Friday, October 5, 2012

A Model Memory

Many Flint Expatriates have an ongoing relationship with nostalgia, often struggling to reconcile the Flint of their youth with the Flint of today. Then there's the inevitable moment when you realize you may be burnishing the memory of Vehicle City a bit too much, turning it into a place that never existed in the first place. It's not always an easy process to work through.

So why not simply recreate a scale model of the Flint you remember — or the Flint you want to remember? Michael Paul Smith is not from Flint, but he did build a scale model of his hometown.

"What started out as an exercise in model building and photography, ended up as a dream-like reconstruction of the town I grew up in. It's not an exact recreation, but it does capture the mood of my memories," he writes on his Flickr page.

"And like a dream, many of the buildings show up in different configurations throughout the photos. Or sometimes, the buildings stay put and the backgrounds change.

"Visually, this is heading towards the realm of ART. NO PHOTOSHOP WAS USED IN THESE PICTURES. IT'S ALL STRAIGHT FROM THE CAMERA.

"It's the oldest trick in the special effects book:line up a model with an appropriate background and shoot. The buildings are 1/24th scale [or 1/2 inch equals a foot]. They are constructed of Gator board, styrene plastic, Sintra [a light flexible plastic that can be carved, and painted] plus numerous found objects; such as jewelery pieces, finishing washers and printed material."
Learn more about Smith from this interview at Man on the Move.


  1. If you haven't already, you really need to check this out. Simply amazing! =^)

  2. They are nice, but I first inferred from your post that Flint is his home town. You might want to clarify.

  3. Thanks for the catch. I went in and tried to make it a little clear. Part of the problem was that I spent an hour on the web trying to find out what the guy's hometown was. I couldn't find it anywhere.

  4. Here is a link to his Flickr Photostream...

  5. Toronto Van BuskirkOctober 5, 2012 at 4:11 PM

    There was a black dude from the north side who used to make models of structures found in Flint. His Martin Elelmentary and prototypical Oak Park-style house were on display at the library back in the day. The Urinal wrote a few articles on him as well.

  6. Hmmm. I'd seen this guy's work somewhere, and I would have assumed it was here, because this is my main channel for esoterica. But, surely there couldn't have been a prior post about this dude's oeuvre here, and no one but me remember it. Strange. I suppose it'll come to me eventually.

    >...trying to find out what the guy's hometown was.

    He grew up in Sewickly, Pennsylvania, and he says that's the emotional model for Elgin Park. His family moved to Worcester, Massachusetts in his teen years. He now lives in Winchester, Massachusetts, and parts of that town are the physical background for most of his photos.

    1. JWilly, I forgot to mention this is a repost. You probably saw this here in Feb. 2010. I was shocked to realize the blog is about five years old now, and I'm getting a lot of folks who are just discovering it via Facebook. (I've finally given up trying to fight FB and just come to accept it.) So I've started reposting some items that are still timely. I'm also buried with work and the final editing process for the Flint book, which is making it tougher to come up with new meaningless items!


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at