Photographer Seb Agnew crafts intricate miniature sets and features allegorical characters and scenes within them to skillfully spin visual narratives.
Drawing from different periods in history and highlighting humanity’s repetitive nature and mistakes, Agnew aims to prompt fevered narratives whilst spotlighting themes such as “interconnectedness” all intending to spark conversation and introspection in viewers.
“So, after finishing “‘Cubes I’”, I quickly found my inspiration for “‘Cubes II‘” in the many global crises we’re currently facing. ‘Historic recurrence’ – the repetition of similar events in history – has become the main idea of these nine images. Every image is based around another historic era, incorporating and reinterpreting events from the past. And again, all sceneries are connected to one another, by a crack running through the walls of the rooms, indicating how fragile our world has become – and that we need to take action to shape a sustainable future,” Agnew says, speaking to PetaPixel.
Based in Hamburg, Germany, and with a background and affinity for cinema and computer-generated imagery, Agnew credits both disciplines for their influence and the wellspring for his current passion and photographic style.
“My images are very narrative and I love to create a cinematic and often dreamlike atmosphere, spending a lot of time creating my sets and carefully lighting them,” Agnew explains. “My background in computer graphics certainly helped me a lot with my current series “Cubes” in which I constructed all sets as miniature sets, using modern technology like 3D printing.”
Starting the series back in 2018 with Cubes I, Agnew choose to feature nine images as a means to help illustrate stories of ‘disconnectedness’,
“It became a series that raises questions about solitude and simultaneous interconnectedness (if you look closely, you can see that all nine rooms are somehow connected).”
Continuing the emerging revelation on practical connectivity and starting a new chapter now centered on “interconnectedness,” Agnew began the conceptualization process for Cubes II with general brainstorming and rigorous research into the era’s he wanted to replicate.
“…Once I have a vague idea of how the set might look, I first build the scene in a 3D program. Every room from “Cubes II” measures 6 x 6 x 5 meters (the actual miniature set is around 50 x 50 x 40 centimteres), which is rather small when you want to create the feeling of, for instance, a Gothic church, so testing my ideas as a 3D sketch is crucial. Then, I start building elements for the diorama,” Agnew says.
With an attentive eye for the architecture, Agnew often crafts pieces by hand or by 3D prints (which he also models).
“After painting all parts (again, either by hand or using an airbrush), I light the scenery and position my camera. Building the set normally takes about 40 days, and shooting the set only takes an hour or two. Finally, I shoot my models in the studio and complete the image in post-production,” he says.
The results are an striking optical illusion that invites viewers to bask in the sheer atmospheric grandeur that each of Agnew’s images creates.
The skillful world-building that viewers experienced and observe in Agnew’s final product isn’t without its unique challenges as he explains,
“Working with miniature sets is bliss and sometimes a beautiful nightmare: You have all the creative possibilities in the world, but some of these ideas might lead to enormous challenges when building the diorama. ‘Gothic Cube’ as well as ‘Baroque Cube,’ for example, certainly created many challenges along the way because of the fine details in their architecture,” Agnew continues.
“I see myself as a photographer who makes use of creative tools and modern technology to make his visions come true (and not a miniature artist who photographs what he builds), so very often this means learning how to use these tools efficiently. My process can be frustrating sometimes, but once I see the final results and look back at the many weeks spent on such an image, it’s more than worth it. All in all, it’s just amazing what you can do nowadays as an artist once you learn to embrace technology.”
As for equipment, Agnew uses a Fujifilm GFX 100S with a 30mm lens, favoring how it interprets and captures sharpness and the details in his work. He also utilizes a variety of other trusted tools to help accomplish his vision.
“Apart from my camera, I use a lot of different tools for building my miniature sets, like 3D printers and laser cutters, but also classical tools like good old knives and glue. Since lighting is an important visual part of my sceneries, I have loads of strobes (for my “life-sized” sets) as well as LED lights (for my miniature sets). Finally, I make use of different software for creating my images, like 3D software for pre-visualizing my ideas and creating models for my 3D prints.”
The research that Agnew conducted to create Cubes II in particular has greatly expanded his prior conceptions of classical architecture and human history, an experience that still kindles an intrigue and enlightenment,
“I researched a lot about each historic era, about the many wonderful and also horrible things mankind came up with. I’m still far from calling myself a historian now, but my work on Cubes II certainly helped me to get a bigger picture of human history and to discover similarities between current and past events.”
The artful storytelling that permeates throughout Cubes II can induce a rush of appreciation towards the aesthetically pleasing architecture, lighting, cinematic characters, and overall conceptualization displayed in each of his “rooms.” An intentional trademark of Agnew’s work and an ambition to encourage feeling.
“Even though I highly appreciate the aesthetics of a beautiful picture, I always look for the emotions an image creates and the story it tells. The same picture can tell a hundred different stories, and I think this makes photography so exciting,” Agnew shares.
Even with the Agnew going into detail about the creation process and risking diminishing the impact, feedback to this latest iteration of Cubes II has proved to be positive.
“I did not want to demystify the work, and I certainly did not want to put the attention too much on the process – I still wanted the focus to be on the final images, their narratives, and the conceptual ideas behind them. But once I published first behind-the-scenes material, I realized that there is a certain kind of fascination for the process that does not necessarily compete in any way with the images themselves,” Agnew adds.
“My images are meant to be viewed as fine art prints, and it’s always a wonderful experience to share more about the process behind each image once a person gets interested in the image. Most people love to hear about the crafting process and appreciate how much work is spent on each image.”
Image credits: Seb Agnew