Brian McCarty, Primeval Love
Thumbtack Press: I don’t know if it’s post modern or what but there’s definitely something about the size of your aspiration that your work in the Middle East for example really makes clear – using the medium (toys!) to get after something as massive as middle east geopolitics, you know what I mean?
Brian McCarty: Well, it’s not just about the Middle East, even though that’s where the project started. Although, that’s not true either.
TTP: Go on.
BM: The project started in 1996 in Croatia, immediately following the war of independence.
TTP: You were there?
BM: I was recruited into a creative research center in Italy called Fabrica.
TTP: Is this before Mattel or overlapping?
BM: Much before Mattel. We were asked to contribute to the first photography exhibition in Zagreb since the war ended and I chose to focus on war toys as cultural artifacts, but not tied to anyone’s personal experiences. I was 22 and not able to see the connection yet.
BM: The series caused a lot of controversy at the time.
Brian McCarty, Gary Grenade
TTP: What sort of war toys were around? Like GI Joe kind of stuff?
BM: Yep, a 1:6 scale GI Joe was my focus.
BM: Looking back, the photos weren’t the best, but for the time, I was happy with them. The creative center was run by Benetton, and they are known for controversial topics. By choosing war toys for that exhibition, it pissed off the Croatians. Eventually they came around, but only after I defended the work and my intentions.
TTP: Wow that’s intense, but it shows something too that you defended yourself.
BM: That was really the benefit of Fabrica. I had always been a toy photographer and artist, but being there made me examine my intentions a lot more.
TTP: Last time we talked you mentioned other places besides the Middle East in the plans - Latin America I think?
BM: Next up will likely be Colombia – Bogota, Medellin, and the town of Segovia.
TTP: Why that town?
BM: It was the scene of a massacre in 1988, since it’s been the center of a lot of paramilitary action. It’s a gold mining town with an extremely long history, and it’s one of the most polluted places on earth. I’m told that you can feel the mercury in the back of your throat within the first day there.
TTP: And the UN is involved with the project?
BM: Not with my work in Colombia, not yet.
TTP: So there’s Croatia, the Middle East, Colombia – what else?
BM: It depends on a lot of things, but my intention is to include South Sudan and Uganda.
BM: From there, I’m not sure enough to speculate. Sadly, there is no shortage of conflict zones to choose from.
TTP: Yeah, and related: Flipping through ART-TOYS again I’m taken by the amount of violence in there.
BM: There is, but much of that is the nature of the toys. I always sought to bring out and enhance their personalities.
BM: But really, in the photos, they’re all little projections of my self.
TTP: I mean I think it’s interesting that these common themes of the medium and of your life -
BM: Simultaneously subject and surrogate.
TTP: Exactly – the way it all converges and then sort of expands. It’s a beautiful thing actually.
BM: Thanks. I can’t help but feel that I’m scratching the surface, especially with WAR-TOYS.
TTP: I want to talk about the TTP pieces a bit, if you have the time.
TTP: I love the description of Furilla as being in his natural habitat.
BM: Ha ha, thanks. It was a fun shoot at one of my favorite spots. We got there painfully early for the sunrise. It’s great especially when no one else is there, very otherworldly.
TTP: It’s like Mars! The sky is beautiful though, so it was worth it from my perspective at least.
BM: Very much, it usually is…even though it’s hard in the moment.
TTP: When you go into the toys’ characters, do you always know or consult with the artist?
Brian McCarty, The Meeting
BM: Not always, but usually. I want to understand their intention and not invent something out of the blue.
TTP: Right – like The Meeting is so dead on (above).
BM: That one was super hard, not the shot, but coming to it.
TTP: What do you mean?
BM: The idea wasn’t immediately apparent to me.
BM: I had the toy for a few months, debating scenes. Finally, I took it with me to Chapel Hill while I was there lecturing. I asked my host and friend if she knew of any parking garages in the area.
TTP: And in the end the setting is so perfect. Is that a common process with all the toys? Like holding on to them and really thinking them through?
BM: It is. Sometimes I get an immediate image. Other times, it takes a while to form. Then there is always the problem of resolving my imagined image with what is actually possible through the camera.
TTP: Good point – but seems like you have a pretty solid team to help you out, like with the Frogger rig (see below).
BM: I had an immediate vision of Frogger dodging traffic.
TTP: Poor Frogger hanging out of the window.
BM: Not hanging out the window, mounted to the front of the car!
TTP: Ha! I just picture him screaming like a skydiver.
BM: My assistant then was awesome – could rig anything.
TTP: I always actually felt bad for Frogger. Even on Sega I was like aw man why does he have to go???
BM: Ha ha!
TTP: Right ok Brian I really appreciate this. Looking forward to working together!
BM: My pleasure. Got to catch the train. Talk to you soon!
Thanks to Brian for taking the time to chat with us, and to you for reading this far! You can dig through Brian’s TTP collection here.