Beyond the Valley of Richard Edson

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Wonka Vision Magazine, now a defunct indie music publication. The article that appeared in the issue was heavily edited for length. The complete text of the article, as originally written to the assigned word count, follows (all images are courtesy of Richard Edson):

Beyond the Valley of Richard Edson

By Christopher Friesen

Imagine that your childhood toys grew up to be bigger than you.

Imagine that you could join in their adventures in the polymerized wilderness of your toy box.

If you can envision that, then you can imagine what Richard Edson’s photographic series “Beyond the Valley of the Micro-Bops” is all about.

“I wanted to find a way to approach both color and photography in a completely different way,” he says of his motivation to photograph toys. “More from the point of view of the imagination, and constructing photography within a very confined space. Both an imaginative space and a real space.”

Edson was visiting his brother when some toys lying around the house caught his eye. Looking at them closely, he realized their photographic potential.

“I noticed how evocative they are,” he says, “how interesting they are.” He took out his camera and started to photograph them.

His first series of photographs feature dramatic scenes with multiple figurines. Edson found that several shots with what he calls a “collapsed focal plane,” where only a small portion of the frame remains in focus while the rest fades to blur, were the most interesting.

“I found that by photographing them as close as I did, using a macro-lens, I created something both different, and more, than the toys or figures were to begin with,” he says.

The photographs in his second series vary from humorous to macabre, from playful and innocent to chillingly serious. But each one seems to tell a story.

In “Dancing Women,” one awkward wallflower gazes out uncomfortably past three others all dressed the same as her. It’s as if she has tried her best to be beautiful, to shed her gawkiness and fit in, only to find that she has committed the most heinous of prom-night fashion faux pas – dressing like every other woman in the room.

In another, “Mystery Man,” a hand reaches out pleadingly, its owner obscured in a foggy blur. What does that hand offer? Salvation or damnation?

For his second series, Edson collected toys from friends and flea markets. He set the figurines up on a table in the bedroom of his Los Angeles apartment. There, he could take advantage of the late-afternoon, winter sunlight from his west-facing windows. He says getting a great shot was a matter of playing; composing the toys and finding the right background fabric.

He enlarged the pictures into 24-by-36 inch prints, in editions of seven, and first showed them in March of 2008. Since then, his show has traveled and prints are still available. They sell for $1,500 each and Edson says he would like to see them all hanging on someone’s walls.

Richard Edson’s voyage through the valley of imagination may be finished, but as the pictures documenting his trip reveal, it was a fun journey.

“Total play,” he says of the experience. “Total pleasure. Finding the toys was a pleasure, finding the fabric that I used for the background was a pleasure. It was a total, total pleasure.”

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