Image Source photographer Julian Love’s Handmade London is a beautifully observed series of environmental portraits, documenting the workspaces of people who rely on the creativity of their hands for a living
Richard Sennett’s widely admired book The Craftsman, exploring the sophisticated ‘knowledge’ of people who use their hands to make a living, was published just as the financial wizards of Wall Street and the City were sending western economies into freefall. It struck a chord with readers seeking to cling on to the idea of something more substantial in the wake of the financial bubble – ‘Authenticity’ trend? Check.
Julian Love’s Handmade London project is a celebration of craftsmen and women connected to the world in very concrete and physical ways.
You see it in the way his images are lit and composed, each environment furnished with unfamiliar objects – what they mean is part of the secret craft of the maker. Love’s narratives suggest how these objects and tools, are extensions of the mind of the maker – and the composition shows us how ‘makers’ see their work space. They’re intimate, full of the signs of making, of the textures and materials that furnishes the world of the ‘maker.’ Love’s lens, for example, picking out the threads in the coffeemaker’s workspace of the hessian bags, the dull grey steels, and the wooden shelving, all connected, all working together according to the rhythms of the artisan.
Or the maker’s halo around designer Naomi Paul whose strange objects – part light, part sombrero, part droplet – float from the ceiling. Handmade London always displays a busy order, the mind of the maker mapped out in the rolls and boxes of cotton, the thin steel frame, the stacked plastic boxes. Everything is to hand, near, familiar.
It reflects Sennett’s core features of craftsmanship. “Three abilities are the foundation of craftsmanship: to localise, to question and to open up. The first involves making a matter concrete; the second, reflecting on its qualities; the third, expanding its sense. The carpenter establishes the peculiar grain of a single piece of wood, looking for detail; turns the wood over and over, pondering how the pattern on the surface might reflect the structure hidden underneath; decides that the grain can be brought out if he or she uses a metal solvent rather than standard wood varnish. To deploy these capabilities the brain needs to process visual, aural, tactile and language-symbol information simultaneously.”
Love’s images depict moments of concentration, reflection, and most of all the touch and tactility that directs the knowledge of the image-maker. Like the photographer with their machinery that’s connected to the other machinery of hand and eye, the craftsman fuses with the surrounding space. Julian Love’s environmental portraits observe the gestures and balance of hand and eye, there’s a seamlessness between the psychological and physiological which is the mark of the maker.
No surprise Julian Love’s Handmade London project features in this year’s prestigious Creative Review Annual.
1. A shot of a single object that expresses a powerful memory/event
When I first got into photography in my early 20s I bought a Nikon FE2 and a 35mm lens. The next thing I knew I spent 6 months traveling around South America shooting 200 rolls of film, all on my trusty FE2, and that was the start of my travel photography career. I still have it and although it doesn’t get much use these days it’s still an old friend.
2. Three books that have inspired you?
Galen Rowell inspired me to take up photography when I was in my early 20s. His outdoor and adventure photographs were astonishing for the time. I started out as a travel photographer, always wanting to make pictures as good as his. I still vividly remember reading about his death in a plane crash in 2002 in the newspaper.
I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and run to keep fit. Born to Run cleverly combines human evolution, long distance running and the sports shoe industry into a riveting true story. It also convinced me to sign up for my first ultra marathon next year.
I love the outdoors and learned to ski when we moved to Norway when I was 9. A few years ago I ski toured the classic Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt with some friends. It remains one of my greatest experiences and this little book was our guide.
3. Favourite photo you have taken?
I don’t have it with me, but it’s a picture I took when I was about 8 years old of the wall of our house with my pet cat staring out of my bedroom window. We moved abroad the following year and had to leave her with my cousins, and that photo remains my best memory of her. So yes, it’s a cat photo =)
4. Favourite artist/photographer/image-maker?
There are so many creative people I admire it’s very hard to single out any, but I just saw the ‘Only in England’ exhibition showcasing Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr at the new Media Space gallery in the Science Museum. Both are exceptional observational photographers and their work playfully exposes some of our eccentricities. Amazing work.
5. What inspired Handmade London?
I had intended to shoot a project about the independent coffee scene in London, as I’m a fanatical consumer of the stuff. But just as I was about to get the ball rolling my assistant brought in a copy of the FT Weekend magazine showing something very similar. I was gutted I’d been beaten to it but after an deep breath and a coffee decided to broaden the scope to include anyone that made interesting things by hand or in a traditional, non-mass produced way.
6. The lighting and the busyness of the spaces help concentrate and focus the image. What technical decisions did you make around shooting?
The pictures are lit very deliberately to highlight the environment as much as the person. In order to get the lighting on every part of the scene perfect, I shot several exposures, varying the lighting each time to highlight a different area each time, and then blended them together on the computer.
7. The project feels like an observation on craftsmen and women’s unique relationship to objects, their tools. How did you select the subjects and how did they see their portraits?
The first portrait I shot was a friend of mine, Naomi Paul (see above). It was a very new style of shooting for me, so that way if I screwed it up it didn’t matter very much. That shoot went really well so then I started approaching people I or my friends had seen or read about. Once I had a few pictures to show, it was easier to get people on board. My assistant researched a lot of people and sometimes the people we photograph suggest friends or colleagues. So a bit of a mixture really.
8. What was the most surprising discovery in the series?
That 90% of honey bees die over the winter. And just how much skill, time and effort goes in to creating some things that we tend to take for granted.
9. One ambition?
We keep saying how small the world has become with the telephone and the Internet and cheap air travel. But it’s actually still enormous and endlessly fascinating, so I’d like to see and experience as much of it as possible while I can.
Julian Love’s personal website
Julian Love on Image Source