I started following my old friend Jeremy LaCroix on Instagram a while back, and that’s when I realized he has a major toy fetish. Jeremy, whose nom de guerre is Jerry Business, has been posting a long series of stylized photos of tiny toy people and vehicles and boats and monsters shot in street locations around the world—or sometimes natural settings in the case of, say, a moose—or a Michonne figurine from The Walking Dead.
Jerry plans his settings meticulously. A vintage toy airplane sits on the tarmac in front of an old Pan Am hangar, which I’m pretty sure I recognize as the old Navy base in Alameda, California. A plastic Celtics player—Dennis Johnson, if I’m not mistaken—is placed on a neighborhood basketball court in Massachusetts. A London cab miniature appears with Big Ben looming in the background. A Steve McQueen car chase is reenacted on the very road where it was originally filmed. A John Lennon doll is photographed on a New York City rooftop just across the street from where that iconic Lennon photo was taken—and only because Jerry couldn’t get into Lennon’s onetime digs. He tells a story about how security guards kicked him off the Empire State Building’s observation deck after he tried to shoot a King Kong toy there—some people just have no appreciation for artistic juxtaposition.
By day, Jerry Business is an artist, illustrator, graphic designer, and tattooed former frontman for defunct Boston punk band The Midnight Bombers. We met in the early 2000s and bonded over music (I played in bands and was running a little punk label) while working together at the ill-fated Industry Standard, a magazine that covered the first dot-com boom only to implode right along with it. We still get together for the occasional show or drink, but we’d never talked about Jerry’s toy obsession. (His latest side project is a fledgling San Francisco news startup called The Frisc, which he’s launching with a couple of old Standard colleagues.)
But it was only when I got an invite to his book release shindig that I realized what Jerry was up to with all these toy photos. He hadn’t actually set out to do a book, he says. He just really loves toys—especially old worn ones; he’s amassed maybe 8,000 in all—and art and photography. Shooting them in the streets with his iPhone was mainly an excuse to get back out in public and meet interesting strangers now that he’s no longer singing in front of a crowd.
At the book release party in San Francisco last week, Jerry told a few of us about the time he was shooting on the streets of London and a busload of Japanese tourists came along. Thirty or 40 ladies all wanted pictures with him. “They think you’re famous,” the tour guide said. Would he play along? And he did. Each tourist got a selfie with him, and he helped them take their own version of the toy shot he’d set up—the shot that became the cover of his book. What a mensch. “We couldn’t talk much, but we smiled a lot at each other,” he says.
Things can get a little harrowing when Jerry is out in the street trying to line up a shot. He has to make sure he doesn’t get run over, and sometimes people flip out because they think he’s hurt—or even dead. “This has happened five times in three different countries,” he told me. When he explains that, no, he was just taking a photo, “people are like, ‘What the fuck are you doing!'”
You can order his book, Around the World in 80 Toys, from that giant company with the bald CEO that’s taking over the planet and will have your job soon. The short film at the top of this post was the work of photo site SmugMug, which has launched a mini film series worth checking out. This particular one was shot by Anton Lorimer, who also took the master photo for this post and the others of Jerry below. It’s worth a look, because it gives you a nice window into Jerry’s creative worldview. And even if you think you’re too old for toys, it’s pretty damn charming. Enjoy.