Tag Archives: inspiration

Art imitating art: photographers turn to dioramas for inspiration

Issue 217 of Digital Photographer magazine features an article called ’10 Pro Ways to Use Aperture.’ One of these ways is experimenting with diorama effects, also called miniature faking. Using this technique, photographers purposely reduce the depth of field (the area of the picture which is in focus) to make photos of full-size scenes look like miniatures. 

This is a great example of synergy between two art forms, and a little surprising given that photographers long sought to maximize depth of field in their photos, not minimize it. In the early 20th Century, photographers Ansel Adams and Willard Van Dyke sought to create a movement which promoted a photographic aesthetic of clean, highly detailed images with everything in the frame in perfect focus. Thus began Group f/64, which soon attracted several more renowned photographers, including Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham. The group’s name came from the aperture setting of f/64 which provides the maximum possible depth of field on a large format camera.    

Most art forms go through many phases with the passage of time, and photography is no exception. Although it’s a more modern art form with a shorter history than painting or sculpture, photography seems to have reached a point where everything that can be done, has been. Photographers have tirelessly explored variations in focus, colour, and light and shade to create images that reflect every corner of the creative psyche. 

The application of diorama effects in photography is a sign that photography has entered its post-modernist phase. Just as post-modern architects take inspiration from past eras and give them a fresh twist, photographers are discovering the benefits of a post-modern approach. Miniature faking recalls the soft, fuzzy images of the early days of photography, when photographers sought to imitate Impressionist painters. In those days, a crisp, well-lit photograph with good detail and contrast was considered unartistic. It was jarring to a public that had grown accustomed to the atmospheric, stylized pastel images of artists like Monet and Degas. 

Photography eventually broke away from its original identity as the poor cousin of painting and grew into a distinct art form with its own aesthetic. Over the span of a century, it’s gone through many phases and has reached a certain level of maturity. 

And now, dioramas are providing shutterbugs with a new source of inspiration. So in addition to art imitating life and life imitating art, we have art imitating art. 

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar


Inspiration

Since plastic models are the key ingredient in most dioramas, it’s natural that most artists start out building models and later progress to dioramas. This was certainly the case for me.

What then is the source of inspiration or motivating event that encourages the plastic modeler to make the transition to dioramas? There are several possible answers to this question. Let’s look at a few.

The quest for realism
Having spent several months assembling, painting and weathering your jet fighter model to perfection, you release it from the confines of your workshop and proudly bring it upstairs to the living room for all to see. And now comes the moment of truth: you place your model on the bookshelf. But something is not quite right. The woodgrain finish of the shelf is out of context, a far cry from the oil stained runway that a real jet fighter would sit on. Between a stack of books and a bunch of family photos, your model is just another knick-knack competing for space. It has entered bookshelf purgatory.

One way out of this predicament is to hang your model from the ceiling instead. But then you realize there is a better way: why not put that scrap of wood in your workshop to good use and paint it to look like a runway? With a proper runway base, your jet fighter now looks at home. It has become a logical component of a fully developed miniature environment, as comfortable in its habitat as a duck in a pond. You’ve taken a step forward in realism.

Inspiration from film and television
As a kid growing up with TV shows like The Thunderbirds and UFO, I was fascinated by the miniature sets created by Derek Meddings and his special effects teams. Who can forget the majestic pre-launch sequence of Thunderbird 2 as it emerges from its hangar on Tracy Island? Or the Interceptors rising from their circular underground silos to the surface of the moon? Great care was taken in the design and construction of these sets, and they always showed off the models in the best possible way. My first diorama was inspired by UFO. It featured a diecast Interceptor and Shado Mobile on a wood base built up with plaster and parts from a Super City building set.

Releasing your inner architect
Perhaps you always wanted to design and build a house, launch pad or cityscape. The diorama allows you to realize your dream in the scale of your choosing (and with considerably less capital outlay than the full size version). You are now chief architect, as well as engineer and contractor. And unlike an architect tasked with a full sized project, you have no committees to deal with, no permits to obtain, and no office politics. You get to channel 100% of your energy into the creative process. Not a bad deal.

-Ivar