Here is Michael in his own words.
“I’ve always been fascinated by cars and architecture. Even as a child, I would create buildings out of shoe and cigar boxes an place my toy cars around them. Over the years, I’ve had numerous jobs that gave me skills that eventually became useful for my quirky hobby. Everything from Art Director, illustrator, wall paper hanger, model maker and display design, to name a few.
My Elgin Park project came together around 2008 when I started to post my photographs on Flickr. Although it had been evolving since the 1990s.”
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Over the years, I had collected over 300 models. I didn’t like the idea of them just sitting on a shelf; they needed to be put into a context. I thought scale buildings would help bring some life to them.
My first project was a model garage I found in the trash which I fixed up and added an interior. The most important goal of this project was to have the model building be as good as the diecast cars. So I put a huge effort into getting the details correct.
When it was completed, I placed some of my diecast cars around it and photographed the scene. From the very first photo I took, I could see this was the right way to go. And it was only a matter of time before I started to design and make my own structures.
When planning a scene, I look at the vehicles first. What time period do I want to explore? Cars are very good visual markers for any era. Even if you don’t know automobile design, you can tell what time frame they’re from. Then I study old photographs to learn about how things looked back in that period. There are many little details that define an era that are now missing in today’s world.
From there it’s a matter of finding a suitable backdrop that will work with the era I am trying to portray.
That is somewhat difficult now days because where I live everything is built up or fenced in.
The final question I ask myself is: what model details will help round out the scene; A phone booth, some chain link fencing, some large garbage cans, a generic one room building or some guardrails?
All of these will help the final scene ring true.
And then I mockup the scene on my kitchen table, which stands in for my workbench. Finally, I take it all outside to the designated site.
I use an old aluminum folding table as my base, then place the “road” on it. The “road” is a 3 foot by 4 foot piece of board that I have painted and textured to look like a street. The models are then placed in position and it’s show time.
The material used for the walls of the buildings is called Gatorboard. It’s a layer of thin foam sandwiched in between two sheets of resin coated paper. It’s light weight, durable and easy to work with. Because I do not have a shop with power tools, everything is done with simple hand tools, therefore the materials that are used have to be easy to work with.
I never spend more than an hour on any given photo shoot. Any longer, then I start to over think the process. The key is to let the scene come to life and not second guess it.
Once I’ve started to shoot, an emotional level comes into play. I just listen to my gut feeling. If I try too hard, I loose my vision.
An average shoot produces about 20 to 30 photos with about 2 good shots that are keepers.
From the very beginning I gave myself the challenge to not use photoshop. I wanted to be able to frame everything in the camera. I’m glad I stuck to that because it forces me to be observant and focused. I will use a post production filter to desaturate the color or add a tint so there is a retro feel to the image.
My camera is an inexpensive Canon that I basically point and shoot. I’m not a professional photographer, by any means.
Michael Paul Smith
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