The Pivot and the Model Pictures

For the past two years, 2018 and 2019, I was voted Member of the Year for a popular diecast model collectors forum, Model Hangar III. I make model photographs on a nightly basis and show the other people on the forum what I’ve completed.

Lorrie, who’s an English friend on Facebook, looked at one of my diorama photographs and said “It looks so real.” That is a nice compliment. Other times, hardcore scale modelers—not diecast model collectors—will pick out certain details and say the shot isn’t accurate, and the tank wouldn’t have fought that way, in that place.

Purist model makers also frown upon Photoshop effects and filters. “Why can’t you just show the diorama?” They ask. “Don’t manipulate the images like this.”

I agree that most diorama makers, other than myself, strive to make their scenes accurate and realistic. I enjoy looking at their work and what they can do.

My lot in life is different. I collect fine diecast models, which by nature are less accurate than what skilled modelers build and paint. I accept diecast models for what they are, and love the hobby of collecting them. I also love creating artistic pictures of my models in Photoshop, and other bits of software. The feeling stems from my experiences as a preteen when I started building models. The enjoyment from those days inspires the scenes and pictures I make today.

The pure fun from my 1976-78 days when my friend Tommy and I played with tanks and planes carries forward, and helps dilute my modern-day stress.

Here’s my philosophy on why I make my style of diorama pictures.

My goal is illusion. I’m not working towards realism. I am not trying to illustrate a particular event or probable occurrence.

If you like normal pictures, there are more on the internet than you could ever find the time to discover.

I want it to be seen that my subjects are models on sets, where the components are physically and then digitally integrated to create a believable place where that model exists. A place where, for a moment, the models and figures come alive.

I am creating the models’ place. Not what you have fixed in your mind as to what can and cannot be.

I am not depicting replicas of real things. I am showing you an actual real thing, which is the model itself.

Read that again, and then I’ll ask you: Can you alter your worldview, in the pivot I just provided? The “I am not depicting replicas of real things, I am showing you an actual real thing” thought is perhaps going to require that you, the viewer, change what you think about such diorama scenes.

Let’s set that aside for a moment, and talk about the process of transforming models into vibrant, or contrastingly stark, scenes. Models can take up an entire computer monitor eighteen inches wide, but in reality they’re so tiny, would you believe that three tanks could fit in the palm of your hand?

The main reason I use digital filters and effects is to knock down the sheen variations between the multi-media set pieces, and to give a scene a unified look. I also like to fill in corrective measures such as closing gaps between track and ground, adding backgrounds and skies, and removing seams, blemishes and flaws.

Making a picture artistic is important, because I want the scene to look pleasing.

With neither accuracy, history, nor realism being my goals, I’m free to let the models “come alive” and do what they could never do in typical static displays. For a moment, on your screen, the model and scenery are unified in a fantasy.

This is fantasy for sure, but within that realm, a real place is created. Yes, it begins on my kitchen table with tacky paste, miniature trees and bricks, but it doesn’t end with my final Photoshop click. For the picture to work, you have to look at it, and get involved with it. The picture is filled-in with your imagination.

It goes nowhere without you.

With my models and scenes, I am celebrating one thing: The immense joy I felt as a kid, playing with models and being with a friend.

Now, a few words to continue the pivot. Can you let an entrenched thought go, and consider a new idea? Come with me.

War is men fighting.
My photos are one man at peace.

War is suffering and death.
My photos are enjoying my life.

War is destruction.
My photos are construction.

War is heavy tanks.
My photos are light models.

War is the waste of youth.
My photos are the celebration of my youth.

War is nations pitted against each other.
My photos are me in daily chats with mates all over the world.

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What I Notice Is What’s New

Last week I took a walk down my street. I looked down and saw a growth of moss on the pavement. I passed it by. A few steps later I saw another tiny circle of green. I stopped. What was going on here?

What was happening exactly? Was I noticing the moss for the first time, or was this something new? New and nature don’t really go together. The Earth’s been doing it’s regular thing a long time. What I notice, is what’s new.

I took a few steps back and picked up both pieces. They weren’t attached to the ground. They weren’t sprouts. They weren’t from here, they were, actually, new. My walk was officially postponed.

There’s a length of grass and dirt adjacent to the road. I found a few more pieces of tiny, fluffy green. I picked them up.

The only way I could see what was in front of me was to get close. I crouched down and got within a foot of the ground. I’m sure I looked curious, but I am a curious kind of guy. The pieces of moss were strewn in an approximate ten-foot area.

From what I could conclude from a large indentation in the ground, a branch must have fallen here recently. It was gone now, but these growths must have come off during the violence of the drop, and removal.

I made four visits to this area in two days, to collect all I could. I had a plan, because I’m a planning kind of guy. These pieces, newly dead, would make perfect scale trees for my model photographic scenes.

The moss growths are in a dish, drying out now. Five tiny ants have emerged and I’ve relocated those creatures into some potted grass and fresh soil. My attention is back on the moss. The moss’s life has ended in one way and is starting another.

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Phototheme- Boone Hall Plantation

Phototheme- Boone Hall Plantation.

Photography exhibit by Ara Hagopian.

South Carolina has a deep history in the story of the United States. Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens in Mt. Pleasant preserves much of this history in a beautiful working farm, open to the public.

This Phototheme of fourteen pictures was made during a day’s visit to the property. The camera was the Sony A7R 36 megapixel full-frame with the Zeiss 50mm prime lens.

My exhibits usually involve staying in the area for several days, taking photographs on a carefree wander basis, and presenting a set of pictures that come from a large group of scenes and settings. This exhibit is different. I had three quick hours to explore the property and this included two guided tours, one of which prohibited photography.

My time was limited, but the subjects were not.

The pictures below would not qualify for a tourist’s brochure of the grounds. Publicity marketing is not the intent with the work. Instead, you’re getting this artist’s impression of what was beautiful or interesting one sunny June day in 2019.

What did we discover? Come look with me.

BELOW: Grand entrance. Great trees are a mainstay of the South. You see them in the sweltering heat and then the heat seems to go away, or at least set aside, because something grand and weighty is now before you. The Spanish moss that drapes from the branches has a delicate color, the envy of an exposed army, with soft strands lain by nature yet with seeming care.

This is the famed entrance to the grounds. Brides pay a lot of money for their photographs to be taken here.

BELOW: Draped. Shapes, shades, and colors work in wonderful ways.

BELOW: Sweltering. Ten farmers work the crop system that has carried on for hundreds of years. Strawberries, peaches, tomatoes, kale, peppers, oranges, lemons and limes are just a sample of the produce offered.

BELOW: Fineness. A field view from a bouncing tour wagon. Such a pretty sight to see. If anyone in your world ever tells you to “get lost,” let’s promise to meet here and comply with their wish.

BELOW: Cardinals. With photography, there are types of pictures that are nicely framed, precisely rendered, and beautiful. Sometimes, a moment is captured that couldn’t be duplicated if we waited all day. This is one of those. We have a male cardinal on the tree and his mate flying to meet him. Red and orange, spectacular! Thrilling too is their eye contact; this was my money shot of the day.

This is a crop of a much larger picture. Thanks to the camera and lens, we have clarity in the scene. I’ll post the original photograph, and a closer crop, at the end of this exhibit.

BELOW: Massive. Could man make such an arrangement? Possibly. Could he conceive it? Not even close.

BELOW: Delicate. Is there a more fragile thing than this?

BELOW: Flighty Moth. This moth fluttered around the gardens and I looked like a huffing simpleton chasing it. You can’t chase a moth and expect it to land and pose for you. You can wait for her to settle on her own, and do your sneaking then!

BELOW: Crape Myrtle. This is a Natchez white crape myrtle tree. She produces large white globular booms in the summertime. What impressed me the most was her bareness, in the midst of so much cover around her.

BELOW: Slaves. Slavery made the South, and these surviving structures were homes for African men and women who were bought and kept for free labor. The slaves were worked hard with few guarantees. In fact the laws of the day prohibited slaves to read and write. This law applied to white people: You were forbidden to teach a black person the basic luxury to learn on one’s own. As bad as we can imagine the conditions, you can bet it was worse. At one point South Carolina’s slave population exceeded 57%–they were in the majority, and yet, not free.

BELOW: Powerful words. I took this photograph at an angle because standing here, and feeling so many conflicting feelings, I knew what I wanted to do with the image when I would get to process it back home. Each preserved slave home has modern signs inside, for educational purposes. I stood outside this cabin and angled the camera to cut off the base of the doorway; even with emancipation the former slaves were not free. They didn’t have an easy way out of this room. My crop effects a blocking of the way. I added artificial light on the sign, to make those words absolutely clear.

Understand who came before you.

BELOW: Garden. I was mobile in body and able in means, two privileges I’m thankful for, and which will not last. Standing here at this beautiful scene, which reminded me so much of my childhood Gloucester Massachusetts days, I thought about my good life. I am lucky to be able to have the strength to walk where I choose. I had money to travel, and a dear companion to plan the string of details to make the thousand-mile trip happen.

I have the legal right to pass this way. And a fine camera. And ability. None of this is lost to me, when I’m reminded that not all have these physical and material gifts.

Come and walk this garden with me.

BELOW: Barn cats. There’s a cat family at one of the original structures. They won’t come when called, but they won’t run when talked to.

BELOW: Mom. Mom tolerates a youngster much too old to nurse but insisted anyway.

Thank you for looking at my Phototheme. Please post a comment below. I’d love to know your favorite picture, and why you chose it.

As promised, here is the original Cardinal picture, uncropped and cropped.

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Arcaylis, Element of Land, Sea and Sky

Arcaylis, Element of Land, Sea and Sky (2007). This picture was drawn as a follow-up to 2005’s Enoxx, Season of Four Weathers. I used a wide range of magic markers for Arcaylis, the entire concept and execution coming when I was flat on my back for several days. I was sore for about two weeks, and my wife would make sure my illustration boards and bag of pens were within my reach before she’d leave for work, for the week I was bedridden.

Each section of Earth (the left and right parts of the drawing) as well as the Sky and Sea (top and bottom), were drawn on separate boards, the entire arrangement photographed in pieces and placed together digitally in post production. I didn’t have floor space large enough to lay the pieces as I envisioned them. Also, each piece was shot separately to get the best photo resolution possible.

The idea was to create shapes in absence, what we call negative space, where what’s missing in the drawing is as important as what’s present. Anyone who looks at this picture and sees four egg shapes is viewing negative space.

Each June I visited New York City, to buy the best quality markers I could afford. I bought in person because I wanted to hold the pens in my hand and see how the colors talked to each other. I would seek the warm shades that could reach across to cooler versions of like colors. One sense of judgement would say, no, these colors wouldn’t work together, while the actual physical presence of each was the determining factor as to whether the hues would work or not, when applied side-by-side on paper.

The center of Arcaylis is pure Enoxx, right down to the silver paint pen separating the colors and defining their shapes.

I’ve told you about the technical details, now let’s get to what counts: What is this drawing about? My inspiration for the Arcaylis concept was the basic joy of a child playing at the beach—and his secret universal link. When I was eight years old I knelt in the shallow ocean, scooping sand and heaving it skyward. I didn’t know it then, but with my feet and legs firmly dug into the sea floor and my arms moving the water upward, I was engaging three quantities: The water, the earth and the sky. At the center was my body, the facilitator in this chain. Arcaylis is a connection of the natural elements.

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The Sharp Blade

 This picture was composed with one goal, to show the maximum impact of spring in Burlington MA. In past exhibits I’ve told you that everything shrinks in a photograph, when compared to the live view. In this instance, the opposite is true. The picture couldn’t be bigger. The actual moment was less than this.

Do you like what you see? Second question: Do you want to know the story behind this picture?

If you know my mode of storytelling, it might be analogous to this: A dull blade slips and cuts, but when a sharp edge slips, the cut’s deeper. Get ready for it.

Except for the sky, everything you see in this 2011 photograph was gone in 2012. The flowers, the bush, and the trees were destroyed in a landscape renovation.

When I brought my camera on a walk near Network Drive, I was on the lookout for pretty spring subjects. There was an old road that was used for business, and one particular business, which was long abandoned, had the pretty scene you see here. Because the shop were closed I was able to walk on the property and get this shot.

This picture is everything that I wanted from that walk. The colors matched the life that was all around me. There was peace in the abandonment, because all that was missing was the activities of people. Nature filled the void with birdsong and audible wind.

I was in it, and will never be far from it. That was the impact on me.

Later, when I saw the building torn down, I was shocked to see the trees had to go as well. This made the photo bittersweet. I thought I had captured what life was, and I didn’t know how the wave would complete its arc.

There are trite, overused phrases such as “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” When we see spring color in front of us, we understand those buds will fall within days or weeks. We’re not really prepared for the news that the sources are gone.

Perhaps you’ll understand when I say that the same applies to every photograph you’ll happen across. One day, everything you see on a given picture will be gone, the animals, furniture, the rugs and rooms. If you’re not prepared for it, the sharpest knife does slip. Enjoy what you have, for each have you’ve got.

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New Pictures 2019, part 3

Below are four new pictures I made in April 2019. I used two sets, and models that I finished last year and the year before.

BELOW: A Soviet ISU-152 drives through the ruins of Berlin, Spring 1945.

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BELOW:  A different tank destroyer stops at a street barricade.

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BELOW:  A Sherman tank and soldiers proceed cautiously.

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BELOW: A Tiger tank moves to a rear area for repainting.

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Thanks for looking!

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New Pictures 2019, Part 2

I’ve made a few new model pictures since February 26th. I had a lot of fun setting the scenes, and completing the illusion.

These are my 1/72 scale models, figures and sets. No model is repeated, although the first two photographs are different angles of the same scene. I wanted to show the depth of the dugout.

Jagdpanzer IV in sunlight

I like the shadowplay with this picture. The iphone camera caused a shadow to the left and I kept it in there. It reminded me of a building’s cast, if not 100% true to full form. The picture is simple and was “a quick one” as we say in the trade. Probably will be forgotten soon as more are churned out, but this was the first use of this particular street set and the plain colors are nice too. There’s a cold cast that somehow works. The watercolor effect is welcoming, gentle, and the palette is so effortless that I think if I ever printed my diorama shots on 5×7 cardstock, this one would render nicely. The shadow’s the star.

The next three photographs are redresses of the same building set. Different tanks, with considerable digital terraforming.

Thank you for looking!

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Savor Us

Savor the many different ways to say goodbye. Everyone we know has a different expression for us, and we for them. Friendships are like personal facets on a precious stone. You and I have an angle that’s ours only. The sliver that we share is forever. Don’t think of it as being tiny, think of it as being part of something really big.

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Hear Now

I’ve come to visit you, but maybe you don’t know it.

I’ve come to your front door, I call out and wait.

I’m waiting and waiting, but there’s no sign of you. No sign of your knowing I’m here. I sit, and stare at your door.

We once had a connection, although it was hardly anything grand. But I always thought, we could build on what was small, and work it from there.

There’s smoke coming from your chimney but I’m not seeing any lights. Not hearing any sounds. Yet, somehow I know you’re here.

People walk by, and drive by, and they look at me. Maybe they think I’m a fool to do this. Maybe they think I’m stupid to sit unattended in the cold.

When there are so many other places to be.

Let me start with this. Being warm, and without, is overrated.

Whether or not they accept what I’m doing, I don’t care. This is me, waiting to spend time with you, and for all I know, they too are on a mission, to be with someone all their own.

Or maybe they’re doing really nothing important at all, just driving around and throwing glances at others.

No one cares about unfinished business until matters rise. That’s my issue. I’m managing by being here with you, and speaking to you, from the outside in.

You and I have unfinished business. Silent, darkened rooms don’t change that a bit.

You’re not chasing me away, or telling me to go. You’re not telling me to not bother. And even if you did, I would bother, and I wouldn’t go, because you and I have more to do. And right now!

It’s snowy and the wind hits hard. It’s starting to sink in, maybe we’re not going to meet up here. Maybe we’re not going to walk together, from this house.

Maybe our meeting is going to have to be at a different house. And at a later time.

Until it occurs to me otherwise, I’m here now. Speaking to you, calling through the closed door.

I wait.

Saying what you need to hear, now.

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New Pictures So Far This Year

Hi everyone,

I usually save showing you my new model photographs for the end of the year. Let’s try something different. Here are my best new pictures from January and February 2019.

Seven model photographs have made the cut. As with all my best pictures, these were fun to stage, and then to process in Photoshop. These models are 1/72 scale and are part of my permanent collection of 600 tanks and 150 planes.

Thank you for looking and I hope you enjoy the scenes! Presented in the order they were made.

Corsair over the Solomon Islands, early 1943.

Corsair chases Zero over Guadalcanal island, 1943.

Jagdpanthers gather.

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StuG III crosses a Soviet poppy field, 1943.

 

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General Lee tank tackles the rough Tunisian terrain, 1943.

M3 and M7, with soldier and gun crew, Tunisia 1943.

Two M7s race through Italy, 1943.

Weren’t those pictures fun? Where else can we go this year? We’ll see! 🙂

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