Shuji Nakagawa’s World
Working in small spaces
A Workshop Development
After the workshop in Venice, I brought one of the workshop attendees, Fabio Gambini, as I photographed inside of the workshop of Roberto Tramontin. He is a gondola builder and namesake of Tramontin & Figli, which was started in 1884 by his great grandfather. The Leica Blog is publishing an article on the shoot shortly. But as we shot over the two days, Fabio left and asked me..“Is that it?” Even though he was there for the entire shoot, he said he felt like he did not even see where the good shots were. This got me thinking, what if I arrange private shoots of the craftsmen from my own projects for workshops to explain how and why I choose to photograph people at work?
Inside the studio
During the Kyoto Workshop, I made arrangements for the photographers to shoot inside the studio of Japanese woodworker Shuji Nakagawa. His family shop, Nakagawa Mokkougei, has been making wooden vessels for rice and water along Biwa Lake, north of Kyoto, for over 150 years. And for anyone who is fascinated with Japanese wood planes, his studio has one of the most extensive collections I have ever seen from the very large to the very small (see picture below.) It is from this studio that Nakagawa-san, as everyone calls him, produces works that exhibit all over the world from Pace Gallery in London to Atelier Courbet in New York City.
The photographers were all excited and some a bit nervous for the shoot. Most of them had photographed while traveling, as most people do, but they had never handled a shoot before. Once we got into Nakagawa-san’s workshop, we all set to work. Wood chips were flying and shutters clicked away as I reminded them…don’t look at your screens, just keep shooting.
The space is hardly wide enough for four people, so the photographers worked around each other, swapped places for better angles, and helped one another get the best shots. I was really impressed with their collective abilities to work together and come away with some great images of Nakagawa-san at work in his unique space.
When lunch time rolled around, we packed up and headed back to the train station. Nakagawa-san had given us a full sampling of his work, personal history, and artwork which I will be explaining in depth next week. The photographers made it through the shoot. All the nerves went away the second they started shooting. It was not until we got back to the hotel later that evening that we saw the results. As in all of my workshops, we start with the fundamentals of Seeing. Photography instruction often glosses over seeing, but that is the core of what we do. We are seers, the camera just registers what we were looking at. The clearer our vision the stronger the pictures. I was very pleased to see how each photographer applied the lessons of seeing to the shoot. They were noticing visual relationships that they were not seeing two days earlier and the results…well…they speak for themselves.
Upcoming Workshop Shoots
In the coming year, I will continue to open up my personal connection for the workshops so that you will have an opportunity to see craftsmen at work, in the studio, and creating the treasures that keep me flying around the globe. Next up will be the bamboo craftsmen in the Chiang Mai Workshop. Sorry this one is already sold out, but check the 2014 schedule for the next available workshop.
See you there!