Elgin Park: A Miniature American Town Brought to Life Through Photos

Welcome to Elgin Park, a nice wholesome mid-20th century American town, where big, old-timey cars drive down peaceful tree-lined streets of friendly neighborhoods, where the milkman still delivers milk bottles to your door, where people still go to the local car wash and small local movie theater. In these photos, Elgin Park appears to be a nice little town, the perfect place to raise a family, settle down. But, every town has its secrets:

Through his photography, Michael Paul Smith has brought to life an entire town—right down to the memories and nostalgia that come with growing up in small town America. Smith’s work perfectly captures everyday scenes of life in Elgin Park, between the 1920s and 1960s.

small town America photo

The only thing is, Elgin Park doesn’t–and never did—exist. At least not this Elgin Park. Each scene is a 1/24-scale recreation of mid-20th century America, created by Smith. He uses miniatures to create real-life looking photographs that he has either imagined or remembered from his own past.

miniature model town

This short film by documentary director and producer Danny Yourd of Animal delves deep into the inspiration behind Smith’s creations and shows us the behind the scenes of how Elgin Park comes to life.

The cars and trucks are commercially-produced diecast models (Smith is a big collector), but he makes the buildings and other props himself. The buildings are made out of resin-coated paper, styrene plastic and basswood, or from other found objects. Smith also uses natural settings around his neighborhood as backdrops to his modeled scenes to enhance the optical illusion of forced perception.

elgin park model town

Smith doesn’t use Photoshop with these images; they’re all composed in the camera. He simply builds the sets, composes them perfectly and relies on the magic of optical illusion to bring us back to a time and place we can somehow relate to and yearn for. That’s the real magic behind Elgin Park.

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