It began with the gift of a gorilla. A friend gave me a toy gorilla because I had been working out and was now a bit gorilla-ish myself, though not so hairy. It sat on my desk for several months before I looked more closely.
It was a cheap toy, poorly formed, with hand-painted eyes. But there was something haunting in its expression, so, for fun and for practice, I decided to photograph it as a formal portrait.
I was hooked, and started checking out the toy sections of museums, gift shops and general stores for more creatures.
The hippo was next, so demure and oddly pretty. I took off the price tag, but left the plastic ring that had held it, giving her a necklace. It was surprising how much presence she had, and how much bulk (after all, she's only 3 inches high).
The rhino followed. The eyes were amazing. Someone had hand-painted them, and I began to realize that these were astonishing sculptures, extraordinarily lifelike, carefully painted, and then sold as educational toys for less than ten dollars. Children would play with them, they might get chewed up by pets or crushed underfoot by lumbering adults, and yet they were beautiful.
Three colors in the Beipiaosaurus eye, with eye-liner!
And so the series developed.