The bittersweet world of photographer Erin Tyner

6 Dec

Some time ago I came across some remarkable toy photography with narratives and emotional context that literally created a new art form.

That has led me down many cyber wormholes in my spare time in search of ever more compelling examples.

Atlanta-based photographer Erin Tyner, a self-confessed story-teller, offers this remarkable collection of photos entitled Half Awake on her website.

She used one-inch high model train figures and placed them in familiar, minimalist landscapes. The emptiness of the set really allows the focus to shift to the bittersweet emotional context she is after. Brilliant.


19 Responses to “The bittersweet world of photographer Erin Tyner”

  1. Jack Steinmann December 6, 2010 at 1:54 pm #


    I want you to check out the Tractor Supply TV spots KOI POND and BUNNY posted at


  2. Allison Camenzuli December 6, 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    Hi Doug,

    Thanks for sharing this. What a wonderful combination. I would love to have a few of these prints reproduced on canvas. I will have to check with Erin Tyner to see if that is a possibility. It makes me think of today’s individual entering the world of a Monet painting. One of my classic, favorite painters.

  3. dougbrowncreative December 6, 2010 at 2:20 pm #

    > Damn, Jack those spots are just the sort of TV I love doing. So much fun, such a small budget. Thanks a lot for sharing them. You knew I’d love them!

    > Allison, I’m glad you connected well with them. I also get a 50s feel from them, an innocent time when women wore headscarves and sun glasses in the convertible. There are more on her website, 17 in all in the series. Very big little stuff.

  4. designingrenee December 6, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

    I can see why you’d get lost with these. They’re so compelling. They have an old-fashioned feel to them…dream-like…almost as though from another era. Looking at them gave me a bittersweet feeling. Maybe it’s because they’re miniatures, and as a child, scenes like these would have seemed just as vivid. Whatever the reason, they are undeniably and achingly beautiful.

    I’m sharing this post and these images with my friends and family by email…big time. Upgrade from LOLcats for sure.

  5. designingrenee December 6, 2010 at 3:14 pm #

    “It makes me think of today’s individual entering the world of a Monet painting.”

    Allison, you captured it. Great observation.

  6. dougbrowncreative December 6, 2010 at 4:30 pm #

    They’re very childlike, but it’s the emotional pull that’s so well realized. I would say Erin was pretty clear about the narrative to start with. Notice how many are shot from behind, which increases the feeling of isolation. Did you look at the other work on her site Renee?

  7. variedthinking December 6, 2010 at 7:06 pm #

    Has your blog got dandruff or are the photo’s really .gifs or is there a java script at play here?

  8. dougbrowncreative December 6, 2010 at 7:12 pm #

    It’s white ooblek man! Get with the season.

  9. variedthinking December 6, 2010 at 8:37 pm #

    I’m writing from the beaches of Mexico (NOT).

  10. Lindsey December 7, 2010 at 12:14 am #

    So unique and a little eerie.

    designingrenee you couldn’t have explained it better. I especially agree that it is the old-school look to them. Also, being plastic instantly makes them a little eerie. The same way manikins can give you the hebegebees.

    Thanks for sharing Doug. I love seeing new, creative work.

  11. Amy December 7, 2010 at 8:09 am #

    I’ve seen those photos before – they are very haunting. Plus the fact that these little figures are taken out of their intended context and placed in “alien” situations is very interesting.

    @Jack – I remember seeing those Tractor Supply ads on tv a while ago. I thought they were very clever and very funny.

  12. Jack Steinmann December 7, 2010 at 8:38 am #

    Thanks Amy! Unlike Erin’s one-inch high model train figures, the Tractor Supply cast was fashioned in various sizes and levels of detail, as if they had been acquired in a toy box over many years. The settings featured “live action” skies, and the writing took care of the rest..!

  13. dougbrowncreative December 7, 2010 at 9:36 am #

    > Eerie is a good work for them Lindsey. Haunting too. There is something a bit lamentable about the predicaments of these lone tiny individuals in the face of the big landscape. Or maybe I’m reading too much into them.

    > Amy I like the suggestion of these being alien environments. We recognize them, but they are otherworldly.

  14. erintyner December 7, 2010 at 10:13 am #

    Thank you all for your lovely comments! “Eerie”, “bittersweet”, “childlike”, “haunting”… these are the very things I hoped to achieve with these photos. Working with miniatures and building these scenes allowed me to experience the playfulness of childhood activities (e.g. elementary school diorama assignments) while also exploring a range of emotions. Figure selection and placement was very important to me in creating feelings of both isolation and self-discovery. Creating scenes in such a small scale has been a labor of love (and patience!) Thank you Doug for sharing my work here and thanks again everybody for the great feedback!

  15. Qué Banh December 7, 2010 at 10:23 am #

    Erin, definitely achieved what you set out to capture. I absolutely loved viewing the images & you did well w/jogging some lovely childhood memories with your photo art. Keep up the inspirational work, we are looking forward to seeing more visual treasures 🙂

  16. dougbrowncreative December 7, 2010 at 10:30 am #

    Erin, thanks for your comment. Your art obviously resonates with a lot of people. I echo Allison’s comments from above. Do you sell prints?
    I wonder how long you worked on this series for?

  17. erintyner December 7, 2010 at 11:43 am #

    Thanks for asking! I currently have affordable open edition archival prints from this series in several places online including the print store on my website and a store on Etsy

    I created the first image, “Ice Swimming” at the end of 2007 and the remainder in 2008 and 2009. The amount of time spent on each image varied greatly depending on elements in the set. For example, the hand placement of “grass” (tinted hair) was very time consuming. Most of the time spent on the images was focused on making the context and figures work together – thinking about the mood that I wanted to create and then finding the right figure, testing different materials, etc.

  18. dougbrowncreative December 7, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    The e-commerce links are really helpful Erin, thank you.
    And tinted hair for the grass! Now that you’ve told us that I find myself trying to figure out what all the other elements are made of. You can really get a sense of the one-inch scale when you imagine the grass as hair!

  19. Qué Banh December 7, 2010 at 3:31 pm #

    Thanks for the extra links Erin 😀

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