Filming Craft

Photographer and filmmaker Simon Mills, who will be running a workshop Film Making – capturing your process with video for AAS Members on 27 May 2021, considers the synergy between film and craft and how it can benefit makers.

As part of their ‘Slow Television’ season in May 2015, the BBC screened Handmade, a series of 30 minute films documenting master craftspeople at work in their studio. The three films had no voiceover, dialogue or music, just the sounds of the making process, filmed in long, unbroken shots.

The director of the series, Ian Denyer, has said that he wanted to reveal the making process not just to the audiences but to the makers themselves. For many craftspeople the making process can be a continuous movement, moving swiftly from one tool, bench, process to the next. They are able to repeat over and over again exact movements and actions as they go about creating their beautiful work.

This is a real gift for film making. While photography can capture single moments; a hammer strike on metal, the moment a knife touches wood or hand touches clay, it cannot do justice to the repetition, time, skill and effort that goes into the making process.

The long unbroken shots of the Handmade series allow us to luxuriate in that skill, the almost flow state of a makers practice. Special filming techniques such timelapsing – where we can condense long periods time into a few seconds – or slow motion – which allow us to pause time to see subtle movements and actions – allow us as viewers to see these processes in a new light.

And none of this takes away from the magic of making. I’ve been lucky enough to film making processes around the world. I have hours of footage of weaving and understand how a loom works, how the patterns are formed. And still, each time I see a weaver at work the mystery is still there – I may understand the mechanics, but yet still have no real idea how it’s done.

I once filmed a weaver warping a loom in the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland. She tied the knots in the thread with one hand, a simple action (to her) but even having watched the footage over and over I have no idea how the movement of her fingers tied those knots. – like sleight of hand, a card trick, one moment there were two threads, the next they were joined.

The past year has been incredibly difficult for those in the creative industries. With shops, galleries, studios closed it has been near impossible for makers to show work in person to other people. While video and photography are no substitute for being able to see and touch the real thing, they do offer a window into a maker’s creative process. Whether short clips for use on social media, or a full length film such as the ones in the Handmade series, film is a wonderful medium to convey the work, skill and time that goes into creating beautiful work.

This film by Sharon Adams is similar to the Handmade films, just ambient making sounds, no voiceover or music.

These two are more ‘promo’ or brand films with music and are examples of a different sort of film. Norhla is a textile company based on the Tibetan Plateau and Kathryn Davey is a natural dyer based in Ireland.

Image: Lagom Anou, Simon Mills

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