The Blacksmiths Profiles a Disappearing Craft

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All images by Dan Bannister. Used with permission.

Some portrait projects are also documentary projects–that’s the case behind Dan Bannister’s latest series called: The Blacksmiths. This project was important to him because he loves pursuing personal projects in addition to his commercial work. It was designed to bring light (so to speak) to manufacturing business being sent offshore in addition to the rate that it’s been disappearing. Further, the project uses creative framing and lighting to highlight the hard work that these people do for their craft.

Dan has been featured on the Phoblographer before for his #wokeuplikethis photo project. As you can tell, Dan has an affinity for photographing people.

Phoblographer: What made you want to create a portrait documentary project on Blacksmiths?

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Dan: I always try to add variety to my photography by pursuing personal projects alongside my commercial work. I’ve always been keenly aware of the trend of “offshoring” and globalization in general. Manufacturing, especially small craft manufacturers and local business, have been disappearing at an alarming rate over the past 10 years. In general, it seems like it’s getting harder and harder to find locally made products as companies send their manufacturing offshore to lower prices but, in the long term, this is at the cost of local jobs and trades like blacksmithing.

In most places, especially in North America, if you want a beautiful, well made coat rack for your home, you’ll have a hard time finding one that’s not mass produced in a developing country and frankly, it won’t likely be something that you’ll be proud to own in 10 years time. The idea of finding a local craftsperson to custom make one for you is a bit foreign now but, at one time, people like blacksmiths were a staple of a local economy and you could go to them, have something made specifically for you and it would last a lifetime or longer. Now, for the most part, we seek out the cheapest solution and toss it away when it falls apart or goes out of style in a year or two.

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This seems a bit sad to me and when a friend mentioned to me that she did blacksmithing as a hobby and knew people who did it for a living, I was very interested and really wanted to make a portrait of one. This eventually led me to meeting other blacksmiths and photographing a number of them as well as making a mini documentary about one in particular.

Phoblographer: The series is a mix of environmental portraits, detail shots of hands and the products that they make. How do you feel that these helped you get your creative message across about the blacksmiths in the project?

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Dan: Well, I hope that viewers find the images to be both beautiful and intriguing. I hope that they showcase the incredible quality and craftsmanship that these people are capable of and the goal would be to have people think twice about buying goods mass produced offshore and seek out more locally made crafted goods and appreciate that in doing so, they’re supporting local trades that contribute to their communities.

Phoblographer: Many of the images are very high contrast, was this an artistic move to bring more emphasis to the subjects? Why the specific look?

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Dan: I originally decided to render the images in black and white and I actually have some large prints in my home of these images as black and whites, which I love but, in terms of presenting them more publicly, I decided that showing the trade of blacksmithing in black and white would be too “old fashioned” and might prevent it’s wider appeal so, I decided to process present the project with a more modern treatment that still accentuates the work and draws attention to the products they are making.

Phoblographer: How did you go about explaining the project to these guys and getting them to let you photograph them?

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Dan: To be honest, getting the subjects to agree was the easiest part. I’ve done personal projects in the past where getting the subjects on board was the most difficult part for a lot of different reasons but, in this case, explaining to them that I wanted to showcase their work and make a statement about craftsmanship and the concept of supporting “made local” goods was all it took to gain their support.

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