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Friday, 05 February 2010


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I just looked at all of his pictures and have to say that I am amazed. This gives new meaning to the phrase "working to get the shot". I'm also old enough to have seen most of those vehicles at one time or another, which added to the interest.


Wow...that was pretty cool. What amazing attention to detail not just in the modeling, but in the images. And to think I've put tens of thousands of miles on my car looking for images when I could have done it in my basement, and no one would have been the wiser.

Of course, he could simply be a giant.

I too looked at the entire gallery on Flickr - going back to many of the photos several times - and I have to say, wow. More than once I caught myself thinking, "We owned that car when I was a kid!" or "Where is this neighborhood? It looks familiar." The models are terrific. But the PHOTOS are really well done, and especially the lighting.


Doesn't he know about panorama mode on the Olympus EP-2?

Whitewall tires for me

Does he use cameras from the same time period?


And then, on top of it all, the car of my youthful dreams, the 59 Chevy.

Seems like quite a mishmash of car vintages. I can't figure out what era he's modeling -- 40's? 50's? 60's?


This is absolutely amazing.It could be great to make a timelapse of one of his settings.I couldn´t believe they were not old pictures.
Thanks Mike for this link and congratulations to Michael Paul Smith.You are a genius.

I had just finished reading how Alberto Giacometti's sculpture "Walking Man 1" sold for a record $104.3 million at Sotheby's before I read this post. I came away from the Giacometti article wondering what anyone saw in that sculpture that made it worth such an insane price, as it evokes no emotion in myself. On the other hand, Michael Paul Smith's work is mind-boggling. I am still in disbelief at what he's able to do with models. I guess art really is in the eye of the beholder.

Wow, those are great! I love how he puts them into real settings to make them appear more realistic. Watching the whole slideshow, if I didn't know, I think I would have started to wonder why there was no people in any of the shots. Then he appears!

This seems to be a radical application of photography. Photography's main appeal, it seems to me, is in its power to preserve the past, but here you have Mr. Smith recreating an artificial past and preserving that.

I bet Michael Paul Smith has a great sense-of-humor.

When I was kid I spent hours attempting to set something like this up with my model cars. I am flooded with admiration. This is so cool as to be beyond belief. terrific, fantastic and inspirational!
My father's Kodak Tourist was not up to pulling this off, however.

Not only do I adore that time period (before me), but his lighting techniques is amazing.

Very cool, indeed.

When I was a tyke I loved model railroading and dreamed of creating layouts with such realism. (I never succeeded...due to various "lacks".) But I continued to admire such work. Coincidentally, I was recently contemplating such model scenes (as I was watching "Gojira" (the original Japanese version of Godzilla) and wondered what causes the "tell" (that a scene is a model). Many of the scenes from Michael Paul Smiths' work challenges that very notion that such give-aways are always there.


Funny! After reading your invitation to think deeper, it did cross my mind that it might have been a model, but then I thought, nah, too perfect. Anyway, well done.

that's awesome. You can tell, in hindsight, by looking at the details on the car - but I'd be hard-pressed to tell any of the other parts of the model from reality. And the fact that you can tell, barely, makes it stonger.

There's Pinocchio in one of the night shots, inside the shop...

This just put a huge grin on my face. The lighting is really what fooled me... spectacular work, thanks for posting this.

More fun than 3 months with Photoshop! Nice to see two interests coming together nicely. I wonder if there's a modelling forum that endlessly debates the virtues of German vs Pakistani steel blades, aged wood vs kiln dried, synthetic glue vs balsam, etc etc etc :-)


It's like wandering onto the set of an old movie while everyone has gone for lunch!

Astonishing attention to detail. The giveaway is the glass in the closer shots -- I imagine it's impossible to reproduce the optical qualities of a car windscreen at that scale. The "granularity" is wrong -- a bit like the oversized ripples in the water tanks on Thunderbirds (if Supermarionation ever made it to the rest of the world from the UK). I guess you can't miniaturize physics...

It should be noted that there are two extremely well known contemporary artists, Oliver Boberg and Thomas Demand, who mine this territory of architectural models and faux architecturural photography.



And the streets are so clean. And the cars so beautiful. I love it!

Check out the slide show on this page:


Some of the large scale modelers can do amazing things!

Two words: Paolo Ventura.

Great. Now he needs to get a tilt lens to make the models look like real cars that have been made to look like models.

More whitewalls here:

Another Wow from here and nicely presented Mike.

Daniel, to understand the art world and its prices, check out "Seven Days in the Art World" by Sarah Thornton. It's a fun read.

Excellent work. Great lighting for the most part. I vastly prefer the BW images, for believability. (Would have loved to have lived during those periods of innocence).

Kind of reminds me of Crash Bonsai only with much higher production value.

It's the photos that really impress, getting perspective & DOF looking believable with models is very difficult - just look at the front cover of any model railway magazine to see how it rarely works as well as these.

Cheers, Robin

Already said, but, "Wow".

Shouldn't this be called "Double Random Excellence" given his modeling talent?

You know you are old if you can identify most of the cars by your memory of whose dad drove one.

Fascinating, and especially interesting after having seen Thomas Demand's excellent exhibition in the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin.


The only thing missing from that slideshow is narration by Rod Serling. WOW. Mike, please sign that guy up for an interview.

I have to agree with the "So?" comment. It's impressive, I was fooled, but I'm not getting anything deeper than that. Then again I'm not sure the guy is trying to do anything more than have fun, and that's great.

excellent and superb craftsmanship, zero artistry.

The German photographer's name is Oliver Boberg. Pix available by searching Google.

I would find Michael Paul Smith's photos fascinating even if they weren't of models. I grew up during the era he portrays. I've lived the life he shows in his photos. The memories are still vivid in my mind and apparently in his as well.


I thought you were going to say that it was a photo of your house from 50 years ago. Despite the fact that I am moving house on Sunday and am, er, a bit behind, I looked at every picture then have to write this comment.

I wish I could do modelling like that.

I'm impressed by the craftsmanship in the detail of such work, but, ultimately, it leaves me feeling cold. The German referenced above is likely Thomas Demand, in whose case it is the divergence from verisimilitude that makes his work interesting.

Judging from the number of different cars parked outside, I wonder if the occupants of #239 are engaged in some nefarious activity?

For more in this realm look at

Mark Hogencamp (there's a movie about him in SWSX now)http://www.marwencol.com/

and Adam Marenko http://www.adam-makarenko.com/

Wonderful images, thank you for pointing them out. To add to Michel Hardy-Vallée comment: The German photographer is Thomas Demand.

Michel Hardy-Vallée: Is Thomas Demand the German photographer you were thinking of? He "builds 3D paper scenes based on found images. He then photographs those models and destroys them afterwards."



I don't think I've ever seen a series of responses with this many that start with the word "wow".

The photos are cool too ...

The photo of the car and house looks real enough, but the shot of the photographer and that wide view is obviously and very poorly photoshopped.


He needs to put more dirt in the photos. Or on the models.

Superb. Art without pretension.

"He needs to put more dirt in the photos. Or on the models."

That was my only criticism. I once saw a demonstration in which the famous model railroader Bob Hayden carefully built a boxcar and then in a series of swift moves "weathered" it--adding dust, oil stains, and rust. The effect was pretty amazing--it made it seem like it went from a nice toy to a miniaturized real boxcar. Trying his methods, though, I found it very hard to get it right, showing that even adding the dirt is a talent. [s]


P.S. You can even buy decals of graffiti to apply to boxcar models!

Most excellent. But I have one minor point to make: the tipoff that these are models is that they are too shiny. Real cars in the real world, especially back then, all have a film of road dust which dramatically cuts reflective highlights. Especially when there are multiple cars in the shot; The chances of every car just having been washed and waxed are distantly remote. Also, I've never seen so many continental kits in one place. A disproportionate number of the cars are high end models. There should be more plain-jane numbers, to make it more real appearing. But hey, I pick nits, and I offer this up only if MPS wanted to take it to another level of realism, grab that last percentile. A very fun collection of photos to browse. Thank you, Mike, for your tip(s). And thank you, Mr. Smith, for your photos...

What a blast that was. It's great to see unique ideas in photography. His flickr photostream is so much fun.

Another photographer working with models, although he places tiny figurines and models in a real environment, is this guy:


The work shown is good craftmanship, but I can't call it art. A selection in the images would do well.
One problem is the lack of people, an other the quality of light in the night images. A shop where the whole windows scream "NEON TUBES" without any shadows of people inside is simply strange. A little cartboard figure in front of the lamp would do well there.
Now these are random snapshots to me. I also can't seem to find a theme, else than "nice cars" and nostalgia. Nope, this one isn't for me... I'll take the giacometti anytime (but not at that ridiculous price, which doesn't reflect a bit of the quality of the work).

I saw some of Thomas Demand's work a couple years ago here in NYC at the Met, and in person they are quite different. I got the impression that they were done about life size using backdrop paper. The prints are pretty big and sharp with lots of DOF.

The trick with shooting models is getting it to not look like you shot it with a 20x24 inch camera. Or on the other hand lots of people are exploiting the giant camera look these days, faking it looking like the camera is the size of a city.

Pinhole cameras work well for destroying scale.

Oh jeez how many layers of artifice
and this
and then this

"He needs to put more dirt in the photos. Or on the models."

Yes, and consistent with that notion, the photos near the end of the slide show that feature ice and snow on the cars and road surface look the most realistic of them all.

I think the reason is that the real world includes detail at all scales, much of which is unresolvable by either our eyes or the camera lens. A paucity of unresolvable detail looks false or, at least, suspect.

Nevertheless, I thought it huge fun and congratulations to Michael for his effort and success. The slide show is enlivened by the shots that include Michael himself - especially the one with his fingers gripping the car!

Gotta love the po-mo lenses through which so many of us are inclined to view Smith's photographs. Indeed, all that's standing between Smith and a role as a new celebrity in the contemporary art world are some more suitable captions (well, he'd also have to exchange the comfy fleece hoodies for something a bit trendier).

For example, the matter-of-fact explanation "I used baking powder to simulate snow" is far too succinct and non-allusive to elicit knowing nods from the black-turtlenecked gallery crowd. Instead, if Smith wants to sell the photos for six or seven figures on the international art scene, he'd have to come up with something like "While at first these appear to be reassuring street scenes of middle-class America in mid-century, a far more pernicious private reality is hinted at by the closed curtains in the upstairs rooms of the house."

Art schools could even use Smith's seemingly straightforward images as a kind of senior exam for aspiring contemporary artists: the students would have to write dense paragraphs of opaque words on each model-car photo to demonstrate that they understand the importance of explanation over content in today's art market.

Be that as it may, I agree with almost everyone else here: Wow. Amazing work. It's kind of ironic that some of the most positively received "street photos" TOP's ever published turn out to be staged.

Add David Levinthal, Laurie Simmons, and James Casebere to (the beginning of?) the long, long list of artist-photographers who have photographed models. (In my opinion, their work makes Thomas Demand's stuff look awfully derivative)

Not sure where the artistry precisely lies in this sort of practice -- in the model-making or the photo-making, or in the synergy of the combination. Having recently seen an exhibition of Paolo Ventura's work, in which the photos were shown next to many of the models he made, I'd say that it's the latter (at least when it works . . . . )

Some of the pictures in his slide show ar made on sheet film, be it positive or negative film, so he might be using an optical bench camera alowing tils and shift movements. Some of the photography is very well done, as well as the maquette!

Love it. As someone already mentioned he is in Paolo Ventura´s league, but not as powerful.


Still very impressive.

By some coincidence I was checking out these Flickr images a couple days ago. Must be one of those memes.

As for Thomas Demand, I saw an exhibit of his at IMA in Dublin and it was impressive. Not just for the images themselves but what they say about representation.

Dear David Brookes,

What nefarious activities are going on at 239?

Why, that should be obvious!

They're running one of those *ahem* so-called "model agencies."


pax / Ctein

Philippe - "Some of the pictures in his slide show ar made on sheet film, be it positive or negative film, so he might be using an optical bench camera alowing tils and shift movements. "

From Michael Paul Smith:

" And here is my reconstruction of that type of photography, with a vintage Kodak transparency frame to complete the illusion."

Based on the EXIF data that's included with some of the photos, they were shot with Sony P&S cameras (DSC-P72 and DSC-W50), which makes them all the more remarkable...

Yes, that's Thomas Demand I was thinking of! Thanks, Mitchell.

Actually for this sort of work small sensor cameras are better than large. It's hard to get enough depth of field otherwise.

Dear David,

You might be right, but one can see two pictures whit black borders, the one of the cars with the wood made bodywork at the ‚lake’ and the one with the green car bearing the license number 902-316.
In these borders the dents of the developing frame’s clips can be easily seen in the lower part. Also, in the upper part of the borders, the „Kodak Safety Film” inscription is very clear. But, of course, as he is a good craftsman and fine maquette maker, he might have ‚tricked’ these marks, who knows…


I can't remember where I found this quote, so I unfortunately can't attribute it, but it always struck me as making sense-

"There must be some one quality without which a work of art cannot exist; possessing which, in the least degree, no work is altogether worthless. What is this quality? What quality is shared by all objects that provoke our aesthetic emotions? What quality is common to St. Sophia and the windows at Chartres, Mexican sculpture, a Persian bowl, Chinese carpets, Giotto's frescoes at Padua, and the masterpieces of Poussin, Piero della Francesca, and Cezanne? Only one answer seems possible - significant form. In each, lines and colors combined in a particular way, certain forms and relations of forms, stir our aesthetic emotions."

A bunch of vintage photos. So what? I do have a question, though: why is he so big?

(just kidding!)

Of all car photograophers I've seen I am most impressed by the masterpieces of Michael Paul Smith. With his cooperation I prepared a feature that may been seen on my website:

Hans Arend de Wit

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