Edwige Moses was working in the garden. Kurt Moses was taking close-up pictures of the flora, then some fauna, including a June bug.
Edwige suggested that Kurt place into a scene some of the figures from his childhood model railroad set.
The resulting whimsical photographs ended up being a life changer for the couple.
“I thought, ‘I could do this the rest of my life,’” Kurt said from the couple’s summer quarters at Gooseberry Falls State Park.
Getting notice from a company that makes figures for Disney - and then a commission to shoot them - shows just how well things are going for the two as they have pared down their life.
Kurt spoke from a couple’s campsite at the park, where they have been staying for the summer as campground hosts.
Gooseberry, other parts of the North Shore and Duluth have played a scenic part in the project called Un Petit Monde. The name translates to “a small world” and comes from Edwige, who is French. The two met at a resort in the Caribbean in 2006.
The pictures they create with the small plastic hikers, kayakers, anglers or even Buzz Lightyear are posed with backdrops that are iconic of the region. It’s difficult to take your eyes off their work as familiar characters are placed in contrast to familiar landscapes.
“We love the North Shore,” Kurt said. Summer at the campground is a dream come true as they regretted leaving the area after short trips up the shore.
Once immersed in the Twin Cities area and feeling tied down to jobs where they felt “burned out,” the couple has been living out of a 1967 Dodge Travco since 2012. They spend winters in Florida.
“We were looking for a simpler life,” Kurt said.
Kurt did graphic and web design for years before becoming a commercial photographer. Edwige was a teacher.
“I enjoyed it but it wasn’t the best creative outlet,” Kurt said.
He gives all the credit for their new lifestyle to his wife.
He said he wouldn’t have made the transition unless she said “go for it. She recognized that the mini work was better for me.”
Four years later, they have a children’s book, a limited-edition book of photos with another in the works, and plenty of print sales online.
And there was that Disney thing this spring.
They already had made the annual trek north when a deal was finalized for them to shoot figures for a London firm representing Disney Infinity, a video game from the entertainment giant.
At first, they were going to be sent to England for shooting. But a looming deadline and some budget considerations had them doing things on the fly.
Many of the characters would have been perfect for the ocean they left behind in Florida.
“We came back and got the go-ahead,” Kurt said. “Without the ocean, the next best thing is Lake Superior.”
That meant the North Shore would be used for the backgrounds, including Gooseberry, Two Harbors and Adventure Zone in Duluth. Other locations included Minneapolis and New York City.
Mr. Incredible is seen with a bucket and a rag at Lil’ Dog Car and Pet Wash in Two Harbors. At Gooseberry, Maleficent looks eerie in a backlit shot at a campground shelter, Jack Sparrow and Barbossa scale links of a chain at a railing, and Buzz Lightyear hatches a rocket plan in the old pump house. In Duluth, Wreck-it Ralph holds loose wires at Adventure Zone and Davy Jones checks out the fish tank at Amazing Grace Bakery & Cafe.
“It’s kind of an oddball side item,” Kurt said of the shoots.
None of the work will be used beyond Disney, Kurt said, which eased up the permission process at the businesses.
“It creates buzz for them, it creates buzz for us,” he said.
The Northland is well documented in the web galleries for Un Petit Monde.
Kurt’s favorite is a shot from the beach off Park Point where gulls appear to be going after two tiny backpackers.
“They thought the figures were food,” he said of the cooperation from the gulls. It made for an easy shoot. “It got it in three frames.”
In the same vein, he shot a couple running from the famed fiberglass chicken in Two Harbors.
Other scenes are more placid and iconic of the region - fishing, strolling on the piers in Canal Park, a swimmer contemplating a dip into Lake Superior, hikers scaling the beach boulders or forging a stream.
The couple has enjoyed the respite at Gooseberry this summer since their work has them on the go more often. Edwige researches the locations, orders materials and interacts with the curious.
Kurt handles the creative and technical side.
“We’re blessed to get this gig at Gooseberry,” Kurt said.
Asked to describe his work, Kurt said it’s simply the type of outdoor fine art photography you find a lot of in the area. He just adds a twist in the tiny characters.
“There’s more going on than just a pretty picture,” he said.
The figures mostly come from hobby shops and Kurt creates the props.
He often imagined his childhood figures in stories and scenes then and now gets to make that come to fruition, he said. “What was in my head was always there.”
Call it all dream come true.
“This wasn’t a huge leap except for the letting go,” he said. The past four years have been magical, he said. “It’s still just as passionate a pursuit. Demand or not, we’re doing it.”
See the pictures
See more of Kurt and Edwige Moses’ Un Petit Monde collection at unpetitmonde.net.