Gio Toninelo's Little Denver photography exhibit looks like big fun

Gio Toninelo has a miniature muse. The Denver filmmaker and photographer is best known for his work on Pond Patrol and as curator of the GI Joe Film Festival, projects that saw him turning his passion for plastic men of action into compelling narrative. His latest effort is Little Denver, a photography series that inverts his previous photographic approach, which goes on display Saturday, December 1 at Pablo's Coffee.

"I did the GI Joe stuff as realistic as possible, to throw people off," he explains. "Now I'm kind of almost doing the opposite -- actually shooting something real but making it look kind of fake."

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Specifically, Little Denver is a series of photographs of various city scenes, many of them iconic, that use a technique called tilt-shift photography to make our fair city look like a toy. Tilt shift employs a special lens to distort the depth of field, along with some post-processing effects that give photographs of real-world objects the appearance of miniature train sets. The style is a perfect match for Toninelo's enthusiasm for the smaller things in life.

"I went to architecture school, and I gave up because I realized I was there just to make mockups -- the miniatures of the buildings," he says. "I really didn't care about the actual real stuff. So doing this was pretty fun."

The series will be on display at Pablo's through December, offering a look at Denver from a different angle. Toninelo himself will be on hand at 7 p.m. Friday, December 7, to talk about the photographs and the tilt-shift process at a low-key First Friday reception. This is his second year-end photography exhibit at the location, and he's already looking ahead to the future.

"I branded the show Little Denver and made little logos and stuff because I think I might do a series of these," Toninelo says. "This is the first one. There's a lot of stuff to shoot -- Denver's pretty cool. I have limited space over there. I can't show everything."