Time Traveling with Forced Perspective Photography

“Forced Perspective Photography” is a fancy name for shooting miniature models (like early King Kong and Godzilla movies) at outdoor locations to create the illusion that they are real. Using this technique, Palm Beach County Photographer Bob Gibson illustrates his favorite memories of Florida living in the 60’s and 70’s.

“We are moving to Florida” my father announced. I was five years old and content climbing backyard trees on Long Island, New York.

Just like that, our family packed in a week. I found myself learning about America from the back seat of a 1956 Dodge station wagon. My teachers were the highway billboards along U.S. Highway One. Billboards broadcast the personalities of America’s states.

New Jersey seemed angry and gray “No gas for next fifty miles”. Virginia with very few roadsigns seemed to me green, calm and dignified. The Carolina’s harped boastfully—“One million Fireworks!” “World’s Largest Hamburger”  Georgia was tricky. The roads were suspiciously devoid of speed limit signs, and yet the cops found nearly every out-of-stater to be speeding.

What would Florida, our new home be like?

Crossing the state line (a a broad marshy expanse) the first sign we passed proudly announced “Stuffed Gator Heads” for sale.

I decided that Florida was a crazy frontier where anything goes. The more miles we covered, the more my thesis was proven correct.

Florida Roadside Stand
The Florida Roadside Stand, Circa 1962

A few hundred billboards later, we arrived on Singer Island at Bill’s Sailfish Marina a place where fishing docks extended over swimming pool clear water teeming with tropical fish.

Vintage Chevy Bel Air at Bill’s Sailfish Marina, Singer Island Florida–Forced perspective photo created with die cast car and rubber fishing minnow lures photographed in front of Palm Beach sail fishing fleet.

While my Dad was landing on his feet at his new job, my mother navigated a world of the draw bridges that separated our home from the grocery store. She endured sand-tracked formica floors and a kitchen with cockroaches the size of mice. At the end of each day Mom and Dad argued loud and long as to whether our family should make a home here, or cut their losses and return to civilization. In long phone calls, grandparents pleaded for us to come back to New York before we were taken by hurricanes, coral snakes or confederate soldiers in hiding.

The changes were around. for all of us. I left an elementary school with snow on the playground, and enrolled in a new school with a playfield of sand that burned feet and bull thorns that punctured sneakers. The classroom doors and windows opened to the elements-alternate days of still heat, or windy cold. Soon, I wore rubber flip flops on my bare feet to be like my classmates and learned to avoid the bull thorns.   After school I walked the docks near the Palm Beach Inlet, where boat mates hosed and polished gleaming fiberglass yachts after unloading the morning’s catch of Sailfish, Dolphin and the occasional great Hammerhead Shark.

Today, I have lived six decades in the sunshine state and have the sun-damaged skin to prove it.   My memories are rusty -like the family wagon that carried us to Florida. Feeling nostalgic, I decided to time- travel back to the 1960’s with the help of a camera, some old toy cars and “forced perspective” photo techniques.

I felt a need to illustrate a unique time– the decades that “old frontier Florida” became “modern concrete Florida”.   My classmates and I were the last free-range kids that teased rattle snakes with fallen palm fronds and used pillowcases to power skateboards while hurricanes approached. We proudly rode our Stingray bikes through the white smoke spewing DDT fogger trucks never considering the poison would fog our minds later in life.

“The Florida Gator Head Fruit Stand”

Roadside stands lured travelers with the promise of ten cent orange juice or a view of the “World’s Largest Sea Shell” Here, tourists loaded up on Pecans, Peanut brittle, Salt Water Taffy—and two perfect gifts that shouted “I went to Florida” -Orange Blossom perfume and a purse made out of a whole baby alligator! 

Old Jupiter— The Dubois family came to Jupiter Inlet at the turn of the century. On weekends, we drove up to “Old Jupiter” from North Palm to swim in the lagoon at Dubois Fish Camp. Mr. Dubois’ bee farm is now a par three golf course, but the families’majestic home, one of the oldest residential structures in Palm Beach County is open to the public at Dubois County Park.

“Tastee Treat”

When times were good, our family celebrated Friday nights with soft ice cream in a cone.  Florida’s first architects were experts at designing retail buildings that mimicked exactly what kids were looking for—soft Ice Cream in a  cone!

“Catching Sharks from the Pier”

Man eating sharks weren’t pampered during the mid-sixties like they are today.

The daring souls that hooked one up from the pier were considered heroes. Period. End of argument. One less shark. One less shark attack.  

“Secrets of the Loxahatchee”

Before today’s riverside kayak concessions, a hermit lived on the wild upper Loxahatchee River. He survived by eating snakes, wild boar and mullet. People spoke about him like he was crazy. Crazy smart he was. He built a zoo of wild animals, put on an Alligator wrestling show for tourists and invested his money in additional acres of pristine wilderness.

“Welcome to Florida” . As teenagers, we were indignant that police prevented us from surfing the beaches of Palm Beach and Jupiter Island. This small indignity was nothing compared with the greater injustices of the times had I been born black, not white.

The public spaces I took for granted– the operators of the Howard Johnson restaurant, the Burdines department store and the Rivera Public Beach would have chased me away. The county would have placed me in an all-black elementary and secondary school. Our home builder would have refused to take my parent’s money.

Two billboards stood at the entrance of Silver Springs in Ocala. The first read, “Welcome to Florida’s Greatest Attraction!” The second billboard read,

“Paradise Cove ahead two miles, Exclusively for Colored Folk”

“Dune Buggy Racing” 

Long before the oceanfront condominiums majestic sand dunes overlooked the sea.  Locals drove VW dune buggies to check the surf or go fishing. Today the natural dunes have been re-arranged, restored and planted with the native species they had to begin. The beach towns pay to dredged silt from the sea bottom and pump it onto the beaches each summer to keep the condos from drowning, and of course,, the waves wash it all away.


“Pop’s Garage” My Dad’s job selling race car products took us to Florida –a place he saw as a great adventure. He introduced our family to both the roar of Daytona, Sebring and Ocala raceways and the quiet solitude of the Indian River at sunrise. How quickly we became “natives” and strangers to our relatives up north!

We were no longer New Yorkers, we were Floridians. 

Bob Gibson teaches photography at the Lighthouse ArtCenter in Tequesta, Florida. For information, contact: bobgibsonphoto@gmail.com