MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Michael Paul Smith’s Official Website
Published 1.02.2019

Michael Paul Smith portrait 1Michael Paul Smith

This is a story about a very talented and gifted man who captured automotive history through the window of his eyes and the lens of his camera. He was a great builder and artist that preserved our automotive history and heritage in miniature form, which drew interest of many enthusiasts from around the world. His name was Michael Paul Smith, and he was great craftsman, builder, artist and photographer.

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Smith told the story of the automobile from the 1930s through the 1960s, a time of war and peace and fins and chrome. It was a time when my neighbors parked their DeSotos in their garages; Mr. Mitchell, who lived across the street from me, parked his 1955 Ford Fairlane in the driveway on the side of his home. I still have fond memories of vehicles parked on my streets in the 1960s when you could always look at a tail light on a vehicle and determine the year of the model.

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For many years, Smith created great snap shots with his imaginary town that he dubbed Elgin Park, formed of great memories from his youth and life experiences growing up in America. Many have asked why Smith never included people in his displays, and his answer was always the same. His desire was for those viewing his work to place themselves in the miniature automotive scenes and imagine what happens next or just remember.

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I spoke to Smith many years ago and told him I was a fan of his automotive miniature displays. When you look at his work, the model displays were extensive and thoroughly researched to the last detail. The model houses and other buildings were built from scratch, and the accompanying model cars were manufactured by the Franklin and Danbury Mints.

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Smith used a series of digital cameras to capture the images of his amazing scenes: first, a six-megapixel Sony, followed by a 12-megapixel Sony and finally a 14-megapixel Canon SX280. When you look at the beautiful backgrounds featuring trees, factories and many homes, Smith created a realism that many people have thoroughly enjoyed.

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Using natural light captures, Smith explained his philosophy for his scenes and photographic images: “Keep everything in scale. From the thickness of the shingles down to the wallpaper design and door knobs, everything must be in the proper relationship to each other. I can't stress that enough.”

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Smith photographed his displays against outdoor backdrops in and around Winchester, Massachusetts. He could estimate the proper distance and look for his outdoor backdrops, including how to move a set around and watching how the shadows fall.

Michael Paul Smith on one his sets RESIZED 8Michael Paul Smith on one of his sets

 

Michael Paul Smith was a great person to know and a very talented, creative person. Unfortunately, he lost his battle with cancer on November 19, 2018 in Reading, Massachusetts at the age of 67. However, his small town memories and creative style will always be a part of our automotive history and culture. For more information on Michael's work, please visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/24796741@N05/  

 

Bibliography

The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents “Michael Paul Smith Recreating the Past with Photos of  a Town That Never Was.” 

Amazing Miniature Scenes Shot with Model Cars, Forced Perspective and a 250 P&S. October 14, 2013.

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