I have always been close to my parents so I wanted to take this chance to make these portraits of my dad. The relentless passage of time leads us towards our inevitable fates and my dad would be the first to admit that he is begging to feel his age. Throughout his life he has always been a manual worker and as a child my memories of him coming home smelling of grease with oil stains over the hard skin of his hands are still very fresh. He would leave very early every morning and not be home till long after I had returned from school. He was a Heating Engineer by trade but every bump in the economic road sent industrial business crashing and it seemed that whomever my dad was working for at the time went with them. This meant that he needed to broaden his skills and became a master of many professions as he moved between companies. In his later working life he ended up a maintenance man for a large business that maintained properties for British Telecom. Here he could use the benefit of a lifetime’s knowledge in one trade as he never knew until he arrived at a job whether they would need a plumber, carpenter or electrician but no matter where he went he was the man who had come to save the day and that’s probably the best way I could sum him up.
Naturally his tools are an integral part of what he did, he would lecture me on the importance of the right tool for the right job and that buying quality mattered. He would tell me that a good tool if well looked after would last a lifetime and sure enough he proved that very point.
I chose his garage as the location for the shoot, I wanted to create environmental portraits and this was his place. After he retired he kept himself busy from doing odd jobs to relaying floors at home so his tools continued to be used. The garage is where he works the most and here he keeps everything he needs.
For the main portrait I opted for studio lighting, I had a clear idea in my head what I wanted the image to look like and I knew I would have to modify my equipment slightly to work. I was after narrow beams from the soft boxes so I attached strips of black cloth to each side to reduce and direct the light that came out. This way I could control the light onto the subject and prevent it from illuminating everything else.
I chose this because of the expression and how the subject just engages with the viewer. Behind those eyes is a lifetime of memories of working in so many different environments and this was the image that I felt communicates that the best.
The second image was a more candid approach and this time I wanted to use ambient lighting. There was a bright strip light on the wall opposite the work bench and I wanted to try this style. The strip lighting had nothing to modify the light so it was harsher than the soft box but not so much as to become a problem. It provided what I needed and illuminated the areas that I wanted. I also liked the way the light fell away quite quickly leaving the back drop with enough brightness to reveal the environment without compromising the subject matter. With the lighting right I went through a range of expressions and angles from looking at what the subject was working on to looking at the camera but it was this image where he looked up and seemed to be lost in thought that stood out. This again goes back to that lifetime of memories and it’s almost as if something he was doing had triggered one of those occasions and for a moment he was back there again.
The final two images are of two of his tools. This Hammer and Saw are older than me. They have been with my dad since he was young and starting out on his career. They have been through everything with him, floods fires and crashes. They have never broken, dulled or got lost and have served him loyally and faithfully. Most objects that ever last a lifetime are normally stuck in an attic somewhere or if they are lucky might see the light of day in a cabinet but these are something that he has used all the time, something that has been practical and travelled with him all over the country. It is these sort of objects that are easily overlooked when we think of something of sentimental value but they have such memories and if they could talk the stories they could tell would keep you engrossed for hours. These two tools have a character and are part of the person my dad is and it was important for this project that I showed them here.
For the Hammer and Nails I reverted back to my studio lighting. I turned off all other lights and placed the soft box low and at a side angle. I used this method as I wanted to show the texture and detail in the objects. The Hammer has over the years picked up a few scars and this is as close as it will come to being able to tell its own story. I used the same light for the Saw but adjusted the angle and height slightly. The goal of the lighting here was to ensure the light focus was on the Saw and fell away quickly enough to ensure the subject was isolated from the background.