Zev Hoover is a 14-year-old homeschooled student and self-taught photographer who lives in the Boston suburb of Natick, Massachusetts. The bright-eyed redhead has become quite an internet sensation lately due to his fanciful photos of digitally miniaturized people, many of which are self-portraits. On the Flickr image hosting site, Zev’s username is Fiddle Oak, a play on the words “little folk,” which describes his tiny human creations. According to Zev, “The pictures are supposed to be a kind of tour of the make-believe world ‘Fiddle Oak,’ in which small (about two inches tall) people live.”
Zev says, “The idea came from a walk in the woods with my sister. It is fun to imagine little people peeking at you from behind the ferns, and fun to shoot because I can put my eye near the ground and imagine a world from their perspective.” One blogger wrote, “A common theme in his ongoing Little Folk series is to play with size ratio. By shrinking himself down for his imaginative photos, Zev takes the viewer along on a magical journey of rediscovering the world around us, where blades of grass stand at equal height, a leaf can be used as an umbrella, and an acorn makes a suitable seat.”
Zev’s playful fantasy photos are enchanting and dreamlike — as if giving viewers a glimpse into a fairytale land or alternate reality. One image shows a boy constructing a house of playing cards, his body the same size as the cards. In another image, a boy and girl sit upon a Popsicle stick raft, with a single leaf as a sail. Many of the images explore nature, including one in which a Lilliputian hiker encounters a mushroom that is taller than him. Another nature-themed image shows a boy playing a violin, sitting on the edge of a rock that is larger than life-size. A recurring theme is the concept of flight, featuring such whimsical elements as feathers, leaves, paper planes, and origami swans.
In the same spirit as Stephanie Tolan’s young adult novel, Surviving the Applewhites, Zev was raised in a household that fostered many creative pursuits. His father, Jeffrey Hoover, is a nationally recognized architect at Tappe Associates, a Boston architectural firm. Mr. Hoover specializes in the design of learning environments, with a particular focus on libraries. Zev’s mother, Michele Gutlove, is an architect, painter, and glass artist. Regarding her homeschool philosophy, she told MetroWest Daily News: “The whole world is Zev’s classroom. There’s no recess. We’re very informal.”
The youngest in his family, Zev has grown up watching his older siblings pursue their varied interests. Zev’s eldest brother, Jacob, is a violinist and ballet dancer; previously a member of the José Mateo Ballet Theatre, he recently joined the Vanemuine Theatre Ballet Company in Tartu, Estonia. His brother Ian took math and science classes at the Harvard University Extension School, and is currently attending the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. Zev’s 18-year-old sister Aliza (Nell) loves language and writing.
As for Zev, he recalls, “I got into photography when I was eight years old and haven’t stopped since.” He started taking photos with an old cell phone camera just for fun. His mother, recognizing her son’s budding talent, purchased a point-and-shoot camera for him on eBay. It wasn’t long before Zev bought a 60+ year old manual focus 50mm f1.4 camera for its optic quality and simplicity. He currently uses a Nikon D7000 50mm digital SLR camera along with a Samyang Rokinon 85mm f1.4 lens. “I just love that thing,” says Zev.
The Little Folk series isn’t Zev’s first themed collection of photographs. When he and his sister were age 10 and 14 respectively, for a homeschool project they chronicled “365 Days in the Life of Snugglepup,” a plush animal which most people think looks like a teddy bear but is actually a small fuzzy dog. Zev photographed Snugg on a virtual odyssey of incredible adventures that included playing hide and seek, walking in the woods, sitting in the snow, and eating tasty treats; while Aliza posted a narrative in which Snugg discussed the day’s events, described by one reporter as “a mix of adolescent idealism and stuffed animal wisdom.” Zev’s photos and Aliza’s text gave Snugg a real personality.
At the age of 12, Zev became intrigued by digital photo manipulation and learned how to use a variety of advanced techniques. Zev has a blog in which he explains how he creates some of his beautiful, cleverly executed images. The complicated process involves capturing the background scene first. It might even be a collage of multiple pictures, or include drawings and origami. Then he takes pictures of people (mostly himself or other family members) in similar lighting, in the right position to be in the scene. A piece of white foam board acts as a reflector and diffuser, creating nice soft light on the subject. He edits the images in Photoshop, shrinking the normal-sized people to make them appear tiny. He also adjusts the brightness and edits the color scheme so that everything matches. “It takes a long time,” he admits.
While Zev is the one behind – and often in front of – the camera, he also gives his older sister credit. “My sister is more of a writer, but she is sort of my partner in crime,” Zev told Today.com. “I do the actual work with the camera and edit the picture, but she helps with a lot of the concepts.” Apparently she has done a multitude of other things for him, too, because on his Flickr page Zev refers to his “dear sister / assistant / secretary / packmule.” It sounds like he has missed her this past year, since she went away to live her dream of studying abroad as a foreign exchange student. After spending her senior year of high school in Etelä-Karjala, Finland, she’s coming back home this summer.
Meanwhile, Zev gets lots of support from the Flickr community, which “inspires and invigorates me.” His unique collection of images has also attracted the attention of professional photographers and designers. The talented teen has already had the opportunity to collaborate with Joel Robison, one of today’s masters of surreal photography. Zev has even received a couple of offers from L.A. film producers, one to design movie posters and another to work on a web series. “Zev has proven to be one photographer to keep an eye on,” wrote a blogger at My Modern Met.
“What started as a personal project, which I had thought I would never show anyone, turned out to be what I do,” acknowledges Zev. “Every waking (or, for that matter sleeping!) moment is spent thinking of a concept for the next photo.” Besides working on the Little Folk series, Zev does color and black-and-white photographs of landscapes, everyday scenes, and his mother’s glass sculptures. Art consultant Thomas Durand remarked, “Zev’s artwork speaks for him. The kid is well ahead of his game…. Sometimes the younger the artist, the more pure the art.”
In his spare time, Zev browses technology blogs, builds and flies model airplanes, and dreams about going to college to study art or graphic design. He is also considering putting together a book of photographs. But despite all of his ambition and success thus far, Zev is remarkably down-to-earth. When asked about all the attention he has been getting recently, he simply told Today.com: “It’s just so lucky and random.” Believing there is always room for improvement, Zev’s ultimate goal is “to become a better photographer but that will take the rest of my life.”