For almost every Saturday last month, our Resident, Sunny Ang, has been calling library@orchard his studio. Co-founder of the Facebook group Plastic Singapore, Sunny set up dioramas for our library patrons to try their hand at toy photography – a form of photography where toys are put against interesting backdrops and arranged to look life-like.
There’s something charming about looking at toys through a camera lens. Something magical happens when Sunny shows us the perspectives of toy characters and their surroundings. Suddenly, it’s not just a picture, but a whole new way of seeing.
We sat down with Sunny to talk about what toy photography means to him, and the challenges of his admirable journey to spread awareness about this playful art form.
“I was feeling bored one day so I picked up a Spiderman action figure, placed him on the ledge, and shot a picture of him gazing down at the streets below, as if preparing to leap off and save the world. Later, I discovered the huge toy photography community on Instagram and haven’t stopped shooting and posting toy photos since.”
My family/loved ones think I am quite creative, although my sons find it odd that I’m still playing with toys! These days, I have a new appreciation for toys and the sculpting, articulation and design that goes into each toy figure. I always try to hone in on such features in my photos.
My wife, on the other hand, is more supportive of my hobby. I was surprised the first time she volunteered to help me out at a convention. We ended up having a great time and blew the day’s earnings treating ourselves to a good meal. It’s also a good excuse to go on a date! She’s great at marketing products and I always seek her advice for pricing and ideas. So, I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks for her support, help and advice!
To me, toy photography means breathing life into pieces of plastic. It’s like a photoshoot in real life, but on a smaller scale, and with models that you can twist, turn, and manipulate! If the viewer connects with the image and goes wow or haha!, then the photo has succeeded. The fact that the models are toys is secondary.
In my spare time, I enjoy watching movies and going online to learn more about photography, video editing and photo touch-up skills. I am always looking for ways to improve, because you are only as good as your last picture.
Initially, I felt that toy photography was just about taking funny pictures to tell a joke. When I first started, all I did was snap a photo with my mobile phone, add some filters in Instagram, and then post it – all in less than 5 minutes. But after seeing the works of others on Instagram, I was inspired to think about how I can tell more with these pictures, with better lighting, composition and captions. These days, I can take up to 4 hours for a single picture, from setting up to post-processing. Sometimes, if I get up early, I head to the park for some outdoor shots, which lasts till about 10 am. Other times, I could be shooting from 1 am till 4 am.
Toy photography allowed me to mash up impossible scenes that I would have loved to see in movies, such as making the Terminator appear in a Star Wars set. I love pop culture, especially movie quotes. I usually shoot scenes with reference to them, but with my own take on them. My goal for every shot is to get a laugh out of the viewer.
My passion for toy photography has connected me to a lot of like-minded people, especially on social media. Encouraging comments have kept me motivated, though I would like to stress that one should not be shooting photos just to get ‘likes’ and comments. It should be for your own enjoyment and satisfaction.
Creating the Plastic Singapore group on Facebook has let me make new friends. We organize outdoor shoots, share ideas and tips, and alert each other about good deals to get new toys. But this is not necessarily a good thing because we always end up spending more money on more toys!
I decided to do the Residency at library@orchard because I wanted to spread awareness about this form of photography. It is not a well-known art form, and currently only has a small audience.
Recently, I was saddened to hear that an online friend of mine participated in a photography competition, but was told that his photographs would not be considered for judging because it’s not real photography. So, I really hope to raise the profile of toy photography. This residency is a baby step towards that goal. I was heartened to see the looks of genuine surprise when the library patrons tried their hands at it. I hope they will show their children how to see their toys in a different light, and play with them beyond the traditional way, so that, someday, they can tell their own epic toy stories with photographs too.
I would like to conduct more talks and workshops at other libraries. I always enjoy sharing my journey. The response at library@orchard has been positive, and I hope to inspire others to pick up this hobby so they can do more with their toys, rather than just playing with or displaying them, especially those who collect expensive action figures!
Look out for more features on our Residencies in the future! If you are interested to apply for a Residency, leave a comment here or drop us a private message at our Facebook page.