Porcelain, strong and yet fragile



Porcelain is a fantastic material first created around 2000 years ago in China and is strong, tough and fairly translucent developed by heating Kaolin to temperatures of around 12-1,400 degrees.  The photograph is called porcelain due to the smooth whiteness of the child’s skin. Light is essential in photography, however, the lack of light can make an interesting image. The face in the photograph emphasizes youth and age, the lower part of the face looks new, whilst the upper shows some wear. Children are strong, beautiful and precious just like fine china, but just like porcelain they are dependent on a safe environment to thrive.


The European name, porcelain in English, come from the old Italian porcellana because of its resemblance to the translucent surface of the shell. The pottery can also be referred to as china or fine china in some English-speaking countries, as it was first seen in imports from China. Properties include low permeability and elasticity; considerable strength, hardness, toughness, whiteness, translucency and resonance; and a high resistance to chemical attack and thermal shock.

Porcelain has been described as being “completely vitrified, hard, impermeable, white or artificially coloured, translucent, and resonant.”  Traditional East Asian thinking only classifies pottery into low-fired wares and high-fired wares, without the intermediate European class of stoneware. Many local types of stoneware were mostly classed as porcelain, though often not white and translucent. Terms such as “porcellaneous”  may be used in such cases. A high proportion of modern porcelain is made of the variant bone china.


Kaolin is the primary material from which porcelain is made. Even though clay minerals might account for only a small proportion of the whole. The word “paste” is an old term for both the un-fired and fired material. A more common terminology these days for the un-fired material is “body”; for example, when buying materials a potter might order an amount of porcelain body from a vendor.

The composition of porcelain is highly variable, but the clay mineral Kaolinite is often a raw material. Other raw materials can include feldspar, ball clay, glass, bone ash, Steatite, quartz, Petuntse and alabaster.

Clays used are often described as being long or short, depending on their plasticity. Long clays are cohesive (sticky) and have high plasticity; short clays are less cohesive and have lower plasticity. In soil mechanics, plasticity is determined by measuring the increase in content of water required to change a clay from a solid state bordering on the plastic, to a plastic state bordering on the liquid. Though the term is also used less formally to describe the facility with which a clay may be worked. Clays used for porcelain are generally of lower plasticity and are shorter than many other pottery clays. They wet very quickly, meaning that small changes in the content of water can produce large changes in work-ability. Thus, the range of water content within which these clays can be worked is very narrow and consequently should be carefully controlled. – Wikipedia

Photography Tips:

To capture an image like ‘Porcelain’, you do not necessarily require a studio (though great if you have access to one), you just need a suitable dark location. I did not use any flash guns or lamps to create this shot, I did however use a small torch. Light comes in many forms so be creative, try different sources, locations, angles and have fun with it. Next step is a willing model, children in middle child hood 6-11 years old can be ideal for this type of work, due to their imagination, creativity and curiosity. This photograph is not just about light but also shadow, the two tones both compliment each other.  Once the desired image was captured I then proceeded to the editing stage. In Photoshop I adjusted the following settings: contrast, highlights, clarity, blur, brush work.

Photography and Psychology

You have probably heard the phrase “What doesn’t defeat you, makes you stronger“? Well this is not always true, especially with regards to children raised in damaging environments and victims of sexual abuse etc. Children and adults can show a high level of resilience in coping with lifes stressors or past experiences. This form of coping may seem resilient to outsiders, and in some cases can be. However, for the individual suffering, they may think they are resilient or ‘coping’, but they are actually internalising their problems and not dealing with them. Some people can put on a brave face or appear to be fine, but behind the act is a different story.
Children may be resilient and strong at coping with certain situations and may actually be a positive developmental outcome for them. They can also be extremely vulnerable to other stressors in life, so what doesn’t defeat you may make you stronger, it can also make you a lot weaker in other areas.
If you work with or know children\adults who have had a traumatic past, its helpful to keep this in your mind set and just because they survived, doesnt mean they no longer need support. 
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