Craftsmen and artisans are among the most compelling subjects for documentary photography for their mastery and interesting stories. Despite the reality that many of the tools we use today are made in factories and manufacturing plants, these artists are at the forefront of keeping some of the oldest professions alive. The stories of craftsmen from the Ural region is what piqued the interest of photographers Oleg Kovalyuk, Maxim Loskutov, and Andrey Kuskalo. Together, under the Form 42 collective, they introduce us to the metalsmiths, leather crafters, and artistic forgers who creatively make the tools and items available to those who can appreciate fine craftsmanship.
According to the photographers, the workshop of the Ural artisans featured in their Smithy series sits 40 minutes away from the center of Yekaterinaburg, in the Russian town of Verkhnyaya Pyshma. There, 15 artisans make axes of various shapes and sizes, and the sharpest steel knives kept in genuine, hand-sewn leather cases. The workshops, they say, are where “wood and leather take shape and new meanings.”
The project showcases a day in the life of modern-day smithing masters — blacksmiths, carpenters, metalworkers, and wood and leather craftsmen — in dramatic environmental portraits. “In their daily work, they all look like a canonical hard rock band. “You can imagine modern blacksmiths just like this: leather aprons, thick beards, big hands, and a face slightly black of soot contrasting with blue eyes,” the photographers wrote in their description. However, it’s not completely a man’s world, as they also noticed a girl who works alongside the men as an artisan leather crafter.
“Team of «Ural artisan» is truly colorful. And the most valuable thing about it is that each member of this team does what he or she really likes, and therefore performs tasks conscientiously, with a soul. They say, it is the customers who tell them about the soul: ‘When you take the axe in your hands, you feel that this is not just soulless piece of iron — it is made with a soul, all its curves and lines show it.’ Of course, customers play here a special role.”
Still, the reality remains that workshops like these can’t compete with the better pay provided by bigger companies. So, many of the artisans leave these small businesses and move somewhere else. Their skills are always in great demand, as the photographers noted. However, the artisans who remain and keep doing these specialized smithing work do understand that they need to develop and present their craft in a new way.
The photographers have more stories, anecdotes, and behind the scenes photos for the project, so do check out the full Smithy series on Behance.
All photos by Oleg Kovalyuk, Maxim Loskutov, and Andrey Kuskalo. Used with Creative Commons permission.