Well, here it comes. Drum roll please. After 4 years of hibernating in storage, I’m finally showing some never before seen photos from the making of The Log of Charlie Ming! Why now, you might ask? Because last Wednesday, the hard disk that represents my life died on me (that ungrateful son of a byte). Did I ask for it? No. Was I asking for it? Yes. Next time when your hard disk is showing signs of ageing, please do not ignore it. Unless your brain is the size of a chickpea. What followed next was a string of profanities, getting my panties in a bunch and just sheer mad panic. I am inherently a worrywart and naturally this meant disaster to me. And boy, was I in for a rude awakening when I was quoted $2,000 to repair a motor that runs the read write head on my HDD. A hard disk recovery that costs more than my 5 days vacation to Bali? Oh hell no.
So I got out my ninja asian skills and went back in time through time machine on my old macbook that I stopped using, because it smoked on me last year. One of the many things that came to mind when I lost my hard disk was the end of the road for Charlie Ming. I prayed really hard to the computer gods that they would be kind to this chickpea brainiac and to please let me have my Charlie Ming back. My son that costs $5 from chinatown central ok! Let’s just say that I still lost important files but I’m glad to announce the return of my lost son.
For posterity’s sake, I think it would be timely to show some BTS pictures of this old project and what truly goes on behind a staged photograph. The Log of Charlie Ming is my last photography project. If you are keen to understand the project, click on the link! My interest for building sets and dioramas have not waned, I simply do not have the capacity to work on another project for now. And in all honesty, diorama photography is the only style of photography that I will ever create. I really suck at other genres. Sadly, I do not like being around live beings in general. It’s awkward to me and I’m bad at making small talk. Better off with the inanimate, I say!
All sets you see below were built from grey boards and props were either found in flea markets or created by hand. There is no special place to source for props, you have to be a hunter of trash (or treasure, your pick). Second hand shops, flea markets and hardware stores are going to be your best friends. Occasionally, eBay, if you want something very specific like a mini sewing machine. You can easily build tables, shelves and beds with basal wood and a handsaw and lots of glue, ain’t nobody gunna know. Old pocket watches can be clocks, a sponge can be a mattress, aluminium foil can be paint tubes, toothpicks can become window grills, you get the drift. You really have to push the limits to what ordinary objects can be or can look like. Once you get passed that creative mental block, everything you see that is miniature can become something realistic in your set.
Before building the sets for a scene, I would often do a rough sketch on how I wanted them to look visually in a photograph. They were meant to be photographed only from one or two angles. This helps save time on the construction process and also helps to save money.
Most of my sets were shot in my shoebox size bedroom and on my bed. Thinking back, I really can’t help but wonder, how did I managed to sleep in this mess every night?!
Putting my characters to the test and teaching them how to appear natural while doing everyday tasks was a bit of a challenge. This involves getting your real life boyfriend to take time off to come do awkward and mundane things like climbing out of bed a million times.
Although, sometimes there are still limitations like when you cannot find the perfect toy hand to create the right action. In such situations, you just got to wing it. Some of Charlie Ming’s body parts were interchangeable. Once in a while, I had to soak his head in boiling water so I could pop it out and fit it onto another body.
Making miniature food using sculpey clay and epoxy resin for the soup. My miniature food making skills are pretty bad, thankfully they only played a small part to the set.
You can gauge the size of my sets from this furry visitor of mine. Fret not, no pets were harmed in the process.
This is what an asian toy story would look like.
Fun fact: I have never owned a barbie doll before. I actually had to go to the salvation army to buy some for this scene and as there are no jet black haired barbies, I ended up chopping off her locks and using a sharpie to dye it black.
One of our many ‘calefares’ (extras) posing for a photo to be used within a photo.
Some of these sets were built early on and did not make the cut because the craftsmanship was either too poor or it could not gel well with the other pictures or storyline. I struggled badly with this project at the beginning – everything from the concept to the storyline to the visual aesthetics. I only had a proper footing 5-6 months into the project. But, it proved to be worth all the sweat, blood and tears! It was the greatest learning experience and gave me the affirmation that I needed all along.
I have always loved working and photographing miniatures, but I never felt that it was “textbook correct” in my school. A lot of opportunities were given to me after my graduation show and I will always be thankful to the people who gave them to me. Also, to the people who have bought my work even though I’m not famous (haha). I feel apologetic that I haven’t created any new diorama works. But, I can ensure you it’s always on my mind. One day! All of these experiences helped me realise what kind of artist I want to be and that it doesn’t matter if you cannot find the perfect “label” for yourself – whether you are a artist, a builder or a photographer. Cliche as it might sound, just be true to yourself. Do what you want to do and not what you think other people want you to do. As of now, I’m just gonna keep trucking along and be the creative explorer that I am!