When Dean West began thinking of ideas for a new project in 2009, using Legos popped into his head. He ordered a box of the iconic toy, had it shipped to Australia, and began trying to create some objects.*
The problem was he had no idea what to do.
“Having never played with much LEGO as a kid, I had no idea where to start!” West wrote via email. “So the box remained closed.”
After a little research on typical Lego constructions, West discovered Nathan Sawaya, a New York–based artist who has created some remarkable large-scale sculptures out of Lego bricks. West contacted Sawaya, proposed they collaborate on a project, and two weeks later found himself on a flight to New York to iron out the details of what would eventually become the series “In Pieces.”
Inspired by the work of Edward Hopper and the aesthetic of the American postcard, the two took a road trip around the American West, including California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.
“The time travelling really set a great foundation for us to become comfortable in expressing out ideas and allowed us to define what it was we really wanted to say,” West wrote.
Already an established portrait and commercial photographer, West was accustomed to collaboration, so “In Pieces” felt comfortable to him. “In all of my work, I try to work with the best team as possible. … My job really is to communicate the idea to the team and ensure it is executed even better than I had envisioned.”
Using Sawaya’s skills as a sculptor and West’s photographic techniques, the two set out to create a “highly stylized representation of contemporary life.” West wrote that the parallel between the building of thousands of Lego bricks is similar to the layered pixel-by-pixel photography.
“The similarities in technology not only help shape the aesthetic of ‘In Pieces,’ they are key to deconstructing each tableau composition,” West wrote about the project.
In total the duo created seven images that seem to have been recovered from an old scrapbook. The subjects in the images seem almost quiet or disoriented within their environment. And what initially looks like pixelation is in fact one of Sawaya’s Lego constructions. The resulting images are highly stylized—something West has often embraced in his work.
“Photographers have always used the latest technology to enhance their photographs and develop their style,” he wrote. “The fact is I’m not really a photographer, but more someone who uses photography to express their ideas.”
Correction, July 11, 2013: This post originally identified Legos as an American toy. They are built by a Danish company. (Return to the corrected sentence.)