MSUM student takes toy photography to the next level – InForum
MOORHEAD — To the untrained eye, the images on Jonathan Ness’ Instagram page might appear to be from the latest Mandalorian episode, or the Predator movie. Take a step back and you will see that these are action figures.
“I want them to inspect the crash, see if they made it out, if they’re charred inside somewhere,” Ness explained, while setting up a scene of Star Wars snowtroopers inspecting a crashed snowspeeder.
Using things like a fog box and the natural elements of the great outdoors, he creates a scene straight out of the planet Hoth.
“You want to be aware of how long they’ve been away,” he explained. “You want to give each guy a personality. Some guys are calm and collected, some are exhausted.”
The 23-year-old Minnesota State University-Moorhead student said he got into toy photography about 17 years ago.
“You don’t want to see it all, but you want to see enough to say, ‘Wow, these are real people standing over a crashed ship,'” he said.
On some shoots, he pulls out the explosives to get the visuals he wants.
“My friends and I set off fireworks,” he said with a smile. “We blew debris, we lifted the earth (…) my shutter was filled with stones and closed.”
He joked that he kept this particular camera as a trophy. His favorite lens is a 55-year-old Canon FL Macro, saying he prefers shooting with vintage glass.
Ness painstakingly paints, weathers, and modifies the action figures in her dorm on campus. It could tell you where each ship and character came from and remember the exact changes it made.
It’s a painstaking process, giving these miniatures a battle-damaged look, but he admits he’s not gentle with his brushes.
“They actually work better now that they’re messed up,” Ness explained, holding up a mutilated brush, before picking up one of her dozens of battle-damaged action figures. “It may be hard to see, but he has a silver metal look to his helmet.”
He said this hobby and the friends he hangs out with on film have helped him out of the dark places in life.
“In many ways, this hobby has benefited me in ways that I can barely comprehend even now,” Ness said.
The end results are well-photographed scenes, often with short stories about the horrors of real-life war – mixed in with a sci-fi twist. His thousands of followers may soon see the short story he makes of this Hoth photo shoot.
Ness said he’s spent several thousand dollars on the hobby since it started 17 years ago. This includes action figures, ships, camera gear, paint, and other gear.