Floating Heads

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Sculpted Clay Heads

Sculpted Clay Heads

Sculpted clay heads and black fabric.

Underexposure, light, shadow, shapes, texture, arrangement, and depth of field.

But where did the heads come from?

My wife, Annie, sculpts heads for the beautiful Driftwood Dancers that she makes. She paints the heads and then mounts them on driftwood ‘bodies’ which she carefully selects to form poses of dance movements. The Dancers are dressed in handmade clothes.  If it is a commissioned Dancer the clothes and the accessories represent a specific person. Annie loves beachcombing and is very creative, so this is a perfect artistic outlet for her. Her sculpting skills have grown quite refined over the last several years.

I saw these heads sitting on her drying rack. The plain off-white clay seemed like it would be interesting to photograph against a black background. So I found some black fabric and constructed a simple enclosure. Over several days I experimented with arrangements, camera position, exposure etc. I tried a tripod, but I couldn’t get the camera low enough to be at the same level as the heads. So I constructed a support of wood and foam core. Since the camera was not attached I had to use a cable-release to avoid camera shake.

I used a wide-angle lens so I could get close to the heads. The enclosure was nearly dark inside and I wanted a long depth of field which required a small aperture setting. So the exposures were long. I wanted the heads to appear to be floating so I underexposed the photos.

It was fun experimenting with the arrangements. Some of the faces are comical and all of them are eerily lifelike. The arrangement in this photo is a teacher and a class, or a presentation to a group, or a choir and conductor. You can use your imagination to decide. Eventually I realized that I had spent too much time trying different arrangements and  put them back on the rack so Annie could paint them.

I can see how making still-life photographs could become very time-consuming. I didn’t even start with a specific plan to make still lifes. It just developed over several days as ideas occurred to me. It was just an experiment. A controlled setting like this is a great learning exercise and can produce unique images.

These heads are about two inches in diameter and the camera was about three or four inches from the closest head. I used a 16-35mm lens. This exposure was 30 seconds at f/20 with the lens set at 22mm. This is natural light with ISO set to 200.

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