Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Andrew Smith's Steel Soul

I mentioned Andrew Smith's Steel Soul earlier and because the project is so much a labour of love, a labour that emerges from a fascination with something that is out there in the real world, I put a few questions to him.

It also gives me an excuse to run a few more pictures; the one above is by Andrew Smith and the ones below are by some of the great industrial photographers; Maurice Broomfield, Walter Nurnberg and Wolfgang Sievers. 
Buy the book here. 

Where did you get your passion for industrial photography.

I think that it developed over a couple of years.

The first photobook that I ever bought was Robert Adams 'The New West'. I've no idea why I was browsing  the book shop shelves that day, as at that time I had a quite undeveloped interest in taking photographs.  The book was face out, and the simplicity, starkness, and strangeness of the cover just grabbed me. I bought it,  even though it seemed a bit hostile at that time. That book made me realise just how creative an outlet photography  could be.

This is where I first encountered industrial subjects, beautiful industrial subjects. This in turn led me to
the New Topographics, then onto the Bechers, John Davies, and then Maurice Broomfield, Wolfgang Sievers, Walter Nurnberg. I made the connections via the books and Internet searching etc.

During this period of time I also made the transition from point and shoot compacts to a DSLR setup. I think it was the 2nd   compact that I owned that let you get into the the manual controls easily, that really pushed me to get a DSLR.   Once the DSLR arrived I went out landscaping, I would just photograph anything, but one day I found an enclosure out  in the countryside that contained some kind of gas facility. I'm not really sure what it's actual function is to this day.  But that is definitely how it all started.

How did you make Steel Soul?

Steel Soul came about through a succession of pieces of good fortune.

The east end of Sheffield, the Lower Don Valley, is the area where the heavy steel industry was established, where it  grew to it's peak, and where it was eventually decimated. The area has been regenerated, so now there are the usual  drive-to leisure destinations, office space, retail parks, malls etc, but if you get out there and poke around industry past and present is visible.

In 2009 I took a lot of photographs there and made a hand bound book called 'Valley, that was now, this is then'. I got to  exhibit a number of these photographs in a disused shop window in the center of Sheffield. A curator who was putting together a group exhibition that was looking at how industry had changed the architectural face of Sheffield saw the work. I was asked  to contribute. The images that I hung were 3 nearly sequential photographs, a trilogy, of the buildings on one part of  Forgemasters site. The chief executive of Forgemasters became aware of the photographs, and his PA rang me to arrange a
meeting. At the subsequent meeting I was invited on-site to photograph the steel manufacturing processes.

Who are your influences?

I think my visual influences are many really, and not all are photographers, and sometimes it may be just a particular work or book. Things shift around,  there is so much to discover. I like Walter Nurnberg (Men and Machines), Wolfgang Sievers, Gerhard Richter's landscapes, Stephen Shore, Luigi Ghirri,  Gabriele Basilico, Vermeer, Robert Adams, Paul Morrison, Eric and James Ravilious to name but a few. I also like a number of the Cafe Royal books  that have been published recently.

What are the characteristics of great industrial photography?

I like industrial photography that has some intrigue. I like to look at what is being presented and to not initially have much of a clue as to what I am   looking at, or why I'm being required to look at it. I think the not knowing what, but being somehow fascinated, is testament to the skill of people like   Broomfield, Nurnberg, and Sievers. Of course we always find out eventually due to the text. I wanted to see if I could achieve a little of this with Steel Soul,  hence the separation of images and text (the simple descriptions are in a table near the end of the book). Perhaps the opposite of what I am trying to describe  are the images typically found in corporate literature, but these images are functional and documentary by their nature, and neccessary, and often beautiful.

How did Steel Soul get funded and published?

Steel Soul at the present time has 2 elements, the book and the exhibition. The exhibition, in the Sheffield Winter Garden, finishes on 15/06/13.  The exhibition was very generously funded by the Arts Council as it was a part of the Sheffield Galvanize festival of contemporary metal. This is a bi-annual festival that encompasses all the metalworking traditions within the city - cutlers, jewellers, silversmiths, heavy industry. This year is the centenary of the discovery of stainless steel in the city by Harry Brearley, so the festival has seen quite a lot of focus.

The Steel Soul book was funded and published by myself. Forgemasters have licensed a number of the images, this allowed me to finance the production of the  book. It's the 3rd book under my BYMYI imprint, the 2 others being 2 editions of the Vélo book that accompanied the Vélo project last year.

How will you continue the steel project?

I'm hoping to develop Steel Soul into a set of documents over time, so 'Steel from xxx'. We will see. I'm hoping that the Forgemasters  work may open a few doors and lead me to some new industrial subjects. I do have a few places in mind. I also have a number of other non-industrial projects
at various stages of development...although some do have an industrial element.

How do you find your work?

Steel Soul developed due to the good fortune previously described, but I suppose that most of the time the work finds me through what's going on inside my head.   For instance, the Vélo project came about from a combination of reading Tim Krabbé's book 'The Rider' many years ago, and then fantasising about my ideal of the ideal cycling photobook whilst out cycling one day. Ideas can come from what I'm reading, looking at, or listening to, people I meet etc.

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