We are two days out until Christmas. Santa hopefully has already checked his list twice and his little elves are busy loading up the sleigh, because in my world, Santa doesn’t do these things last minute. When I was a child, I always wondered when the elves began making the toys, because surely, making toys for all the “nice” kids in the whole world would take a good, long time, right?

Now, that I am older and understand that Santa’s elves are largely factory workers in China who make about 50+% of the toys in the US (some say that number is upwards of 75%), I still wonder how much time it takes for these mere mortals to assemble, stuff, paint, and package the millions of toys that get shipped to America. German photographer Michael Wolf has given a face to the countless number of factory workers that work tirelessly, under terrible conditions and according to a report on Business Insider, get paid around $240 a month so that you can buy that toy this Christmas.


Who are the people that do these jobs that many of us would probably turn our noses up at? And to earn a monthly wage that is equivalent to someone’s monthly Starbucks bill? In “The Real Toy Story,” Wolf gained access to 5 toy factories in China to show us what daily life is like for a factory worker.

This series gives a new perspective to the work that goes behind those toys you buy with the ‘Made in China’ label attached. The tedious and mundane work of people slaving away in a factory that we never, ever think about is brought up close and personal to us in this series. We are faced with the actual hands that assemble that plastic action figure your child will forget about in 30 minutes.






For the art installation of this series, Michael Wolf attached 16,000 toys made in such factories on the walls surrounding his images, giving us a powerful look at the products made by these anonymous elves.


I came back from a visit to Mainland China just a few weeks ago, where the poverty is extreme and the people are many. Getting jostled by the some of the millions of people that work for pennies doing tasks that no one really thinks twice about really made me appreciate everything I have and the opportunities afforded to me here in the US. So, as you finish up those purchasing last few gifts this year, perhaps think of this series and the people behind that toy you just paid $8.98 for.

To see more of Michael Wolf’s photos from this project, check out his website here. Wolf also has other fascinating series’ all about life in cities and they can be viewed here.

CREDITS : Photographs by Michael Wolf have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.