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The Blacksmiths

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My name is Dan Bannister, and I’m a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. My day to day photography work is mostly advertising and fashion for retail brands but I like to add variety to my photography and exercise my creative muscles by pursuing personal projects alongside my commercial work as much as I can.

I’ve always been keenly aware of the trend of “offshoring” and globalization in general. Manufacturing, especially small craft manufacturers and local business, have been disappearing at an alarming rate over the past 10 years. In general, it seems like it’s getting harder and harder to find locally made products as companies send their manufacturing offshore to lower prices but, in the long term, this is at the cost of local jobs and trades like blacksmithing.

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A couple of years ago, I was having lunch with a good friend who works at an ad agency in Toronto and she mentioned that blacksmithing was something she enjoyed as a hobby and she knew people who did it for a living. I was very interested and asked her if she could arrange for me to meet and photograph one of them. She ended up introducing me to a man named Lloyd Johnston, who has this incredible resume as a blacksmith, including being the person responsible for the historically accurate restoration of the iron gates on Canada’s Parliament Buildings.

This eventually led me to meeting other blacksmiths and photographing a number of them as well as making a mini documentary of Lloyd working in his shop which you can see here:

In most places, especially in North America, if you want (for example) a beautiful, well-made coat rack for your home, you’ll have a hard time finding one that’s not mass produced in a developing country and frankly, it won’t likely be something that you’ll be proud to own in 10 years time. The idea of finding a local craftsperson to custom make one for you is a bit foreign now but, at one time, people like blacksmiths were a staple of a local economy and you could go to them, have something made specifically for you and it would last a lifetime or longer. Now, for the most part, we seek out the cheapest solution and toss it away when it falls apart or goes out of style in a year or two.

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I originally thought I’d render the images in black and white, and I actually have some large prints in my home of these images as black and whites (which I love), but, in terms of presenting them more publicly, I decided that showing the trade of blacksmithing in black and white would be too “old fashioned” and might prevent it’s wider appeal so, I decided to process and present the project with a more modern treatment that still accentuates the work and draws attention to the products they are making.

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The project was shot in a somewhat simple fashion as many of the locations were somewhat limited for space. As well, I didn’t want the subjects to be intimidated by setting up a lot of large complex lighting like I might for a commercial shoot so, I kept it simple by using one beauty dish.

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You can find the entire set of photos from this project in this online gallery on my website.


About the author: Dan Bannister is a commercial photographer and director based in Toronto, Canada. You can find more of his work on his website.

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