The pandemic gave me – perhaps many of us – a chance to breathe and to take stock of what it all means, what matters, what makes us happy. As work became a Covid induced hiatus, I needed to find a creative outlet that I could do on my own and preferably in my own home.
Revisiting a childhood love of photography seemed like a good starting point. However, I needed inspiration and luckily that came in the form of my daughter, who upon turning eleven, announced she was "DONE" with her dollhouse and wanted it out of her room. I decided to store it rather than give it away. Perhaps she'd play with it again, I secretly hoped, or give it to her own child one day. What I didn't envision was me playing with it.
Curiously, the dollhouse reminded me of a miniature version of sets I worked on as a director and actor. I began envisioning scenes taking place in its tiny rooms. A dollhouse murder mystery started to take form in my admittedly sometimes dark mind. So, much to my daughter’s chagrin, I set the house back up in her bedroom and started preparing for a photo.
I chose to challenge myself by doing everything in camera and shoot without the aid of expensive photo equipment. That wasn't a stretch, as aside from a decent camera, I had none. I jerry-rigged Home Depot lights on door handles, made reflectors from silver insulation boards, draped bedsheets over windows to diffuse light, and populated the scene with stuffed animals culled from my daughter's room. I'm always fascinated that scale has no place in a child's imagination, so I paid no attention to that. Props and staging were built by hand, others purchased through late night web surfing.
To capture the detail and depth I wanted required stacking various focal lengths into one shot. My hope was to misdirect the eye on first viewing enough to induce a childlike sense of mystery and discovery - like looking into some sort of macabre department store Christmas window.
What emerged is the four-photo series now called Dream Home Invasion. It inspired more photographs. Some just for challenge or fun, others to explore deeper themes and ideas, often related to social and political issues, but all with the hope of eliciting a smile.
I continued with my analogue approach, preferring to build and sculpt my pieces by hand rather than on a computer. I wanted images, mistakes included, that clearly were not generated by a machine. By using available materials and a handcrafted approach, my aim was to create photographs that feel authentic, personal, and that offer a sense of connection to the physical world.
Sometimes it could be tricky, like using a heat gun to mold a superhero into the right position before it melted completely. Or it might be more experimental, like creating a pool of blood that would not only have the right viscosity, but also the proper reflective properties.
All the photographs in this series involved building imaginary worlds, problem solving, and above all, going down the rabbit hole to try and recapture some childlike joy during these unsettled times.
Shawn Alex Thompson - 2023