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INTERVIEW with TOY PHOTOGRAPHY and LUME LEGEND – JOHNNY WU aka @SGTBANANAS

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Meet Johnny Wu, a toy photographer from California who’s been creating stunning new narrative imagery using his favorite action figures. His work crosses generational gaps, including action figures from the 1980s and includes current Star Wars figures like Kylo Ren. Meet Johnny…

WHERE ARE YOU FROM? WHERE DO YOU LIVE NOW?

I’m from Pacifica California.
It’s a small beach town right outside San Francisco, and I still live here currently.

WHAT IS YOUR FULL-TIME PROFESSION?

I work at Nestle Foods, Inc. as vendor.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN INVOLVED IN PHOTOGRAPHY?

I’ve been into photography for around 3 and half years now.

HOW DID YOU GET INTO PHOTOGRAPHY? TELL US THE WHOLE STORY…

So around three and a half years ago, I started collecting old Ninja Turtles toys I had as a kid. I started posting them on my personal Instagram page, and that’s where I discovered toy photography. It wasn’t long after that I started taking pictures with my phone. After doing that for a bit my girlfriend (who’s a photographer) steered me in the direction of using a DSLR. It was a tough transition at first, but once I got the hang of it I was hooked. Before I knew it, I was buying cameras and lenses anytime I could.

YOU FOCUS ON WHAT IS SOMETIMES CALLED MINIATURE PHOTOGRAPHY – HOW DID YOU GET INTO THAT?

It really came from seeing others on Instagram doing it and the toys themselves. It’s always been about the toys for me. Photography gave me the platform to express the passion I had for the figures I’ve always collected. It was like the perfect storm of two worlds clashing together.

WHERE DOES YOUR PASSION FOR THE ACTION FIGURES COME FROM?

Some of my earliest memories I have are connected with toys. As far back as I can remember, I always got super stoked to get a new toy. You could argue that I get more excited now than when I was a kid. Something about owning an action figure of your favorite character has always made me feel closer to them. Toys are literally like a drug to me – lol. I need new ones all the time to keep that inspiration going.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE GROUP OF ACTION FIGURES TO USE?

While it’s definitely hard to narrow it down to one, I’d have to go with the Bandai movie realization line. They have a Star Wars Aeries that are all stylized like samurais. They look bad-ass and photograph so good. They fit into a lot of different landscapes as well, so it makes them easy to shoot. The versatility of them is a big factor into why they’re my favorite. That always seems to play a big role into what makes a good figure to me.

HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH THE STORIES YOU ARE TELLING THROUGH YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY?

I pull inspiration from so many different places, but one main thing that’s always been a huge source is the toys themselves. Seeing a figure and imagining all the scenarios I can put it in. That really makes it easy to come up with a narrative for a shot. A lot of the stuff is thought up on the spot. I like to go out and pose the figure around a bit until I get something I like and then it kind of grows from there. I’ve always related it to cooking a meal. I start off with one figure and the pose, then I find the environment, then add another figure to the scene, and lastly I’ll toss in some kind of effect to top it all off. That’s usually my process when coming up with a shot.

WHAT’S IN YOUR CAMERA BAG RIGHT NOW?

So typically I have quite a few figures on me, but camera wise I carry:
1 or 2 lume cubes
1 manfrotto mini pod
1 manfrotto 190 go tripod
Spool of wire & pliers
Can of dust off (computer cleaner)
A lighter and fireworks
And a spray bottle (filled with water)

 

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR SOMEONE JUST STARTING OUT IN MINIATURE PHOTOGRAPHY?

Definitely. The biggest thing is to have fun. As long as you’re having fun everything will happen organically. That and try to imagine you’re seeing the world through the eyes of the toy. Get low to the ground and take in the scenery. What was once grass now looks like a jungle if you shoot it right.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE QUOTE?

I live life like the captain of a sinking ship. –Atmosphere

FAVORITE MOVIE/BOOK?

Big Trouble in Little China.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW YOU MADE YOUR FAVORITE IMAGE WITH A LUME CUBE?

One of the first shots I took with the Lume Cube turned out to be a turning point for me as well. It was the first time shooting a snow scene at night. I used a Kylo Ren figure and set him up in my small forest diorama and lit him from above. I always struggled to capture the snow the way I wanted in a dark setting, but the Lume Cube made it possible for me to have my ISO lower and shutter fast enough to capture to my liking. Easily made it favorite of mine.

ANY RECENT SPECIAL PROJECTS IN THE WORKS YOU CAN SHARE WITH US?

I just recently wrapped up the biggest project to date. I’ve been working on a book for the past year and it’s finally done! It’s titled “10 Frames per Second, an Articulated Adventure” the book will feature my photos, captions, and behind the scenes as well. I’m beyond stoked to have it out in the world and it comes out early December.

DESCRIBE LUME CUBE IN 5 WORDS OR LESS.

Small yet mighty!

THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR IMAGES, THOUGHTS AND TIME WITH US JOHNNY. YOU CAN FIND MORE OF JOHNNY WU’S IMAGES AT THE FOLLOWING SITES:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sgtbananas/?hl=en