toy photography

March, 1999
I was very fortunate that my first studio as a commercial photographer in San Francisco was in one of the city’s best neighborhoods.Toy photographyAt the time, (before the dot com community took over the city), the majority of San Francisco’s architects, designers, illustrators and advertising art directors were all nestled at Jackson Street between Sansome and Columbus and the few blocks around it. Besides all the working artists, the neighborhood had numerous great shops for window shopping and exploring when you needed to get out of the confines of a studio and find a little inspiration, and fabulous locales for an incredible lunch.

There were great little furniture design shops by local artists, private contemporary art galleries (including Japanesque a personal favorite!), a couple of bohemian cafes with great coffee and pastries, a Oaxacan mexican restaurant with amazing mole, and one of the city’s best art stores: ARCH Drafting Supply.Toy PhotographyARCH was located at the corner of Jackson and Sansome and “functioned as the CHEERS of the design community”. ARCH was a creative’s afternoon escape. You would meet up with other creatives nearby for a cappuccino around 3pm, then saunter over to ARCH to see what new cool things they had in their ever-changing store displays.

In addition to the normal art store fair of sketch pads, portfolio cases, and foam core, ARCH always had cool collections of little things scattered randomly around the store: shelves, bins and buckets of little bric-a-brac that inspired and enthused. Things like a lacquer tray of sushi erasers, a book of postcards with photos of Paris, or an assortment of miniature wind-up robots.Toy PhotographyIt was one of those days that I needed to get some fresh air, that I played hooky from work with a retoucher to wander the neighborhood. We smoked a little “wacky tobaccy” before we headed out, as hey, we were in our 20’s and a little bored. Eventually ending up at ARCH as usual, I remember stopping to stare at some cool metal boxes that could double as portfolio cases (I probably looked too long, as my frame of mind was ready to see anything brightly colored as “awesome”), when a fishbowl of little trinkets caught my eye. The clear dish on the sales counter, next to the register, was filled up with shiny, metallic, little 3-inch tall action figures. I was entranced, and the poses and shapes of the variety of figures available made me giggley.

I bought one of each kind.Toy PhotographyBack at my photography studio, I was on an impassioned roll. I used some blue, red and yellow gels, with my “cancellation” method to light white background paper. I plopped down the figures with a little photo tac on their feet to keep them standing, and a long lens with macro to get in tight on the little guys.Toy PhotographyThe afternoon high was still aloft, as I unknowingly stayed late at work to photograph the seven total shots. I had to create a new folder on the computer to save the photos all into, and needed a title to define the whole set. It didn’t take but a second to come up with it: Space Out on Cannabis Major.Toy PhotographyYes, a corny name for a silly collection of images. But it gave me an angle to create a promotional piece: a printed “matchbook” of my toy photography that I sent out to creative directors I knew, with the title proudly displayed on the front.

That day summed up my time in the late 90’s in that neighborhood, my age, and the way I promoted myself. Corny, silly, but having a lot of fun doing what I was good at.Toy PhotographyJust a year later, most of those businesses were gone from that neighborhood. ARCH Drafting Supply moved to lower Potrero Hill. And I  moved to a new photography studio on 9th & Folsom. But the memories remain, from photos like these.