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The Story Behind One Man's Incredible Miniature Portraits of Midcentury America

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Michael Paul Smith recreates memories from his Pittsburgh upbringing with a miniature fictional town he calls Elgin Park. Armed with an X-Acto and a point-and-shoot camera, Smith builds tiny scenes with model buildings and cars and turns them into life-like photographs by using real cities and vistas as backgrounds, and the caliber of his work has drawn a lot of attention; today, Smith's Flickr page has nearly 78 million views. As the subject of a short documentary directed by Danny Yourd, Smith lets viewers in on the little secrets behind the pastiche town.

Yourd's film begins with Smith in his kitchen, recounting the long list of odd jobs on his CV. Smith also talks intimately about his bullied childhood, depression, and drug use, shedding some light on the therapeutic aspect of his work: "Elgin Park is never a lonely place for me," Smith says in the film. He also calls it a "neutral place" with "no conflict."

Smith worked as a model maker for several years, but insists there's "nothing fancy" about his creations, which he claims owe more to his observant nature as a child. Smith had been putting his photographs online for about a year, when he went from 1,000 hits on Flickr to about one million, after someone called him asking to feature his photographs in a car magazine. Since then, Smith says a lot of people have written with stories inspired by his work. He also has a book coming out.
—Alexa Carrasco

· Photo Dispatches From a Miniature, Half-Imagined City [CityLab]