Instagram’s doctornvrmore shares his thoughts on violence in toy photography in response to a recent critical blog post.
A recent post on the Stuck in Plastic toy photography blog conflated realistic depictions of violence in toy photography with the glorification of radical religious violence and mass shootings. I know everyone is entitled to their own opinion and that is why I’m writing this response to defend the creative and artistic choices I have made with my toy photography which has, on occasion, featured violent imagery.
Censorship comes in many forms and one of its most insidious variations is peer pressure. In this case, making a person feel bad for creating what makes them happy or, such as in my situation, an activity that can relieve the stress of an overworked life and trying to cope with a world around us that looks, quite frankly, like it’s falling apart. I know everyone thinks art should fit into their mind’s eye—but it doesn’t and it shouldn’t. There is this thing called freedom of expression, and what one person finds offensive could be art to another. Case in point: Edgar Allan Poe had his detractors in his day, many of whom accused the writer of glorifying the macabre and the demented mind of man.
Toy photographers recreating the violence in their favorite sci-fi and horror movies, in my opinion, is not inherently about glorifying violence and has no direct connection to any of today’s mass shootings and terrorist attacks. To even suggest that the made-up violence of toy photography (and media in general) is “feeding the violence” in the real world, as the Stuck in Plastic blog does, is an absurd and complete over-thinking of what is going on—the reason people are getting shot or decapitated is because certain religious zealots continue to be empowered to extinguish the beliefs (and lives) of others. Art and media have always been a convenient scapegoat for those who want an easy answer to the question of modern violent crime, but 1980s slasher movies were a staple of my youth and no more inspired me to be violent than the images of Elmer Fudd repeatedly shooting Daffy Duck in the face.
I do not use realistic violence in my toy photography as a general rule, but I have used violent images at times, frequently with tongue planted firmly in cheek, paying homage to famous film scenes or comic panels. And then there are times when toy photography serves as an outlet for my frustration with working my sixth 12-hour workday in a row only to have a scant 24 hours off on Sunday before getting back to the grind on the hated day of Mon. And sometimes, toy photography allows me to address on a creative level the fact that I was bullied as a teen because of my geeky interests.
Real life tramples our spirit so often and we would like to lash out against those who have wronged us or the life decisions that have created our current living situations. But alas, we cannot lash out. There is no room for primal vengeance in our ordinary lives, because I firmly believe that most of us are basically good people. So we are enamored by villains like The Joker and Darth Vader at times: They get to do the things we can’t: They can get angry and do something about what they are upset about, as misguided as they may be. But it is fiction, a vicarious exploration and nothing more.
All my life I have read comic books, as a child it was an escape as much as it was a hobby. There is much violence in comics, too, most superhero comics dole out violent depictions of good versus evil on a monthly basis. I also loved Star Wars, a movie that famously blows up a planet and suddenly silences millions of voices. As unintuitive and contradictory as it sounds, the fictional violence in my favorite comics and films served as a refuge from the real violence in my life.
My dad had been married three times before I was 12 and my mom left when I was three years-old. My dad remarried immediately and I was abused quite violently by his choice for a second wife—a gashed head that needed lots of stitches, a baseball bat taken to my genitals, and starved nearly to death. This only came to light when I was in the hospital for the baseball bat incident for nearly a month, my food pumped though my nose directly to my stomach because I could not handle a normal-sized meal.
I was five years old.
Let’s just say I identify with Darth Vader as a father to a strange extent in that there was good in him in the end but the dark side is also quite the temptress. I draw this conclusion as I don’t understand what my father was thinking during those dark times. I love and respect my dad dearly to this day despite what I have shared with you. I pause, and ask myself if I really want to include this bit of extremely personal information in this article as it invokes a terrible amount of memories that I choke back tears when I think on them, as I am doing so now.
My point: Without actually getting to know them, we can’t fully understand what motivates people, we can’t fully appreciate what comforts them. Some people punch walls, some people go to head shrinks and some people create art. To so easily and freely pass judgment on someone’s choice of artistic expression reeks of the same overbearing moralism that guides religious fanatics and others who would dictate what we can and can’t say or express. Yes, we all have our opinions about what is acceptable in art and entertainment, and if you don’t like something, then don’t support it: Go ahead and change the channel or hit that unfollow button. In my opinion, so much of the moral outrage on the Internet would be avoided if this happened more often.
Toy photography has developed to the point where it’s not just about light, angles, and bokeh. Art—real art—has the capacity to make us uncomfortable, and the fact that toy photography can do that is a reflection of its growth and absorption of outside influences.
To say that some toy photography glorifies violence and therefore influences real-world violence (because this is all supposedly a vicious circle, right?) is to trivialize what really pushes some people to commit mass acts of violent crime: untreated mental illness, brainwashing, and extremist belief systems that have no room for tolerance among them. People who depict violence or bloodshed in their art shouldn’t be put in a box by invoking damning words like “glorified violence” repeatedly and then putting the ills of the world on the artist’s shoulders and attempting to place blame of school shootings on their heads. That is simply misguided. Toy photography is not just a medium for professional and hobbyist photographers (although I know many wish it was), it is also a forum for earnest creative and emotional expression. Given this, the results may not always be beautiful or agreeable—they may be downright crude and ugly.
Violence was here way before the Internet and social media and it will be here when whatever apocalyptic rise of the machines, walking of the dead, alien invasion, or religious fanatical faction washes everything away. (That was sarcasm, so don’t get mad at me. Well, mostly sarcasm.) A little violence in toy photography should be the least of our concerns.
This is just my view and my opinion. Please take it with a grain of salt.