As many Central Floridians turn to the skies to watch rocket launches or gaze up at the moon, one Orlando resident is creating extraterrestrial environments right in his own garage.
His tools of choice? Plenty of Legos, homemade "moon dust," a camera and a heaping dose of imagination.
Jonathan Duggins, an Orlando video producer and photographer, began creating Lego dioramas inspired by space exploration about 2-1/2 years ago, calling his photographic project, "Let's Build Space."
Playing with Legos is something that Duggins has done since childhood and never truly outgrew.
Now, working as a video producer full time, he knew he had the creative know-how to bring his vision to life. He was also inspired by the work of Finnish photographer Vesa Lehtimäki, who photographs Lego figures in realistic "Star Wars" scenes.
"I started thinking about, well, 'What would be my subject matter?' " Duggins said. "I moved here from Texas about 12 years ago. The proximity to Cape Canaveral was interesting to me, and the idea of photographing space environments. And so I thought about that, and I got started doing space."
Getting to work
Using his arsenal of about 50,000 Legos, Duggins got to work.
"I move at a glacial pace, because oftentimes in our work, there are deadlines and a demand for things to be done on time," Duggins said. "In my own space, in my own time, I can explore ideas and imagine and create the scenes, even if it takes a month. This has really been therapy for me. It's been just a fun thing to pursue."
Some photos are meant to be humorous and fun. Others are meant to invoke a sense of realism that's fooled some of Duggins' friends, including one who called thinking he had missed the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch when seeing one of his photos.
"I wanted to see, with the limitations of this plastic toy, 'How realistic can I photograph this? How human can I make these mini figures?'" Duggins said. "So I started just thinking about practical effects. 'How can I use light, how can I use different elements to evoke emotion, and to help people who see these photos feel something?' "
'A playful imitation of life'
For Duggins, this project is truly a labor of love. He spends late nights in his garage perfecting his formula for moon dust (cement mix combined with flour). He'll drive to Cape Canaveral to get on-location water shots of the Apollo 11 command module splashdown, for example. A single image can take anywhere from one week to a month to perfect, with plenty of trial and error along the way.
The Orlando photographer's efforts haven't captured the attention of many, but Duggins has only recently started sharing photos on social media. However, his family and friends appreciate his efforts.
Jonathan's wife, Stephanie Duggins, has been a fan since the project began.
"I think it's really interesting to see Jonathan use a combination of his artistic abilities," Stephanie said. "One of the things that Jonathan brings to his art is having skills as a videographer, as a photographer. With building, it's also very easy for him to come up with his own designs. It's a playful imitation of life."
Austin Duggins, 7, one of Jonathan's three sons, is also in awe of his dad's work and notices the dedication he puts into the project.
"I think they're really good, I think they look really inspiring. I really like space, too," Austin said. "He's mostly always working on it."
'A reminder of where we've been'
In addition to the fun and crafty photos, this project has allowed Jonathan to come to a deeper understanding of space exploration.
"The more that I've worked on these photos and learned about the different space missions, the more that I've had a passion stir in my heart for what is happening out in space, and what we're trying to do – not just as a nation but as human beings," Jonathan said. "As I think about the Apollo anniversary coming up, it's a reminder of where we've been. It's a reminder for me to stay curious and to keep exploring. I feel like that's how we're made."