It’s our great pleasure to welcome photographer Brian Hickey to Fantha Tracks.
FT: Could you share your earliest Star Wars memories with us?
BH: My earliest Star Wars memory is my parents telling my brother and I about this AMAZING new movie in cinemas with the really scary bad guy called Darth Vader. The movie was of course Star Wars, and they showed us an ad in the newspaper which featured Darth Vader. I was round 6, or maybe 7 at the time. We went to see the movie shortly after that and I’ve been fan ever since.
FT: What’s your favourite Star Wars film?
BH: That’s like trying to pick my favourite child. 😀 I enjoy all the movies, but if you really twisted my arm to pick a favourite, I’d choose The Phantom Menace.
FT: Following Disney’s Investors Day in December last year, were there any Star Wars projects which piqued your interest?
BH: Loads of great new Star Wars content was announced then. It’s really great to see all of these new ideas being developed. Ahsoka and Rangers of the New Republic are the two shows that have really grabbed my interest. They’re set in the same timeline as the Mandalorian and they’ll tie in to a major climactic event – I’m pretty excited about that. Plus I’m a big fan of Dave Filoni and his other Star Wars projects.
FT: Did you collect Star Wars action figures during childhood?
BH: I sure did. The first figure I ever got was Han Solo in his Hoth battle gear. I collected the Kenner figures and vehicles right through until I was about . . . maybe 18 years old.
FT: Did you collect any other action figures?
BH: Action Force was another huge favourite. I loved those figures as much as I loved the Star Wars ones in my collection.
BH: It’s the first time I discovered that Star Wars toys existed. It was the last day of term in school – I think I was in 3rd class, so I would have been 8 or 9 years of age – and we could all bring in a toy to play with instead of doing lessons. One of the kids in my class brought in an Imperial Troop Transporter and a bunch of Stormtroopers. I was blown away. He had the best toy in the class room that day. After that I knew what I wanted for Christmas and birthdays.
FT: Have you manage to hold onto your childhood collection?
BH: Unfortunately not. I moved out of my parents’ house when I went to college. While I was away my parents moved house and dumped all of my Action Force and Star Wars toys as part of a big clear out.
FT: Have you continued collecting Star Wars vintage action figures during adulthood?
BH: I returned to collecting in the late noughties. The first figure I picked up was Han Solo in his Hoth battle gear
BH: Not yet. It’s a long game for me. I’m short about 15 figures to complete a loose run. I’ll get there at some point. As for vehicles, I’ve only picked up the ones I had as a kid – so there’s a lot of gaps in the collection on that side of things.
FT: Do you collect any modern Star Wars figures?
BH: I have a few from different lines. Animated series Clone Wars figures, Legacy Collection Clone Troopers, a few POTF2 and Shadows of the Empire figures. Just bits and bobs form the other lines that I liked the look of.
BH: I collect vintage Action Force by Palitoy (’82-’85); I have some modern era G.I. Joe 4” figures and vehicles; I also have a few Hiya Toys Aliens figures and the Colonial Marines APC; and some Bucky O Hare figures by Boss Fight Studio.
FT: What inspired your journey into photography?
BH: It’s difficult to pinpoint a single moment or experience that drove me in that direction. I’ve always had an interest in it. The subject matter that interests me has changed a lot over the years. In the past I’ve used photography as a medium to create abstract textures for use in designs or just as stand-alone art pieces, but over the last decade I’ve shifted more towards action figure photography. It’s how I combine two passions.
FT: Have you studied photography or have your skills developed through self-learning?
BH: It’s a bit of both. Photography was one of my subjects in college (I studied graphic design). I learned some of the technical basics back then. I’ve built in that over years mainly through self-learning, lots of practice and making mistakes.
FT: Has your interest in photography lead you into professional ventures?
BH: Definitely. I’ve self-published two books with my buddy Paddy Lennon – and we are working on two more currently – that feature a lot of my action figure photography. In my design career, photography has been a really valuable skill to have in developing visual content.
FT: You’ve combined your love for photography with that of vintage Star Wars figures, how did this beautiful blend begin?
BH: When I started photographing action figures, it was originally just to document set-ups and dioramas I built with my son Liam, back when he was only 4 or 5 years old. The whole action figure photo thing developed from there, which led to the two books with Paddy. I’d been toying with the idea of doing a Star Wars photo book for a couple of years, and the thoughts of using only the Kenner figures really appealed to me, not for nostalgia reasons, but because I felt working with 5 POA would present a really nice creative challenge. It wasn’t until 2017/18 that I started to take any action on the idea.
FT: Your deliciously crafted images of vintage Star Wars figures in diorama settings conjure childhood play imagination, teasing them from memory to reality. How did you move from simple figure photography to re-creating movie scene imagery?
BH: Initially I was taking inspiration from the old toy catalogues. These showed the toys in scenes and setups that weren’t always movie accurate. So my very first shots were kind of like that – inspired by the movies but without any real attempts at accuracy.
The idea to re-create the movies evolved very quickly from there, and with that the idea to build dioramas rather than use modern era props and sets. I wanted to keep the vibe as authentic as possible to how I would have played with the figures as a kid. So I have a rule when it comes to diorama builds. They have to be something that a 10 year old could make with some patience, creativity and stuff that can be found at home.
FT: While any picture is the capture of one moment in time, compared with the simple point and shoot of an individual figures, how much time investment goes into preparing your diorama images?
BH: It varies a lot. Some dioramas are really simple – just plonk a couple of blocks of Styrofoam on the table and hey presto, you’re in the corridors of Cloud City. Other dios need set pieces to be built, like the carbon freezing chamber. I made that in an afternoon from a salad bowl, a yoghurt cup, and a filter from an old printer that was lying around.
The items are just painted and carefully arranged with lights to create the effect of the chamber. The most ambitious set pieces were for the Death Star background for the battle of Yavin scenes. I spent a couple of days assembling and painting them. I’d been collecting up old packaging for weeks.
BH: My effects like laser blasts and explosions are always practical. If you see motion blur in my images that’s practical too. I tend to never add any digital effects, but in a few rare instances I will remove a stand or a support in Photoshop if I’m unable to hide it in the set-up.
BH: There’s the death star set pieces I mentioned above. But in terms of a complete set up I would have to say the Emperor’s Arrival on the Death Star was the most ambitious shot. When I first planned to make the book I had no idea how I would actually shoot this scene, but I knew I had to do it.
The biggest challenge was sourcing an Imperial army. I reached out to a very good friend of mine, Ken Costello, who is highly respected in the Vintage Star Wars collector community in Ireland. He was able to make contact with a number of collectors and asked them if they would be kind enough to loan me their Imperial troop builders for this image.
They all very enthusiastically said yes! So there are figures from 4 different collections in this image. To make sure we didn’t mix up anyone’s figures, we marked the sole of each foot with a tiny piece of tape, using a different colour for each collection. I feel really grateful to the collector community for being so trusting and supportive, and enabling me to create this image.
This is definitely one of the most ambitious shots I’ve taken. This set up was too big to shoot at home, so I hired a room in the local community centre that had all the space I needed to set up. I put a lot of time into planning the shot, and built all the set pieces I needed prior to the shoot.
BH: I work with other collectors for some shots. If I’m featuring a particular rare piece that I don’t have – like the POTF Skiff – or when I need to raise an army for a Death Star hanger bay shot, I’ll reach out to collector friends for help. I’m very lucky, and very grateful, that I have a core group of collector friends that I can call on from time to time.
FT: Some of your images have supporting models such as computer equipment. How do you collate, create these?
BH: Most of my set pieces are cobbled together using junk and scraps, but its how they are set up in the shot and how they are lit that creates the illusion. The illusion only has to last for a split second to convince the viewer – once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it.
BH: I shoot vintage Action Force, vintage Action Man, modern era GI Joe, Transformers, Boss Fight Studio’s Vitruvian HACKS figures, M.A.S.K., and modern era Star Wars. My biggest focus right now though is vintage Kenner Star Wars.
FT: Have you dabbled in dynamic effects such as pyrotechnics or smoke?
BH: I’ve dabbled for sure. My shooting style uses a lot of long exposure, but I’ve found that pyrotechnics and smoke work better with very fast shutter speeds. It’s definitely something I’d like to experiment more with. I’ve seen some great photos using those effects.
FT: Are there any new techniques you would like to blend into your photography?
BH: I’m currently looking at ways to introduce a lot more colour into my set designs – like really bold, abstract colour treatments inspired by vintage comics. I also want to shoot angles that are a lot more dynamic with exaggerated perspectives. This is all part of developing my visual style – it’ll be a long journey but I’ll have plenty of fun along the way.
FT: Do you have any exciting photography projects in the pipeline?
BH: In tandem with the Kenner Star Wars shots, I’m working on an Action Force photo project, which will consist of several hundred images when it’s complete. There’s also a vintage Action Man project on decks which I’ll be developing further later in the year.
FT: Do you have any tips, tricks or advice for anyone thinking of beginning action figure photography?
BH: Just do it! Don’t worry about what equipment you have or haven’t got. Just get started with whatever you have – even if it’s just your phone. There are some great groups on Facebook that are all about action figure photography and diorama building. Get involved in a couple of groups. Members are very willing to share their tricks and techniques. It’s a great environment to learn and improve.
FT: Brian, it has been a great pleasure meeting with you. Many thanks for sharing your experiences with us here on Fantha Tracks. We wish you the best in your future photography adventures and look forward to experiencing them.
- Hardcover Book
- Ratcliffe, Amy (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 256 Pages - 04/27/2021 (Publication Date) - Abrams (Publisher)