Modern Thinker





This is my interpretation of Rodin's classic sculpture, the "Thinker". Topics include:

The Modern Thinker  2009
This is the final result.

Background  2009
The original sculpture of the Thinker was by Rodin started in 1879.

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I wanted to convey the concept of the modern electrical age with the barrage of electrical interference in our lives. So much is happening and demanding our attention that it is difficult to "think".

I decided upon a real life posture like the Thinker with a lot of electrical activity around me with sparks onto my body. 

In doing this I wanted to do something new that also challenged the boundaries and that is new to the internet.  I decided to use my established techniques of long exposures and a moving rod trailing sparks with an "eye of Sauron" effect.  The aim was to have a semicircle of sparks over my body while in the "thinker" pose.

Mechanical and high voltage setup  2009

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Above shows how the output of my 4 inch diameter Tesla coil is directed by a rod so that it can spark onto me sitting on a chair. 

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Above in the left photo you can see sparks onto a wire frame. In the center photo the voltage is cranked up giving large streamers. The right photo shows some early attempts at a mechanical linkage with part of it burning up.

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Above is a sequence of 3 double exposures to show the effect of the mechanical linkage to direct the sparks around the body. I am not next to the sparks, this is a double exposure to demonstrate the position.

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Above the left photo shows a long exposure of the sparks above forming a (sort of) semicircular ring of sparks around the chair where I would sit. Very untidy but a better linkage in the right photo demonstrates the principle better.  The frame is just to simulate my height and seating position.

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Here is how an operator will direct the arm in a semicircle. "It ain't fancy but it's chee-eep". A black backdrop has been added.

The face mask 2009
Allowing the sparks to contact my body or face directly is not safe of course. A single spark that gets past the defenses would throw me to the ground in intense pain like a Taser shock. Multiple sparks would also stop me breathing and be fatal eventually. Hopefully my loving wife at the controls would turn off power before then.

Sparks in close proximity to a body are impressive. I have used a Faraday cage before (the popular Dalek cage) but I wanted something more direct. Sparks need to contact metal and not my skin. They also must have a continuous path to ground preferably a broad one with no joins or potentials for failure to prevent any voltage drop developing and causing a shock.
I considered a number of options. I tried copper foil and made a mask and headgear of this  which was effective and safe but crinkly and not cosmetic. It worked though and high voltage to my head was not noticeable.

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Above the rather stiff and fragile copper foil doesn't mould to a head shape well. It does make the sparks safe but looks like a horror mask.  Long aluminum straps go from the mask to ground level. Let's try something better.

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Above the fine wire mask which is based on the simpler version that I used successfully in the pool.   It uses very fine strands of stainless steel wire. It is designed for safety and minimal facial coverage. This will be joined to the suit.

The safety suit 2009

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Above I did try various metallic cloths without success when subjected to spark testing.  Despite having metallic looking thread they are poor conductors.

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Above shows my hand covered with foil and a stocking and does seem to take sparks without problems.  I eventually settled on builders insulating foil. This is a foil backed by fibreglass and plastic and is thin but strong enough for me not to be able to tear it by hand.

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Above shows me simply wrapped up in the builders foil. First with tentative low power then higher power prolonged shots. No sensation or discomfort at all.  So the concept seems to work.  Now just need to make a better suit.

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Above shows different stages . The arms and shoulders were not bonded to the main suit but were in good contact with the body aver a wide area.  The wig is not ideal and really needs a haircut. I couldn't light it with sparks so fire risk seems low. The hands look a bit artificial but everything else is safely covered.

Silversuit worn uncovered Silversuit worn covered  Silversuit inside
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Above shows a later tidier suit which is a (sort of) fitted with a zip up front.  Much easier to get in and out of so gets more than just one use like the old one which had the silver surface ruined by the tape. It has lost a lot of the silver when you look at the inside but most of the silver squares are still joined at one point. OK for this TC but not the larger one I suspect.  Still very hot to wear.   This was not the one used for the pictures below though.

So time to get setup.

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Above in the left photo is my son Michael (previously seen clapping smoke rings and sitting in the TC on the car) who is controlling the linkage.  In the center photo I am setting up the sidelighting. In the right photo, Jane sets a sparkler.

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Above in the left photo you can see sparks to the fine wires of the mask while I "think".   In the right photo I thought it looked better to get a sparkler in the picture attached to the tip of the sparking rod. Sparks strike my knee without sensation.

Now time for some shooting.

The Thinker and variations 2009

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Above,  you can see sparks the effect I intended as well as a close-up of the sparks.

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Above in the left photo you can see the effect of just placing a sparkler on the end of the rod to add more color and action.  Throwing a few tea light candles in helps as well. My face is rather obscured by the sparks though.

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Above in the left photo you can see some fluoro tubes which light up themselves with tea light candles at the ends of them.  It is a better photo as the face is not obscured. The pentagram of lights seems to be an awfully mixed metaphor.  The right photo is one of my favourites and shows sparks from my foot onto the ground.

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If you play with high voltage, make sure your rubber shoes don't have holes... This was getting uncomfortable hot and I had to wriggle my toes which causes some foot motion blur.

This photo in the media 2009
Generated 50,000 hits to my site in 1 week.
Featured in 60 sites (look for Modern Thinker note on the sites listed in Backwards links). Popular in UK and Australia.
On TV (Today Tonight May 4 2009)
In print with details on Media page
Guardian (UK newspaper) ran it as their centrefold on 23/4/09.
The Independent (UK newspaper) had a picture on 23/4/09.
The West Australian (Australian newspaper).
6 online newspapers had features including Daily Mail, Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald and the Age.
Magazines including VICE magazine, Zoo magazine, BZ magazine and Nuts have printed articles.

One might speculate that with well over 1 million views that it may have been seen by more people than say Rodin's original in his lifetime. (1 million people = 100 per day for 30 years). His sculpture became more popular decades after his death. Of course this might just be a reflection of the pervasiveness of the current media rather than my artistic ability.


By Mollie Groenheide

There is a saying of true fact

That the greatest unexplored area

In the world

Is under ones hat!!

There may be a person of exception

Who has truly seen the light!

Under his hat of invention

He creates images of artistic sights.

The courage of mountain climbers

Is inherent in many who endeavor to achieve,

To venture over the safety line

With dedicated belief to succeed.

Negatives, Positives, and circuit decisions

Surely demand accurate precision

To create firey rings and fantastic images

Effects real amazement by patients and visitors.

The enlarged photo in the waiting room

Is a conversation piece its true

And everyone moves closer for a better view

To seek the incredible knowledge of the truth.

The beautiful image arcing car and youth

Is a photo enlarged the proof of truth.

These electrical images incredibly mystic

Seem captured matter as if simplistic.

Though when the details in print are read,

It is perceived that only he who dares,

Has ventured, where very few would tread,

Surely all applaud, that under this hat

There is indeed a head

Quite explored.


Mollie is a patient of mine and in a few months will be 80 years old.

Pass 642-813 as well as 642-832 exam on time guaranteed with help of 350-030 online training by pass4sure.

This page was last updated August 20, 2010