It's a real treat to get paid to go to so many amazing manufacturers, have them peel back the big curtain, and usher me backstage. When I show up my handler will often ask, "What to you want to see?" I will reply, "Everything!" and I truly mean it. I'm sure that I'm quite a sight -- wandering around the factory floor in wide-eyed wonder, giggling to myself, and proclaiming "Ooh, this is great!"
I'm always asking, "What's that big impressive machine do?" and then promptly requesting to climb into the company's prized, million-dollar baby in order to get photos that show its relatively tiny handler tending to its every need.
Yeah, my job is pretty cool, but it's only as good as my subjects. Luckily, CompanyWeek sends me to cover so many interesting and different manufacturers that I'm never at a loss. It was hard to choose, but here are my favorite images from my 2018 assignments.
Sean McWilliams Forge: It was amazing to watch this master craftsman at work. His nearly magical ability to forge stainless steel into beautiful and functional blades has made him a legend. The grittiness of his Carbondale workshop combined with the lovely light made this frame stand out for me.
Sprout Tiny Homes: The hand coming out of the left of the frame with a kiss of light, the curve of the hand and knife offsetting the gaze of the work partner. Just a lovely and complicated frame that says a lot about the hands-on teamwork necessary to make their houses.
Oveja Negra: A lot of manufacturing these days is done strictly by machine and often with the aid of computer. Oveja Negra does it all by hand in the company's shop in Salida. Filled with fabric and jigs for their myriad of cleverly designed bags, everything has that personal touch. To me, the hands of workers are wondrous things and when I can show them in action, I feel a need to make a hand portrait even more than one of a face.
Outer Range Brewing Co.: Yep, always climbing into things, always poking my lens inside to see what is going on "in there." I love how the frame from this Frisco brewery is broken up in the middle by the mixing arm of the mash tun. The circle of water from his spray hose looks like it is actually a flashlight. Optical illusions.
Temco Manufacturing: Sparks! This is my favorite welding/spark photo of the year and one of the best that I've ever shot. I rarely see people welding over their heads like this, where the sparks come raining down like a meteor shower. Just lovely.
Hitchcock, Inc.: The intensity on his face as he makes a measurement just speaks to me of the care and attention to detail that many people take for granted when dealing with truly high-quality products. I think that builders like this fellow in Burlington don't get enough respect from the larger world.
Snake River Brewing: The soft light from the open loading dock, the way his body is turned in profile, the fellow coming down the stairs . . . so much going on and yet it's not staged, it just came together in a natural 1/250th of a second.
Honeybee Robotics: Rarely do I get such an impressive composition of pure color and graphics. I hate to use the term, but to me this shot is simply art.
IP Automation: Finding some way to tie in a person and their environment is sometimes easy and sometimes very hard. When I went to IP Automation, I found huge machines that make huge things but nothing made a visual statement about what they are about. I found stacks of enormous metal plate jigs I was inspired. It seemed so industrial, futuristic, and almost H.R. Giger-ish. I got the plate that I wanted suspended by a crane and put President Bogomil Banchev in the "window." Three lights were placed to give the drama and BAM!
Mountain Sun Pubs & Breweries: Ask my editors, but I love to shoot details. The little things often say a lot. Sometimes you don't need a person in the frame to infer the person. Here was just a nice bit of repeating curves, complementing colors, and the glove subliminally bringing in the human touch.
Victor Trading Co. & Manufacturing Works: Ask me to talk about Sam and Karen Morrison, the owners of Victor Trading, and I will start to gush. Not only are they the nicest, sweetest people but their ability to make beautiful handmade, well, just about anything astounds me. Sam is a genius and Karen a wizard. Their wall of brooms is something out of a storybook. I converted the frame to black and white because there is a timelessness to them and the array of stunning things that come out of their little place southwest of Pikes Peak.
Persolite Products (to be published in January 2019): Over the years I've come to almost specialize in working in poor lighting. Most industrial spaces are designed to be purely functional. Rarely do you walk in and find good light. Regardless of how ugly the lighting may be there is always something usable, if you know how to find it and have the techniques to make it work, but it's rarely inspiring. When I walked up the stairs to the main processing room at Persolite, I was stunned. The whole tower like structure was made of frosted windows. The light was amazing. The slightly translucent sacks of perlite along with the rim lighting and gesture from co-owner Joe Steiner just made for a lovely and different frame.
Words and images by Jonathan Castner, CompanyWeek's ace photographer. Check him out at www.jonathancastner.com.