Alec & Artoo - Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mechanical Engineering

I photographed Alec Bialek's ongoing five-year project - a screen-accurate R2-D2 replica - last year, when it was still a work in progress. Over the past several months Alec has been finishing up the build, including the lower portion of Artoo's cylindrical body, the feet, and a gorgeous weathering job that dates this Artoo to the final act of The Empire Strikes Back (having recently taken a dip in the Dagobah swamps). Alec wanted some images that document the culmination of his work, before Artoo gets packed up and shipped off to Sweden, where Alec will be working with supercar maker Koenigsegg (I know, I can't pronounce it either).

I think he did a pretty good job; don't you agree?

Film processed and scanned by Richard Photo Lab.

R2-D2 - Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Mechanical Engineering

Most of my images involve people. Until very recently, I don't think I'd ever photographed anything that you'd call a "robot." So even though R2-D2 (or "Artoo") may be an iconic character from one of the most famous science fiction stories of all time, he’s definitely outside the realm of my usual subject matter. Take my word for it though, when you meet him in person, he's at least as expressive as most of the humans I know. R2-D2 (3 of 6)

So how did I get access to this little blue guy? Well, among TV and movie watchers there’s a subset of fans who want a more visceral connection to a story than simply watching it unfold on a screen. Places like the Replica Prop Forum and the R2-D2 Builder’s Club cater to these fans, offering them a like-minded community of enthusiasts, instructions, encouragement, and even access to limited runs of custom-made difficult-to-find components. This droid’s builder, Alec Bialek, is a mechanical engineering student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Alec takes his Artoo to events like the premier of The Force Awakens at SLO's historic Fremont Theater, giving fans a chance to meet the famous droid in person. After seeing photos of Artoo at a recent school fundraiser, I contacted Alec, and he generously granted me an exclusive one-on-one to meet Artoo and make something along the lines of a 'portrait of an astromech droid.'

R2-D2 (1 of 6)

R2-D2 (4 of 6)

Alec’s Artoo isn’t completely finished yet - Alec is still working on the feet and the base of the body - which is why I mostly photographed Artoo from the "waist" up. When those last pieces are done, Alec is planning to weather Artoo so he looks a little more battle-worn, consistent with his appearance in the films.

R2-D2 (2 of 6)

The interesting part of making these images, at least for me, was exploring the space between portraiture and still life. Even in the Star Wars universe, Artoo isn't quite a living thing, yet somehow he's imbued with a very strong sense of agency and personality. That sense is borne partially from the puppetry and sound effects that you experience when you watch the film (or, if you're lucky like me, when Alec fires up his remote control and has Artoo run circles around you while tweeting & whistling). But it also has a lot to do with Artoo's basic visual design. He's hardly anthropomorphic, but when his big, black, glassy eye is pointed in your direction, it's hard not to feel like you're being seen.

R2-D2 (6 of 6)-bw

R2-D2 (5 of 6)-bw

That sense is what I tried to capture in these last two images, and what I would very much like to capture with other similar subjects. If anybody reading this happens to know someone who's built other character droids from popular sci-fi - such as WALL-E, Johnny Five, Marvin, Bender, H.E.L.P.e.R. or others, please don't hesitate to share this post with them, and have them drop me a line.

This Is a Post About Pencils

pencils 1 Over the past few years, in tiny fits and starts, I've been working on a portfolio of still life compositions (still 90% a work in progress). I must have bought these #2 pencils in 2011 or 2012, thinking that they might make an interesting visual arrangement. It took me the better part of two years to get around to photographing them, and even though I'm not sure how interesting the end result is, it was inexplicably satisfying to create a backdrop with exactly the "right" tone of blue, and then to measure and space everything out in order to make a picture of... some pencils lined up just so.

The more I shoot, and the more I review the images I've shot, the more I am coming to understand that a lot of my interest in photography stems from a strong desire to organizing things visually. Functional OCD is my special sauce.

pencils 5

pencils 4

pencils 7

SLO Donut Company - San Luis Obispo

We get donuts from SLO Donut Company at the office much more often than we should. SLO Donut Company (shortened to SLO Do Co by locals) is a great little café-style shop, right on my way to the office, that's open 24/7. That is way too often to be tempted by fried dough covered in sugar.

I've always liked the color of that classic, Platonic donut, dipped in pink frosting and covered in sprinkles, so when I found this gorgeous pink paper, I decided to make some pictures.

SLO Donut Company

As with my earlier post about local chocolatier Sweet Earth Chocolates, this image was inspired by some of the beautiful photography by Deborah Jones in Thomas Keller’s cookbook, Ad Hoc At Home.