Chris McVeigh has a job that would make any sci-fi nerd across the globe weak at the knees - using Lego,Star Wars figurines and whatever collectibles he has to hand, Chris creates unique and entertaining satirical photographs. Here he tells us about embracing his inner nerd, taming wild chipmunks and why he owes his success to Flickr.
You're a jack of all trades; a published writer, an illustrator, photographer and artist. Which is most fun for you?
It seems like I've had a lot of hobbies that have somehow transitioned into jobs. I'd say photography is the most fun for me at the moment because it's the most recent addition to my utility belt. I'm still in that sweet spot where it feels like I'm getting paid for a hobby.
You're working at Gizmodo.com producing editorial images out of Lego; how did that come about?
Gizmodo's editors noticed my work in the summer of 2010, and were impressed enough with it that they posted two or three pictures to the website. The tipping pointed seemed to be a Lego Star Wars mashup I called Space Invaders. After they featured it on the site, Joel Johnson contacted me about the possibility of being a Gizmodo guest artist for a month. So that's how it started. I've now completed two stints as guest artist, and occasionally contribute new editorial images.
Lego; chipmunks; nature – all of these mediums and subjects require a lot of patience to work with even though on the surface your images seem to capture transient or fleeting moments of action. In fact, the process behind the images almost belies the image itself in terms of what you’re representing and how you created it… Do you see yourself as quite a patient person?
I am extremely patient and focused when it comes to my work. I have no problem giving a task all of my attention, and sticking with it until I feel it is complete (or at the very least, I've reach a certain threshold in the process). I'm not sure my patient with the creative process necessarily translates into overall patience, though... I'm easily annoyed by bad drivers, for example.
It's not my fault okay
When you’re coming up with your images, do you create narratives in your head for the scenes you’re setting up? Can you talk us through the production process for one of your images, from start to finish?
I guess it all starts with an idea. I don't usually sit and brainstorm; instead, I wait for an idea to come to me (I often get ideas while in that hazy state of being half-awake while lying in bed in the morning). Although there's always some degree of narrative to my ideas, I like to keep the concepts simple. Succinct titles help set the context and may provide a voice for a single character, but I leave the rest to viewer to infer. And it's okay if people come away with a slightly different interpretation than I've intended; I like leaving some things open-ended.
Breakfast of Champions
Once I've got an idea, it's a matter finding time to put it together. Lego pics usually require me to build a set, and the more complex the set the more lead time I'll need to get it together. Chipmunk pics are more of a logistical nightmare, because I need to travel to my folk's place, which is five hours away, and I also need to rely on them to feed and socialize with the chipmunks on a regular basis so that the critters are willing to participate in whatever crazy plan I have in mind. People tend to assume the chipmunks are pets, but that's not the case at all — they're wild creatures that happen to pop into my folk's backyard to collect bird feed.
After the photo is taken, it'll go through a rigorous editing process to remove dust or unwanted background elements and to improve the colour and clarity.
Somewhere in Japan
We like that you’re essentially a big geek; Star Wars and satirical photography are clearly big ‘likes’ in your life. How did you fall into a career where you’re able to make money indulging your hobbies and interest, especially considering you’re based in Halifax, NS which isn’t exactly famed for being the thronging hubbub of fashion and arts trends?
I'm not sure I have a satisfying answer for that question, other than to say that I usually do what I love and, occasionally, the money follows. The Internet has made the world a very small place, and it's been much easier to find a dedicated audience for my geekery. In this context, the place I call home has become somewhat inconsequential. Without Flickr, and now Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter, none of this would have happened.
Chris, sporting one of his original t-shirt designs
Did growing older allow you to embrace your inner geek? Society is pretty high-pressured in terms of what it considers to be ‘cool’ or not…
Absolutely. Getting older and gaining confidence in myself has definitely let me embrace my inner geek. It's something I stifled for years, in no small part due to my parent's dismay at my lack of interest in fishing or hunting. (Actually, I was discouraged from watching cartoons or purchasing toys after the age of 12). Happily, my inner geek found a new muse at that time: video games!
Still, the geeky part of me was kept in check throughout my teens and well into my twenties. It was only with the release of the Star Wars Special Editions in 1997 that the geek started to bubble to the surface again. Although I'm not much of a fan of the prequels, Star Wars Episodes I-III fuelled my nostalgia for the original series, and I started buying toys again. A lot of toys. And it felt great.
It was my experience on Flickr that fully enabled my inner geek, however. Those tepid first steps posting toy pics were met with such a hearty response that I started to do more. And more. And then I put a scout trooper on a chipmunk's back and called it Space Cowboy, and that photo ended up on StarWars.com. There was no turning back from that point!
If you're interested in finding out more about Chris, or buying one of his prints and/or tshirts, check his blog here.