Keep up the great work :-)

James Garcia
8 years ago

Well said, Shelly! What I find glaring in the toy photography community, specifically in LEGO photographers, is not only violence, but the customization of military or war based minifigs and builds. LEGO has long stood their ground to avoid making toys that promote such violence (with the exception of the rare Toy Story army man minifig or a HYDRA tank from Captain America), and I can’t help but feel a bit offended when someone in the LEGO community goes out of their way to make soldiers minifigs armed to the teeth with 3D printed machine guns and grenades.

8 years ago

A difficult subject indeed and I get what you are saying. Myself, I’m mindful of my audience — which increasingly is very different from my original intended audience of adults — so I try not shoot anything that would require explanation from or filtering by a grown-up . I’m also well aware that my subject of choice is a kid’s toy — originally intended to be, at least — so I try to keep it kid-friendly. I think some violence is ok, however. I mean, my 4-year-old is attracted to lightsabers, guns and swords even though all I let him… Read more »

David Mathis (ElDavePhoto)

I’m totally guilty of this, especially with my gaming miniatures that are designed for war gaming. It’s.. a difficult line to walk, honestly. Monsters and angry robots fuel my imagination, but they send a message that doesn’t reflect my personal feelings and beliefs.

I need to think about this more. Thanks for the nudge, Shelly!

Deborah Moulton
Deborah Moulton
8 years ago

Interesting post, Shelly. From a story point of view, it’s always seemed to me that violence is frequently in proportion to the creativity of the narrative. When a story line has run its course and is getting dull or desperate, the first fix is to up the violence because it gets our attention. But attention is not the same as engagement or connection.

8 years ago

This is not a well though out post. Toy photography in general is perhaps the most mild display of violence you could possibly find. We live in a world where movies, music, video games, the news and many other platforms continuously display images and acts of violence much more graphic than what ig has. Your argument in general is baseless as you readily admit. While you have not done any studies, many have been done, all finding no correlation between violence in images and violence in real life. (see or perhaps the more academic article in The Quarterly journal… Read more »

8 years ago

also please excuse any typos this is from my phone

and this should not be read as an attack on you or your blog.

Kiwi Chen
Kiwi Chen
7 years ago

Very nicely said Shelly, after reading your blog. I understand your point of view and wanted a more positive outlook on toy pics, but I also understand the artistic side as well on views of others. It’s a very thin fine lines about opinions on the subject of violence. Unfortunately we live in a Society of violence which sells in the media and social media.

Baby Walker
6 years ago

Wow This Is very Helpful post For Us ,, Thanks For good information

6 years ago

Good work man! Best wishes for the great creation of this blog.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
Scroll to Top