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Matinee: 'Michael Paul Smith's Elgin Park' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

10 October 2015

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 106th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Michael Paul Smith's Elgin Park.

Animal Media Group produced this nine-minute portrait of Michael Paul Smith, who has spent years creating 1/24th scale model tableaus of the world he knew as a boy in Sewickley, Pa. and called it Elgin Park.

Watch the video carefully and you'll catch him wielding a small digicam (a Canon PowerShot SX700 HS and SX280 HS is behind some of his most recent Flickr images) to photograph some of the 200 scenes he has constructed. They really don't exist outside those images.

They are all, he assures us, camera captures.

They are all, he assures us, camera captures. Photoshop was only used to apply filters to age the images, Smith has said. He does call on reality itself for his backdrops, particularly foliage. But they seamlessly join the constructed scene convincing us at a glance we are looking at a full-size world.

He built everything in the scene except those backgrounds and the die cast model cars. The buildings are constructed of resin-coated paper, styrene plastic and basswood, plus lots of little found objects. The vehicles are from Smith's collection of over 300 commercially produced, diecast models, each of which cost him at least $100. Details which are sometimes barely visible in the final photograph, include meticulously crafted shoeboxes, interior furnishings and even a stretcher for an ambulance.

We didn't find any people, though. "I don't put people in my photos," Smith told Jim Koscs of the New York Times. "I want viewers to put themselves into the scenes. I'm creating a mood, something familiar in the viewer's mind."

But people would also give the game away. They don't make good 1/24 scale models. Unless, say, you resort to Photoshop after all. But then how long would it be before Smith would no longer be able to claim Elgin Park is a place where "there's no conflict." Conflict is the human condition.

In addition to this short documentary on Smith's life, Animal Media Group published a 324-page lavishly-illustrated book in June. Elgin Park: Visual Memories of Midcentury America at 1/24th Scale is available for $75 list or $50 directly from Animal Media Group.

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