Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Y Is For Yesteryear

Watching The Master Of His Craft



Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON







When you think about it, you don’t often get a chance to photograph master craftsmen at work. And I’m talking about real crafts here – blacksmiths, farriers, coopers, scribes, shearers, drovers and the like. So when I saw this blacksmith working silently but industriously at Huntsville, Ontario, I simply had to get out not one camera but two.



He was hard at work in the Muskoka Pioneer Village when I shot these images in late 2005. The light outdoors was dull and inside his timber hut, things were even murkier. But that suited me right down to the ground. I was trying to capture reality here, so it was quite fitting that there was no electric light dominating the scene.



Transfixed, I watched him at work for several minutes, even though I had a full schedule for the day. At this point, I faced an interesting dilemma. As a naturally friendly person, I generally greet a stranger. More to the point, before I photograph anyone, I make it a point of asking, simply because some people (understandably) find it intrusive to be photographed by someone they don’t know.






But I somehow thought that if I’d gone into the hut and introduced myself, it could perhaps have compromised the quality of what I was trying to capture on film. And when I say "on film", I mean on film, because these images were shot on a Canon EOS 3000 using a film spool. You see, I wanted to shoot a photo essay that was "from the outside, looking in".



I didn’t want anything to look as if it were rehearsed. And in a strange sort of way that approach made it slightly more difficult for me. Had I been by the man’s elbow and had I engaged him in conversation, I would have asked him exactly what he was doing and what procedure he was going to use next. I would have, therefore, been prepared for his every move.



But because I had no idea what he was going to do next, I was unprepared for every move he made. I watched him take a few short steps across to an implement that I had never seen in real life. As he reached over to grasp it, the penny dropped and I realised he was about to use an old-fashioned bellows.


One pump with his arm forced air into the flames, just as I put my camera to my eye. I caught not the full flare of the flame, but I hit the shutter just before the oxygen-fed fire licked back down to normal size.





I had a Pentax Option digital with me too, and I captured a few scenes with that marvelous little camera. I watched as the unknown blacksmith used long tongs to heat a short piece of metal until it glowed orange-red. Then he turned his attention to the metal, not pounding it into shape with a sledgehammer, but tempering it with short strokes calculated to encourage the heated molecules to take on a slightly different shape.



Later, when I checked the photographs on my computer, I must admit I felt a twinge of disappointment. Just a slight twinge, mind you. I felt I hadn’t quite adjusted the aperture and the speed to the best settings. I felt I had sacrificed clarity as well as crispness of each image. Silently, I chided myself for not having experimented with different settings on the Canon while the blacksmith put his ancient art on display to an audience of just one person.



But much later, when I thought about the photo essay in the exact context of what I strove to capture, I began to see that I had captured the images to faithfully reflect what I was privileged to see that day. I had set out to capture reality – and I think that is pretty much what I achieved.





or the home of ABC Wednesday, go to Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

31 comments:

Gary said...

Always a joy to watch a real craftsman at work and you captured it beautifully.

Gary
Bodge's Bulletin.

A.Bananna said...

I like how you took these shots! great behind the scenes shots!

pat houseworth said...

Nice story/photos. I could only hope to have a skill that takes the patience and time.

CrazyCath said...

What a wonderful "Y" post! Yesteryear it is. I remember blacksmiths at work. A real art. This was brilliantly captured as you so rightly saw in the end, genuinely showing the work as natural as it is.
Great stuff.

Hilary said...

I love those pioneer villages that seem to dot much of Ontario. Great captures as always, David.

Maggie May said...

We used to have a blacksmith near us until the last year or so. was good to watch him at work. Not many about now!

Your EG Tour Guide said...

Wonderful capture of a craftsman at work. I enjoy visiting the various pioneer villages around Ontario. Someday when we run out of oil, we may rely on people who know how to do things in simpler ways. What do YOU think?

willow said...

I absolutely love the craft of the blacksmith. And I'm not sure exactly why...maybe somewhere back in my gene pool?

Craver Vii said...

Silently? You said the blacksmith was working silently? I suppose you mean that he was not talking, but that looks like a noisy job to me.

Now that I have reached my daily heckling quotient, I'll agree that it is a rare thing to see this kind of thing, and I appreciate the post, David.

Betsy said...

I love to watch this kind of thing..it's amazing. Glass blowing is amazing to watch, too!

Sandi McBride said...

Under a spreading chestnut-tree is all I can think of seeing this... DO you know the one I mean? Longfellow, I think....
Under the spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
a lovely poem...a striking photo!
Sandi

Katney said...

You always find something fascinating. Carry on.

Michele (Rocky Mtn.Girl) said...

It's an art and either way you look at it, it's still beautiful!
Very nice post!
Mountain Retreat Photos

leslie said...

Just last week I was at Fort Langley, an historic site here, and was privileged to have a similar experience. Great series of shots, as per usual. Hope you and your family are having a great holiday!

Judy said...

My husband is starting to get into Blacksmithing. He would enjoy this post.

Andrea said...

Wow, these are great shots and the post is so interesting.

ellen b said...

Well done David! It really is great to see a craftsman at work. Creative idea for Y!

Charles Gramlich said...

I watched one of these guys in Austin when we vacated for Katrina. It was also a Pioneer village. Amazing work they do.

my imaginary said...

nice photos of ur Y

Mine in here Thanks

Picturing of Life said...

wonderful Y

Visit me in here Thanks

me ann my camera said...

We often visit an historical village and one of my favourite stops is always the blacksmith shop. Nice memory post.

babooshka said...

I used to live near the "black Country Museum" near The very forst Ironbridge in the world called Ironbridge. Doh! This was fascinating for me to read.

Texas Travelers said...

The realism of the photographs and the craft of telling the tale was outstanding.

Well done and thanks for sharing this bit of history.

Troy

Neva said...

I missed the Glass blower a few weeks ago...they were not working the day we visited the glass factory...I love your post...really nice today.

I missed last week so here are 2 Y's! Neva and
Neva2

Helena said...

Hullo!

Now David, this was a great idea for 'y' but I do think you cheated. LOL!

imac said...

Even when you not here or there David, you come up with a great post.lol

pop and see my Y.

Denise said...

A true gem! Yes our heritage and history!

Nydia said...

This post reminded me of my brother, who's a proessional photographer here in Brazil. Obviously, he's obssessed with perfection, but also obviously, sometimes spontaneity demands the lack of perfection, like in these photos of yours, so they become perfect! ... Did it make sense? Hope so...
Hugs from Nydia.

John said...

What a nice and interesting post for the letter Y! As alway great shots, too.

esnorway said...

nice y nice story

Paulie said...

I love it to see re-enactments like this! We have it on a small scale at Fort Vancouver around Thanksgiving and Christmas. I think your photos are just perfect for the occasion. Come and see my Y post.