Recently I photographed a sculptor at work. I had asked him to notify me when he was about to light his furnace before pouring the molten bronze into the moulds. The workshop is mottled everywhere in white from the plaster moulds and, as the furnace began to heat up towards the 1000 degrees plus required, aided by a lovely light seeping through the skylights, the whole space was bathed in a very distinct glow, heat waves making the shadows dance on the floor.
Photographing the process whilst trying to capture the intensity of the effort and concentration on Stephen's face and in his muscles (this was very hot, potentially backbreaking work) was thrilling. As Stephen and his assistant braced themselves to lift the large crucible of molten metal so as to be safe and accurate in their pouring (a sequence they rehearsed first every time they did this) the shape of their bodies expressed the tension between balance and strength.
As the afternoon progressed and the workshop became hotter and hotter, the strain was etched on his face by the sweat. At the end of the afternoon, I took some close up portraits of Stephen's fatigue as expressed in his eyes, encouraging him to place his hands up to his face and on top of his head as I had seen him do when he tried to make sure the sweat didn't run into his eyes.
The hands of a sculptor are so expressive. Chipped nails, strong fingers that are used to gripping tools, grasping metal, yet can also shape the most delicate of details on a statue - a combination of smithy, masseur and jewellery maker. They reflect the sculptor's love of his materials, the moulding and managing of them into sublime shapes. Precision and brute force come equally naturally. Initial wax mould to final, burnished bronze statue - all the processes are there almost carved into Stephen's hands themselves. His: fingers and palms betray burns and cuts from past efforts and are ingrained with all the materials that go into making a sculpture. Some of the best portraits showed only Stephen's eyes as the rest of his face was shaped and expressed by his hands.
Next? A musical instrument maker.