Elgin Park: Visual Memories of Midcentury America at 1/24th scale, by Michael Paul Smith, Gail K. Ellison

9 Nov
FIVE of FIVE stars

FIVE of FIVE stars

I don’t even know how to begin to review this book. It is Five Stars times Five Stars to Infinity and Beyond. I have long been a fan of Michael Paul Smith’s work on Flickr and loved flipping through his first book, Elgin Park: An Ideal American Town. It is possible he has topped even that one.

Michael Paul Smith creates tiny little scenes, usually including model cars, and photographs them in a way that confounds the brain in trying to believe they are not real. The only way to understand what he does is to look him up on Flickr or find one of his books – and I recommend you do so immediately. This particular one is ideal and a winning choice no matter how you look at it.

I found myself not only holding my breath while looking through this book, but just being overwhelmed with the love that it took to create these scenes, and that Smith continues to exhude as his process continues. Because it does not end after he takes the picture and posts it. On Flickr, commenters help create imaginary stories around each scene, which Smith also adds to or creates his own. In this book he includes several commenters’ stories, comments and questions. Readers also add and/or photoshop their own pictures into the scenes, dressed for the occasion and participating in the action.

Reading through this book is a process:
1. Look at and take in the picture.
2. Appreciate it for the scene it creates.
3. Try to coordinate in your brain that this is not a real scene but one created by hand.
4. Read the comments and stories from Smith and other readers.
5. Turn the page and see how the scene was created.
6. Sit and wonder if you could do the same thing.
7. Take a closer look and realize no, no you can’t.
8. Put on a costume and start ‘shopping yourself into a scene.

The detail in these photos has to be seen to be believed. You can practically smell the rain in the wet streets. The lighting is gorgeous – just spectacular in most cases. There was one photo that included sun coming through a tiny chain link fence, creating a perfect shadow on the street – this is one of those tiny details that prevent your mind from accepting that this is 1/24 scale, and not full size.

Later in the book Smith shows how he made that fence, as well as many other details in the scenes. So many things are handcrafted just from small metal washers and spare earring parts. Interview questions are added throughout the book with several long sections included as well.

This book is for just about everyone:
Photographers
Lovers of old cars
Model train enthusiasts
Doll house creaters
People who love scenes from the past
Crafters
Make-it-yourselfers
People who appreciate hard work
People who appreciate perfection
Curious and intelligent teens
Any interested human being of any age

There are not just scenes of old buildings and beautiful cars, there are scenes with robots from outer space, and crashed flying saucers. Car and train crashes (with amusing stories to go with them all). Nostalgia and Americana. The photographs just fill your heart with wonder. You too will find your breath being held as you take in each scene.

This book is perfect as a gift – for ANYONE. And a perfect gift to yourself as well.

I was given access to an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review – and this is about as honest as I can give: FIVE STARS.

Go here to view a documentary about Michael Paul Smith and his process.

Follow Michael Paul Smith on Flickr.

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