It’s 25 years now since I was first contacted by the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. They were looking for someone to make a series of specially commissioned trophies for the winners of this prestigious international photography competition.
Those very first trophies were presented by none other than Sir David Attenborough. Every year I sculpt the animals that appears in the winning photographs. I do this for both the Young and Overall winners. I never know what the animal will be. It’s always a thrill to open the image files for the first time to discover what my challenge will be each year.
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year overall winner for 2023, Laurent Ballesta, is unique. He is the first photographer to win the overall competition twice. He first lifted the trophy in 2021 with his astonishing image of spawning camouflage grouper fish.
This year Laurent was again crowned overall winner with an ethereal photograph of a shimmery golden horseshoe crab. Looking almost like an extraterrestrial spaceship, the gilded carapace of the arthropod gliding through the dark waters took the judging panel by surprise.
To see a horseshoe crab so vibrantly alive in its natural habitat, in such a hauntingly beautiful way, was astonishing… This photo is luminescent.
When I first saw the image I was captivated by this extraordinary creature’s otherworldliness. It seemed to be encased in what looked like gold plated armour. This is obviously the most distinctive feature of this unusual Tri-spine. It was therefore essential to model this accurately for the trophy.
After extensive research, I set about sculpting the crab in my fortified porcelain clay. To achieve the correct finish, I tested a number of glazes before settling on the effect you see here, which conveys the metallic feel I was after.
I used metal and other media to create the delicate extremities and suspended the horseshoe crab using perspex rods, giving the impression that the crab is swimming over its polished granite plinth. The reflective surface of the plinth reinforces the feeling of shimmering gold that is such an alluring feature of the golden horseshoe crab.
A photograph of barn owls framed in the window of a derelict building secured the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award for aspiring wildlife photographer Carmel Bechler. For the trophy I wanted to capture the owl’s probing stare and celebrate the shapes and patterns in the bird’s beautiful pelage.
The blaze of neon lights passing the owls as they look out from their roost highlights the growing tension between humans and wildlife as we encroach on habitats.
A light touch is needed to convincingly render a bird’s feathers. Too much detail results in a static sculpture. A more impressionistic approach captures more of the bird’s dynamism. A delicate balance must be found to achieve the right effect. I used layers of underglaze to achieve the owl’s subtle colouration. I mounted the finish sculpture on a piece of local slate.
I highly recommend you take some time to browse the winning and commended images of this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. I can’t wait to see what next year’s competition will bring!