Dan Bannister is a Canadian commercial photographer and filmmaker. With more than 20 years in the business, he felt like he wanted to tell a different story with his photography. He stumbled upon the story of the modern blacksmith. Here is the story of what happened from there on, written by Dan himself.
I’ve been working on a personal project about blacksmiths for a couple of years now. I was originally looking for a photo project that would be different than the usual work I do day-to-day for clients such as ad agencies, fashion retailers and magazines. I wanted it to be something that would allow me to focus on simple portraiture in a raw and revealing way but still had a common thread that had room to grow and evolve.
One day, I was having a casual lunch with a friend who is a creative at an ad agency in Toronto and she mentioned that blacksmithing was a hobby of hers. This immediately fascinated me because I didn’t realize that blacksmithing was something people still did, let alone in a big urban center like Toronto.
I’ve always been drawn to quality over quantity and tend to buy things based on how long they’ll last me rather than how cheap they are and it’s a philosophy that’s saved me a lot of grief and hassle over my career. This isn’t a shameless plug for Profoto, but some of the gear I own has been in use for more than 15 years now. What I loved about the idea of blacksmithing is that these people are making things with their own hands that are durable and designed to last a lifetime and I feel that’s something we see less and less of these days.
After meeting a few blacksmiths, I really started to relate to their craft and the concept of making things from almost nothing. Early on in the project, I basically went back to my early photographic experience and acted like a photojournalist. I took pictures of everything and tried to tell a story with a wide range of imagery but, what I really wanted to do was get to the essential elements of blacksmithing and really illustrate who is doing the work and what it looks like.
Every blacksmith I’ve met has had an intense pride in the work they do and all of them have a few special pieces they’ve made that represent some struggle to them or some success over a particular technique. So, I asked them to show me one of their favorite pieces and be photographed with it.
Someone once said: “If you photograph someone in color, you’re photographing their clothes, but if you photograph them in black and white, you’re photographing their soul”. So I decided to process all the files in black and white in order to draw attention to the person and the beauty of the metal they work with.
All the portraits were shot on a Canon 1Dx or a Hasselblad 40MP back. I experimented a lot with different modifiers but finally settled on using a Softlight Reflector White (Beauty Dish) with a 25° grid and a diffuser, boomed almost overhead. All were lit with the Profoto B1 and most of the shots were done in the blacksmiths’ actual workshops.
Since starting the project more than 2 years ago, the look and feel has evolved a bit and I had to focus on keeping the images close to the original look which is always one of the challenges in a long term project for me. It could sometimes be 4 or 6 months before I found time to track down and photograph someone new for the project so, it was like starting fresh each time.
You can see more of Dan’s work at his website or follow him on Instagram at @bannisterphoto