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Hayford diorama-based photograph to be made into ‘Art Lives Here’ billboard


The Alliance for the Arts has revealed the artists who’ve been chosen to participate in Art Lives Here 2.0. One of the terrific 12 is Stephen Hayford, whose photographed diorama You Never Know What You’re Going to Get will soon grace a Lee County billboard.

New to the term diorama? It refers to a model representing a scene with three-dimensional figures either in miniature or as a large-scale museum exhibit. Tracing its origins to 19th Century mobile theatre, dioramas today are common in museums like the Smithsonian. Locally, IMAG History & Science Center features a diorama of the February 20, 1865 Battle of Fort Myers. The Edison & Ford Winter Estates features a diorama of Thomas Edison’s botanical laboratory that Hayford created several years ago.

But because dioramas can take up quite a bit of space, they are difficult to exhibit at an art gallery or center. So after he creates each intricately constructed scene (which typically involves laser cutting, hand cutting and sculpting props from clay and painting figures, structures and backgrounds with washes, weathering and faux finishes), Hayford photographs the diorama hundreds of times using elaborate and varied lighting set-ups. He then takes these photographs into Photoshop, where he edits and layers the images to produce his finished product like the one that’s been juried into the Art Lives Here! Billboard Campaign.

“When I was in photojournalism I frequently covered tarpon fishing tournaments off Boca Grande,” says Stephen of the photograph that’s been juried into the Art Lives Here! Billboard Campaign. “In every tournament, without fail, some unlucky angler would be reeling in a prize-contender only for it to be snatched by a shark before it got to the boat. I also would often witness casual anglers who let their rods sit while they took a nap. You Never Know What You’re Going To Get is what I imagine when both those scenarios collide.

Hayford is versatile. His dioramas cover a range of genres.

He’s world-famous for his Star Wars dioramas, which he creates for Lucasfilm. Other companies who’ve commissioned dioramas include Disney and Lego. But the bulk of his work offers slice-of-life commentary that draws upon his more than 20 year career as as photojournalist. In that capacity, Hayford photographed several world leaders, important cultural events, devastating storms and historical meetings. He worked with The Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, the Miami Herald, Rocky Mountain News and other newspapers and wire services in Colorado, Ohio, Missouri and Florida. He became well-versed in Southwest Florida issues covering the area for nine years with The News-Press.

His diorama-based photographs have been the subject of a number of well-attended exhibitions locally. In fact, he just opened a solo show called Plasticity in the second floor Capital Gallery of the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center on March 6 that, unfortunately, was truncated by the COVID-19 outbreak. In April of 2016, the Founders Gallery at BIG ARTS exhibited his Fantastic Plastic collection. Other venues have included the Lee County Library System’s Third Annual Comic Fest and Howl Gallery while it was still located in the River District. He’s also entered a number of pieces in group shows throughout Southwest Florida.

No matter the topic or venue, Hayford’s work is noted for its great attention to detail and lighting. He populates his detailed dioramas with customized action figures that are less than four inches tall. But it’s their subtle gestures that characterize Hayford’s legendary compositional storytelling.

“There are very subtle nuances to human interaction that speak volumes,” Hayford remarks. “I’ve always tried to find ways to translate those subtleties to action figures to make a statement without hitting the viewer over the head with it.”

Hayford says he started customizing action figures and building dioramas in the late 1990s as a way to relieve stress since he covered a lot of death and destruction, ranging from crime scenes to car crashes. He made the transition from photojournalism to full-time diorama-based photography in 2008, after returning from an enlightening trip to Africa.

April 10, 2020.


Spotlight on photography of Stephen Hayford



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