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Geek Creek

Toy Photography

Monte Williams
Monte Williams has photographed action figures in Northern California, the Snake River Canyon in Twin Falls, Idaho, London, the Dahret Island on the Red Sea, Istanbul, Asmara, Eritrea and Lahore, Pakistan.

(Photo by Ashley Smith)

The 'stunted man-nerd'
Toy enthusiast photographs collection outdoors

By Melissa Davlin
Staff writer, Times-News

The next time you take a walk along the edge of the Snake River Canyon, keep an eye out for Monte Williams.

He should be easy to spot. He might be wearing a geeky T-shirt, or escorting his 4-year-old daughter, Maitea. One thing is certain: He'll be toting a camera and some toy soldiers.

Williams, a 31-year-old teacher from Twin Falls, collects discontinued G.I.Joe Sigma 6 action figures. But he doesn't sell or display them, or even keep them for posterity.

Instead, he photographs them outside, after mixing and matching the parts to create the biggest, baddest toys possible.

"I don't know how it came to this," he said as he prepared for a toy photo shoot on June 27.

Williams has always been a toy enthusiast, collecting G.I. Joes, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other childhood delights. He displayed the toys on a shelf - a shrine to his childhood, he said.

But owning the action figures wasn't enough. Williams started posing the toys for fun photos while on a walk with his daughter in California. He found a small group of kindred spirits in an online community of G.I. Joe enthusiasts and started posting the pictures on forums and his personal blog.

His photos are so popular that other members of the G.I. Joe forum started a tribute to Williams when he went on vacation earlier this summer. One user described Williams as "the beating heart" of that community. Other users posted pictures of their toys, Monte-style.

Williams, who recently moved to Twin Falls from northern California, often takes photos at the picturesque Snake River Canyon. He poses the figures to scale rock walls or tower over the cliff's edge. While setting up his recent shoot, he scoured the rim by the walking trail to find a perfect rocky perch on which to take pictures.

Williams strives to make the pictures of burly plastic men and mutant turtles look as realistic as possible. A single leaf can throw off the scale, he said, so he makes sure everything visible in the photo is relevant to the toy's tiny world.

He showed the same scrutiny during his recent photo shoot. When he put the toy in position, Williams kneeled to operate his digital camera and mini-tripod. He snapped pictures from different angles. At one point, the action figure almost toppled over the edge.

"This is going to be the death of me," he said as he set up another scene on the very edge of the canyon. He has lost only one toy to the canyon's depths - a tiny plastic grenade that cost pennies, he said - but he still had to fight the urge to stretch over the edge and retrieve it.

"The only time I really get scared is when I think of how mad my wife would be if I died doing this," he said.

That's right, ladies. Williams is taken. And his wife, Tara Williams, fully supports his toy ambitions.

"I jokingly give him such a hard time about it all the time, but the truth is I think it's great," she said. "It makes him so darn happy."

Tara's only concern is her husband's tendency to retreat into his toy-filled world - "he has a whole man-room of them," she said - forgetting about her and their daughter. But overall, she enjoys his hobby.

"I think it's great that he has such a passion about it," she said.

Williams appreciates Tara's tolerance.

"My wife is a long-suffering and very patient woman," he said.

Even with her encouragement, he occasionally feels embarrassed while taking photos. During his late-June session on the canyon rim, joggers and walkers stared and smiled while he snapped shots of the toys.

Williams shrugged it off.

"You get a little self-conscious, no matter how much you tell yourself it's normal," he said.

So when you see the grown man balancing on the edge of the canyon while photographing toys, don't be afraid to make eye contact with the "sad, stunted mad-nerd," as Williams called himself.

The man-nerd isn't scary, intoxicated or insane, he said. "I'm just a geek."

See Also:

Lowbrow Literati Archive.

Poe Ghostal: 5 Questions With Monte of Geek Creek.