Welcome to Marwen (2018) is a Robert Zemeckis movie based on the true story of Mark Hogancamp. Having already seen the documentary Marwencol (2010), I already knew the following about Mark and his incredible life story, which provided a useful foundation for this movie.
Mark Hogancamp is a hate crime survivor. He mentioned he likes wearing women’s shoes while drinking at a bar, and in return got jumped from behind by five guys. They beat him nearly to death, putting him in a coma for nine days. When he regained consciousness, Mark had no memory of his prior life and had to relearn to write, speak, and walk again.
His state funding for medical care soon ran out, so he turned to a miniature world for his own version of therapy. His hands were too shaky for smaller scale models so, at the suggestion of a local hobby shop owner, he settled on 1:6 scale (think Barbie and GI Joe) and created the fictional Belgian town of ‘Marwencol’, circa World War II.
An image by the real life Mark Hogancamp.
Previously an alcoholic, Mark never drank again after the attack. I say this as a precursor, but even in real life, yes, his views on women are somewhat off-putting. He adores them, but from a distance. They’re different than other people; held on a pedestal and lacking personal narratives.
I, myself, also photograph toys and have PTSD, just like Mark.
I didn’t begin photographing toys to heal from trauma (it’s been in my life much longer than that), but I can relate to the calming properties of creation. Toy photography provides a tangible way to illustrate emotions and work through personal stories. I also agree that war is a good allegory for personal struggle and I’ve used it in such a way in my own work. In this, I became quite interested in Mark Hogancamp’s fascinating story. Not only that, but his work is beautiful. His raw, non-art school principled, documentarian take on miniature war scenes are striking.
One of my war images made with planes from the board game Axis and Allies.
As some of you know, I recently spent a couple weeks with work in Portland Maine. Very surprisingly, we had a free afternoon during our second week in town and a coworker and I went out to visit 3 of the local lighthouses with that spare time – The Portland Headlight, the Bug Light and the Spring Point Ledge Light. And without further ado, I wanted to share those images I took while there with you.
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Quite some time ago, I published this info on this site, but I’ve since reformatted for readability and published again. This post and my history of toy photography post will both be making their way into a whole new deep dive soon. I hope you’ll find it useful.
Miniatures have taken the world by storm. And why wouldn’t they? The internet allows the spread of their tiny glory to miniacs all over the world. But they have a hugely amazing history, dating back to ancient Egypt, if not further, and I think that history needs to be explored.
3rd Millennium BC (Old Kingdom Egypt)
The earliest known examples of dollhouses. These included wooden models of servants, furnishings, boats, livestock and pets and were placed in pyramids for religious purposes.
Mesopotamia/ Iron Age/ Ancient Egypt (3000s BC)
Mesopotamian clay tablets considered the first miniature books.
Miniature artwork in the Egyptian papyrus manuscripts.
Iron Age/Roman West votive offerings and grave gods.
Salisbury hoard detailed miniaturized bronze shields. So detailed they are later used by archaeologists to learn about their full-scale counterparts.
American Pre-Columbian (1st millennium BC to 16th Century AD)
Small-scale architectural effigies are made in ceramic, stone, wood and metal.
When I was 7 I wanted to grow up to be an artist. I quickly decided that wasn’t possible because I couldn’t draw. I sure could draw the rat on the cover of Ralph S. Mouse (this one), and I drew Ralph over and over, but to think of something and just draw it, that wasn’t something my mind could do. So my 7 year old self saw Art as a profession that would never be reachable.
In a college painting class we were painting a live model. She had a bit of extra skin under her chin, and my professor came over and ‘fixed’ where I had painted it, noting that in professional portraiture we should make the client look as polished as possible. I don’t know that I agree with that mentality, but even if I did, I wouldn’t have ever been able to fathom what the model would have looked like devoid of that bit of skin. I could paint what was before me quite skillfully, but to consider a differentiation from what was before me wasn’t possible.
Sometimes I burn images of forest creatures into wood. I begin with a light trace of the animal from a printed photo, noting where the shadows should be. They come out well, but I often feel like I’m cheating in the process.
I have Aphantasia, a blind mind’s eye. I cannot visualize within my mind, or at least not well. For me personally, what I see in my head is like a dark movie screen viewed from over a mile away. And what’s there is there, I cannot willingly change it.
The simple test goes like this — picture an apple. Can you see it? Now, hold it in your hand, change it’s color to blue, picture it on the beach. How clear is the apple on a scale of 1 to 10?
My apple is maybe a 1 or 2, and I can’t change it or hold it.
I discussed this test and phenomenon with my fiance. He revealed he can picture items within the real world space. I didn’t know that was possible. I didn’t know anyone imagined things any differently than I do. I imagine being able to visualize like that is a movie version of an acid trip. I know that’s off base, but it’s such a crazy concept to someone who’s never been able to see the world like that.
Knowing that I’m part of the presumably 2% of the world with this has helped me understand my creative process and what some of my professors were trying to get across in my art classes, but all in all it doesn’t really change anything. Like I always have, I simply have to work around it. I’ve been told it’s a disability by those I’ve brought it up to as they look at me with pitying glances. I’ve also spoken to others with Aphantasia who feel that their worlds have been shattered. And look, I get it, but there’s nothing we can do about it, and we’ve all had it without knowing, so something’s been working in our lives and creative practices regardless.
In part, Aphantasia may have helped me settle on miniature diorama photography i.e. toy photography as my creative outlet. I do favor this medium for numerous other reasons as well and while sure I could draw or paint from reference, I want to create scenes that don’t necessarily exist in the real world, and through miniature figures, props and scenery I’m able to do just that.
That doesn’t mean I don’t ever practice other mediums. I woodburn from reference, occasionally paint or draw simplistic designs from my head, and make resin crafts that allow me a more physical way of designing a space.
All in all, to my 7 year old self and to those of you out there that need it, you can be an artist, you are an artist. Your creative drive can overcome your brain’s way of processing.
If you’d like to learn more about Aphantasia, visit this article in which you can also get in contact with the research team.
On your own blog, social media page, etc. within the week that follows, post a poem, photo, really anything, just get inspired by the weekly color! Within that post make sure to link back to that week’s prompt post or share your link as a comment on that post, so that I can share your links the following week, and tag your post ‘coloryourworld’ so others can see what you’ve shared in their WordPress Reader.
Check out the calendar and colors below. Challenge number 1 will begin next Tuesday, May 14.
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I’ll post links to weekly challenges as they come below: