In this modern age of robotics and machines crafting much of the items we see around us, very few of us pays notice to the remaining members of the working class who still toil with their own set of hands, creating things we still find useful. Such is the case of the skilled laborers whose artistic prowess and form were perfectly captured by the camera of photographer Dean Bradshaw in his ‘Craftsmen’ series. Bridging the gap between today to decades past where workers mostly work with their hands as opposed to pushing buttons of machines and computer keyboards. With each of Dean’s composition, the art of crafting a creation isn’t lost in each chirping of a wood by a carpenter or every sparks produced by a machinist, shot on each workplace location in downtown Los Angeles and Venice, California.
To learn more about this fascinating series, Resource Magazine reached out to Dean Bradshaw for a short interview:
1. What inspired you to tell a visual narrative of the working class in your Craftsmen series?
Both conceptually and visually, I’m inspired by the idea of craftsmanship and the lifestyle of people who create by hand. Much of my work is character driven, and these craftsmen embody an element of authentic character that is quite unique and in need of celebration, particularly in the west where these ‘small trades’ are becoming less and less common in the face of mass production. Visually, photographing and filming these guys is somewhat irresistible. They are often working in workspaces that look like something out of movie set – filling it with sparks and smoke as they work away. While to them the work is often simple and uninteresting, to an outsider it can be fascinating. I also think part of my interest is a reaction to the prevailing digital lifestyle we all find ourselves in – constantly tethered to our devices, clicking away and infrequently creating something tangible. The overwhelming desire to explore and show lifestyles that are so different to my own was definitely one of the driving forces behind this series.
2. How do you set up the visuals and the mood for each of your shots?
This series was really refreshing for me, as I relinquished so much of the order and control that is such a big part of so much of my commercial work. My work is generally intricately planned and
story-boarded, with large production crews and all the bells and whistles. This series was the opposite. I shot each series with the help of one or two assistants and I would simply follow these craftsmen around as they went about their day.
I offered almost no direction, as each of them were on the clock and I didn’t want to interfere with their ability to get their work done. In this sense the photography process was very much documentary inspired, although the cinematic lighting was based more on my experiences shooting motion and creating mood, an important component in most of my work. I have spent a lot of time shooting motion alongside my stills projects. This has taught me so much about working with available and continuous light and blending the two. I knew that I wanted to bring a dark, dramatic mood to these images whilst keeping the series as authentic as possible by leveraging existing light – so we augmented with continuous Kino Flo and LED sources where needed.
3. What are the similarities and dissimilarities of a craftsmen with a photographer?I think in the past when we used film and developed in a darkroom there was more of a physical
similarity in that we’d be creating tangible products and working manually. It was arguably more mysterious and romantic than the digital process, though that had its advantages and disadvantages. Now, with digital photography, I think the lifestyles are quite different. As a commercial photographer I find more of my time than I’d like is spent at a desk, on email, conference calls and in post production. I think in many cases we yearn for that tactile approach, hence my fascination with people creating by hand.
4. What kind of camera and gear do you always bring to a photography shoot?
Every shoot is different, but as of this moment I primarily use two cameras for my photography, a Phase One IQ180 and Hasselblad H4x body as well as a Nikon D810. I shot most of the craftsmen series on the Nikon D810, although the woodworker was photographed with the both the D810 and Phase One IQ250 which I was testing out at the time. I am very much into lighting in my work, so bringing the right lighting equipment is very important.
I generally use strobes for my photography, but on this series used a combination of Kino Flos and LED sources to augment the existing light as I find them more intuitive to blend with available light in these kinds of scenarios.
5. Any other photography projects coming soon?
Besides the commercial projects that are the basis for much of my work, I’m always working on a number of different personal projects at once – I think it keeps my attention span and curiosity
satisfied to bounce between different things. This year, I’ll be extending the Craftsmen series with video components to support the stills and also continuing the ‘Golden Years’ series that I started last year, showing seniors engaged in more youthful pursuits than one might imagine. We also have a couple of overseas trips planned for a new series that I’m really excited about.