by Caleb Goellner

Dreaming Outside The Borders

Zev Hoover blends photography and art to reveal a parallel universe of tiny people, finding their way in our life-sized world. Hoover's artwork is remarkable—and even more impressive when you realize he is just 15 years old. 




Little Folks/Fiddleoaks 

The images in Hoover's "Little Folk" series are mesmerizing: a tiny Zev clings to a paper airplane winging its way through a meadow, he and sister Aliza sit on a popsicle stick raft lit by a single birthday candle. The photos inspire feelings of isolation, inventiveness, and wonder as you see the everyday world in a whole new light.

The "Little Folk" series started as a way to improve his Photoshop abilities. Hoover is largely self-taught in Photoshop, learning techniques online, so he was hoping to expand his knowledge through practice.  "I had finished another photography project, and I hadn't really been taking any pictures. It's easier to take pictures when you're on a project," Hoover explained. "It started as just a Photoshop challenge and a way of photographing the woods."

He creates "Little Folk" pictures with natural light, scavenged props, and improvised sets. He uses a Wacom tablet and Photoshop to cut out the image of the person. He then touches up the environmental portrait by blending multiple pictures into one. He uses the Clone Stamp tool to remove the lines between the images.

He then lays the person's image on top of the environmental portrait. "I'll try to match color, temperature, everything like that." He checks and adjusts for shadows first, then does color and tone editing. Using the Wacom pen tablet, he can make adjustments easily. "That's it!" he says cheerfully.   

Hoover posts the images online at his Flickr account and website (Fiddleoak is a play on the words Little Folk). The original images were never intended for the worldwide audience they now reach. 




Little Folks Are Now Huge

Hoover's popularity exploded seemingly out of nowhere. "It was very surprising," he said. "One day it just sort of happened.  Once one place picks it up, everyone has it." And it went viral with a vengeance. He appeared on the Today show, Good Morning America, and the BBC News as well as dozens of print and online venues.  His photos received hundreds of thousands of likes, tweets, and shares. "It's flattering, certainly, that that many people care," he said. "And it does put some pressure on only posting pictures that I'm really proud of.  But I try not to listen to that and just post for myself."

He started to get offers to create more images. He contributed an image to Nikon World for their "First Frame" feature. A film production company contacted him about designing a movie poster. He received a lens and a tripod from companies that appreciated his work. A book project was discussed. Established artists would jump at that kind of publicity. But he seems more bemused by the whole thing. The project he is most interested in at the moment is his own: He is creating, producing, and directing a short film about his "Little Folk".  




Flights Of Fancy

There have been fewer photos on Hoover's Flickr account lately because he is immersed in the movie. "It will be a ten-minute film with Little Folk that's really fun. It's a black and white film, and they're building an airplane and flying it." Hoover often shares his own hobbies with the "Little Folk", showcasing origami and cards, music and model planes in his photos. But this time he's not just helping them build their own plane; he's also creating an aerial photography platform. 

Hoover is engaged in the project. "It will have a sixty or seventy inch wingspan. It's made of foam, and it will have a camera on it and a video transmitter, with a video receiver on the ground so I can see what the plane is seeing live from the ground and fly it first person," Hoover explained. "Building it is fun, seriously." He paused as he thought about what the plane would be able to do. "Once I get the plane flying, I'll think about what I'm going to record."   

Clearly he is enjoying using video as a medium, though he's still working with basic equipment and a minimal budget. "I like the idea of telling more complicated stories.  I've done a couple of three picture series, and obviously a movie can show that in a very different, more complex way. You can show depth and subtle movement.  It's intriguing." Hoover sees this as the natural next step for the "Little Folk". "The movie is going to be the grandest, most epic, so to speak, part of the project." 




Support Network Boosts Creativity 

Hoover has tremendous support from his artistic family. Both parents are architects, and his mother, Michele Gutlove, is also a glass artist with Studio G+H. Homeschooled with his three siblings, his conversation is peppered with their involvement in each other's art: His sister helping out as model and photographic partner, his brother getting him into photography and developing film. The closeknit and creative group work with and inspire each other.

Hoover is getting a taste of the working artist's world by assisting with his mother's proposals for glass art installations in public buildings. "I do the Photoshop concepts," he explained, "It's a concept sketch of what the artwork will look like when it's installed in the space that helps win the commission." 

He's finding inspiration in other places as well. "There's a great community of conceptual portrait photographers on Flickr who try to tell a story with their images. There's a group of us in Boston, and we meet up and take pictures together every once in a while. If any of us have ideas that we'd like to try, everyone is willing to model for everyone else. Bring a box of props, and we'll figure something out individually." His sister Aliza ( often joins the group, as she's doing her own 365 project, with a new image every day. With the support of friends and family, Hoover is well on his way to whatever path he'd like to pursue.