Fun-size photography: Instagram stars shoot mini models

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Photo gallery

Elephant in miniature: Chealsea Cates and Quinn Corbin started taking photos of figurines and their environs several years ago, calling the project C+C Mini Factory.
Disco beach: This disco lifeguard stand will be on display at the Brooklyn Comedy Festival pre-party on Aug. 13.
Northern lights: A mountain goat traverses a snowy scene in a photo by C+C Mini Factory.

It’s a shoebox photo shoot!

A pair of Brooklyn photographers who take whimsical pictures of tiny toys will show off their surreal art at a pre-party for the Brooklyn Comedy Festival on Aug. 13. The photos of miniature figurines betray a painstaking attention to detail, but they are still fun to make, according to one of the artists.

“It feels like play in a lot of ways,” said Chelsea Cates, of Crown Heights, one half of the photo duo known as C+C Mini Factory. “A lot of the process is just like ‘Oh, this would be funny, or it would be really great if we did this.’ ”

Cates and her friend Quinn Corbin began the project several years ago as a creative outlet apart from their day jobs at an arts organization and a theater, respectively. In the past year the fantastical images have gained popularity and begun to appear in galleries, including an exhibit in the far-off land of San Francisco.

Preparing a shoot usually involves taking a few hours to set up a diminutive diorama, said Cates, placing figurines placed beside common materials like construction paper and cotton balls, and setting up lighting from an Ikea lamp. Cates said that they do most shoots in her apartment, but that Corbin, who is largely responsible for amassing the figurines and often has them on hand, will sometimes take snapshots on the fly.

Photographing figurines on a shoebox-sized set lets the pair shoot big ideas on a small budget, and it eliminates the hassle of working with human models. But the figurines are not always easy partners, Cates said.

“It’s nice because you have total control, although they don’t always cooperate as much as you think they should,” she said.

The pair boast a healthy 37,000 followers on Instagram, built in part by patience and hard work but helped along by a coveted spot in the photo-sharing app’s featured section, which exposed their work to hundreds of thousands of eyes. The Mini Factory also won the 2015 “Shorty” award for Best Instagrammer.

Both Cates and Corbin still have their day jobs, and though the project may not be a breadwinning endeavor yet, they got a little money and a lot of attention in May for some images they made for Starbucks, one featuring a mini-frappucinno beside some flying pigs. Turning the Mini Factory into a job may be far off at this point, but Cates has not ruled it out.

“We’d love it if that could happen,” she said. “If it could keep growing that would be wonderful. I think we both are looking to be more creative.”

Cates and Corbin will display the original model of a recent work — a flamingo chilling in a disco-themed lifeguard station — at the Comedy Festival pre-party, which will also feature a handful of other artists and an open bar.

C+C Mini Factory, at Cloud City (85 North First St. between Wythe and Berry streets in Williamsburg, Aug. 13 at 6 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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