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Reps Journal

Andrei Duman’s Organogenesis: Building Blocks of Life

When you think of LEGO® toys, you might reminisce on building tall colorful towers as a child, or you might still use LEGO® toys to build elaborate scenes from your favorite movies. The idea that a simple block can become large structures is something that fascinates users of all ages. Photographer and Director Andrei Duman, who is always curious to learn more about how the world works and looks at things from every angle, found LEGO® toys in an effort to actualize a creative idea he’s had for years. 

The genesis of this project is deeply personal, inspired by a family member’s battle with dementia. Andrei’s initial concept was to visually depict the idea of organs deteriorating. If you picture apples progressing from ripe to rotten, symbolizing the consequences of destructive behaviors on the body's systems. But as his idea evolved, he decided not to represent decay, but rather how the organs are built in our body in a constructive way, which led him to the use of LEGO® bricks. After some research, he found renowned LEGO® artist Nathan Sawaya, known for his awe-inspiring creations that challenge the boundaries of brick-based artistry.

Though Nathan was responsible for the building of the larger-than-life organs, Andrei photographed each piece in his studio and then worked with post-production studio Recom Farmhouse to bring each image to life, so to speak. Andrei is meticulous in all of his work and this project was no different. Each of the LEGO® bricks that appear to be in movement in the images were photographed individually, to make the final image look as real as possible. Thousands of individual blocks later and the final images began to come together to create the series; Organogenesis: Building Blocks of Life.

In the end, these images blend science, art, and philosophy, provoking thought and reflection on existence, and the delicate balance between life and decay. It's a testament to how art can spark conversations about complex subjects, so, read on to learn more about Andrei’s inspiration, process, and to see the impressive images.

Can you share more about the inspiration behind this project?

The idea for this project actually took about a year to fully develop. Initially, my concept centered around outlining human organs on the ground, with the camera shooting from above. I wanted to showcase the progression from healthy to decaying organs by using ripe vegetables and gradually transitioning to rotten ones. The core message was that certain habits can lead to the decay of our organs, like how smoking affects the lungs or sugary foods affect our teeth. This original concept was more destructive in nature. However, one of my family member’s illness got worse, so I decided I wanted to change the concept into something constructive. The shift to using LEGO® bricks was a natural progression. I recognized that the visual impact could be even greater with LEGO® bricks, as they could be arranged to illustrate both the fragility and resilience of our organs. So, the project began with the intention of raising awareness in a positive way.

Explain the collaboration process with Nathan Sawaya. How did you two meet?

Once I decided I wanted to use LEGO® toys, I sought out the most renowned Lego builder I could find and all roads pointed to Nathan Sawaya. I reached out to him and explained my vision and we sat down and brainstormed how to approach the project. I suggested we start with something recognizable yet complex, like the human brain. Nathan agreed to build a brain slightly larger than life-size, which I could then photograph. However, when he presented the brain to me, it was even larger than I anticipated—comprising around 4,000 pieces. I realized that this project was going to be much larger, figuratively and literally, than I planned which got me really excited about where it could go.  We communicated consistently throughout the process, ensuring that the organs were accurate and captivating. I wanted each piece to be meticulous and detailed, so every aspect, from the organs themselves to the arrangement of the accompanying LEGO® bricks, had to be carefully considered.

What were some of the challenges that came up during this project?

In addition to the patience and precision that Nathan practiced during the construction, the photography was an intricate process. I wanted consistency in lighting and angle, even though I had to wait for different organs to be completed over the course of some months before photographing them. This meant ensuring that my studio setup remained the same throughout the project. Shooting the individual Legos separately was another challenge.

I took thousands of shots of individual LEGO® bricks, which were later integrated into the final images. The post-production phase was also collaborative, involving Nathan, the post-production team, and myself, as we fine-tuned each detail. Multiple trail options were presented, reviewed, amended and fine-tuned.

Where do you see this project going in the future?

While initially not part of the plan, as Nathan and I saw the project come together, we realized its potential for exhibition. The idea of showcasing these intricate LEGO® organ creations, accompanied by my large-scale images, emerged as a powerful way to engage viewers. It's exciting to think that a wider audience would be able to see and engage with the organs.

Behind the Scenes of the Making of Organogenesis