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Miniature Worlds Made Out of Paper
In an approximately one-by-two-foot box, Elly MacKay constructs tiny, delicately detailed scenes—mermaids frolicking, a child's hand shadow puppets coming to life, a skulk of foxes traversing the woods—out of little more than paper and imagination. Once these soft-focus flights of fancy are arranged to her liking, MacKay carefully lights them and experiments with various camera filters and lenses to produce an effect of dreamy immediacy in the resulting photograph. "I try to make the work feel intimate, like you're inside it," she says.
MacKay begins each diorama by layering parchment paper, dollhouse wallpaper, Yupo paper (a synthetic, semitranslucent material), or Mylar against the backdrop of the box; she might use several sheets for an opaque nightscape, but only a few for a glowing daylight scene. Then MacKay sketches images—a cherub, a sailboat, an endless sea—with a vintage calligraphy pen, colors them with ink, cuts them out, and carefully hooks these shapes into the diorama using wires and adhesives. Once the stage is set, "I usually take about 50 pictures," she says, "each only subtly different, and then choose the one I like best."
As a teenager, MacKay was fascinated by Victorian paper toys—tunnel books, zoetropes, acrobats that tumble down a slope—and by the age of 15 had begun creating dioramas that adopted the same colorful, playful aesthetic. By 16 she was preparing for a degree in art studies. "In university the attitude was like, You have to stop doing this stuff! It's silly, childish." But giving birth to her daughter, Lily, in 2008 and son, Koen, three years later, only solidified MacKay's love of the nostalgic world of childhood. "Sharing their new experiences is so inspiring," she says, "and capturing that feels like real magic."
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