A LEGO Chima bird stands with the help of crutches on a mossy branch. His head is bandaged and his foot is in a cast.

Telling Stories

We’ve talked in the past about the importance of telling stories with your photographs. The underlying story helps to connect with your audience in a way that moves beyond the ‘wow factor’ of a pretty or a technically amazing photo.

To me this is the heart of what we do. We use bits of plastic to tell stories that mean something. Kristina uses her beloved Storm Troopers with wings and teddy bears to tell stories that are meaningful to her. My photos are intensely personal to me and reflect my own deep seated fears, dreams and aspirations. I’ve been clear in the past that my photographs and the stories that I create are for an audience of one. I’m pretty sure that Matt’s stories are a reflection of his own colorful inner monologue. I love that Mike’s photos have a story but he always leaves me a little room that I can bring my own story to his photos.

Toys are perfect for telling stories; they’re so malleable. They can tell their origin story, they can represent larger complex ideas, they can reinvent themselves or they can be our alter egos. I’ve personally seen all of these methods used to great effect, not only within our group, but the larger community as well.

In fact the Instagram toy photo community is full of people who want to tell their personal stories through their toys. Sure these stories run the gamut of funny, silly and derivative but they can also be incredibly revealing and often very personal…if you take the time to listen. These stories reveal marriages, engagements, the birth of a child, the death of a parent, abuse, illness and divorce. These are the stories that make us human.

I’m curious, are you listening as much as you’re telling?

Because no matter how much we want to be great storytellers we also have to be great listeners. There’s as much to be gained from  listening to others stories as by telling our own.

It’s easy to create a snap judgement of someone you’ve never met in person. Social media is famous for fire storms set off by some innocent and usually poorly thought out comment that burns everything in its path. I got a taste of that when I posted about Toy Violence and it’s not pretty. This lesson taught me to take a moment to get to know people and not to rush to judgment. We all make mistakes, we all say stupid things, we all want to be understood and we each want to tell our stories in the manner that best fits our selves.

As our little toy community has grown exponentially, its even more important that we take the time to listen to the stories that are being told. There’re so many engaging people posting photos that may not be the best photographically, but they’re often the most compelling (at least to me).

If you’re following people who aren’t telling you honest and true stories, then I suggest you look around and find the ones that are. More often than not, they’re the smaller feeds, the ones off in the corner doing their own thing.

If you stop and listen, I think you’ll be able to hear them. And in the process I guarantee you’ll become a better photographer, and a better human.

~ Shelly

What kind of stories do you tell with your toys? 

Are you like me, do you like to hear them too?

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Ben Teoh
6 years ago

Great post, Shelly. My favourite people on Instagram are those who are able to incorporate a story into their photos – something I’m being more mindful of. Two of my favourite storytellers are @legojacker, who mixes his photography and comment to speak what he’s passionate about. Right now his profile description is “I speak plastic” – love it. The other is Keith Yip (@castleinthepool) and his “little man and his pet frog” photos. His styling is so consistent and he’s able to capture a whole tale within his minimal shots. I recommend followin both of them. Recently I posted a… Read more »

aliceincleveland
aliceincleveland
6 years ago

I am horrible in finding the meaning in art. Not just toy photography, but in all forms of art. Classical paintings, photography, poems (shudder), modern dance (double shudder)… Teeeeeeeeeeeeerrible. At. It. And it is a little funny to me because one of my favorite things to do is paint miniatures and I always keep in mind that as long as my miniature has a story, a reason behind its existence, the paint scheme will make sense. The logic is lacking. It’s like saying if you eat apples, you’ll be good in business. It’s infuriating because people come to my house… Read more »

aliceincleveland
aliceincleveland
6 years ago
Reply to  Shelly

Hm. I’d love to go to Seattle again but it’s most likely not going to happen. Already planned out most of my traveling for this year! There is one line in your post I feel inclined to dig deeper into though. You say, ‘Also since we are all communicating through toys, it doesn’t take a great leap to understand our compatriots.’ My immediate reaction to this is that I disagree, a lot, but not enough that I would say I couldn’t disagree more. I do disagree though. I would point to the blog, your blog, your collective to emphasize my… Read more »

aliceincleveland
aliceincleveland
6 years ago
Reply to  Shelly

You should never consider it being a task taken to but simply a conversation of ideas (but don’t be careless with your words!!!). Even if it’s not how you feel, you know that particular idea exists out in the world somewhere. The fact that it exists, even if it’s outside of toy photography, is reason enough to talk about it! I was a little surprised to read about the state of the group past, “we shoot plastic.” “There is still disagreement as to who and what we are. There was very little agreement beyond “we shoot plastic”. We never decided… Read more »

aliceincleveland
aliceincleveland
6 years ago
Reply to  Shelly

5 because I counted who is on the members tab of the blog. Who did I miss? Whoever you are I’m sorry!

aliceincleveland
aliceincleveland
6 years ago
Reply to  Shelly

Also sorry about the weird word spacing. I’m not sure what’s up with that.

actiotos
actiotos
6 years ago

My shots are aimed to replace the human position with a Lego Minifigure.
To do this I prefer to shot at outdoor because in this way, my toys can enter in contact with the nature, with our world, and live a free life, without rules.
We give them life, emotions and with our imagination they can do everything, because there are not rules and barriers.
With it we can go over our real situation and we reflect on them our idea of a different world.

Stefan K
6 years ago

There are times when I have a story behind the shot, yes. But reading your post I begin to wonder if some of my shot are talking to me instead. I have started to see one of my minifigs more and more, the female photographer. Perhaps our photos are talking to us if we start to listen. I’ll sure will try to listen more to peoples photos then I have before. Thank you for a good post :)
Stefan K

Jess
6 years ago

Great write up. I am terrible in finding or trying to inject meaning into my work. I remember overhearing what someone got from a photo in my first show and I just burst out with uncontrollable laughter at how disconnected their interpretation was from the reality of why the photo was taken or what it meant (forgive me, I was 15 or 16).
I do enjoy the creative stories that go along with some IGers, but I’m still stuck in the “shallow” it just looks pretty world with my own shots.

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