Antique Toy World magazine took a liking to my recent series of photographs and interviewed me for their cover story. For the past 2 years I've been photographig vintage toys, re-imagining them in epic dramas The full magazine interview is below.
Interview with art photographer Xavier Nuez
What made you think of shooting toy photos in this way?
The idea of photographing vintage toys had been brewing in my head for a couple years. My work is very theatrical and the toys were a great subject for storytelling. I love to create dramatic stages, and my lighting is a big part of it – I light in a very theatrical way.
What is it about the toys that you liked?
Old toys are the perfect inspiration for creating other worldly scenes - each has so much life and history and pop culture connotations. And you can stage them in so many ways – the possibilities are endless. It’s fun to first look at the toy and start spinning a story in my head and then trying to tell that story as a single image. Then there was the aesthetic of the toys. Their beautiful retro shapes and amazing design. They are just simply cool to look at.
When did you realize you had hit on a great idea?
The first toy I shot for this new body of work was a Nomura tin toy from the 1960s, the Pack Plane, loaned to me by collector John Betts. I really didn't have a clear vision for the series when I brought the first toys to my studio but I knew I would try and create a fantasy version of them, and I wanted to make the toys larger than life in the process. When I started lighting and shooting the Pack Plane, I instantly knew that I wanted each toy to be in the middle of an epic drama - a kind of hyper realistic drama. By the time I finished the photograph, it was clear I'd be working on this series for many more years.
What's your process? How do you create these photographs?
I start by developing a story in my head, with the toy as the lead character of course. Then I create the setting on the computer. This can take a day or it can take weeks. Once the setting is created, then I have to figure out how to light the toy so that it looks like it belongs in that set. My lighting has to complete the illusion of reality but it also has to heighten the surrealism of the story.
How do you find the toys?
I’m not a toy collector myself so I had to start networking by reaching out to the community and going to the massive Chicago toy convention. I’ve met some great collectors but I’ll be working on this project for many years and I’d love to hear from collectors who have toys they’d like photographed. I always give a big print to the owner as a thank you.
Is photography a full time or part time job?
Photography is all I’ve ever done. I've been a full time photographer since finishing college in 1989. In the early years I combined my fine art with commercial gigs to make ends meet, but since around 2004 I've been a full time art photographer. My work is exhibited in galleries and museums, plus I show at art fairs. My photographs are in the permanent collections of many museums along with public and private collections.
What's been your greatest success?
Just being able to do my art full time has been a blessing. But my series of photographs, Alleys and Ruins, really put me on the map. Both critics and collectors loved it. The New York Times called the series a masterpiece.