The PhotoBook

March 8, 2014

Andrew G. Smith – Steel Soul

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Copyright Andrew G. Smith 2013 self-published with Smith’s imprint bymyi

Andrew G. Smith’s industrial subject, the industrial infrastructure and operations of an active steel mill, is not the usual genre to attract a photographer. Nevertheless the intricate complexity of these industrial landscapes has earlier attracted the like of Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and recent contemporaries as the team of Bernd and Hilla Becher, Pierre Bessard and Mitch Epstein.

Due to the fading manufacturing industry in the Western World, industrial sites are much more prone to be subjects of ruin-porn with gutted facilities surrounded by environmental decay. This is the subject material in the recent photographic essays of Christoph Lingg’s Shut Down or Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre’s The Ruins of Detroit.

Perhaps why so few active industrial sites are investigated is probably that these are not very accessible to photographers or the public at large. These are dangerous places for those who are unaware of the safety precautions that are in place, not realizing that there specific places to be in order to stay out of harm’s way. The industrial landscape is usually the domain of the annual report photographers who compose carefully orchestrated images to position the company in the best light.

Smith by comparison has been provided access to a very active Steel Mill located in the Yorkshire region of Great Briton. This is an industrial area long associated with various steel works dating back to the 1700’s. This particular site is one of the few working mills still remaining in this region.

It can be relatively easy to capture the façade of a working industrial site, although the exterior usually only hints at the complex activities occurring within. To facilitate this project, Smith segmented his book into four basic chapters aligned with the flow of steel, following it from the furnace to final products; Melt, Foundry, Forge, and Machine.

Smith is drawn the abstract attributes of this industrial landscape, distilling it to line, mass, tone, shape, texture while working with the available light. At times, that light glows from within, created by the massive hot steel as it flows from the furnace to the foundry. Even though this place is a man-driven operation, perhaps like Bern and Hilla Becher, Smith has minimized his inclusions of the workers, instead focusing mainly on the infrastructure and workings.

I can relate to these photographs, as my background includes countless trips through similar environments as a part of my technical day-job. For me it is easy to imagine the accompanying din and racket that engulfs you, such that ear plugs are necessary to prevent one from going temporarily deaf. It makes communication difficult, thus a person needs to pay close attention to where they walk or stand. Similar, I can also imagine the smells of such an operation, ranging from sharply acidic to a sweet machine oil fragrance. As to the feel and texture, the soles of your steel toed work books are embedded with debris which you can sense with each step and there may be a fine layer of soot covering your clothes, hopefully given the benefit of a smock. Although I may be wearing a safety helmet, my hair feels course and dirty while you can feel like the soot is still embedded in the pores of your face after, even after many washings late at home that night.

Smith can only provide a glimpse into the workings of this huge industrial space. I know that I relate to this body of work much differently than will most readers. It connects with me and I sense that his objective investigation is true.

The book is printed in luminous black and white with a stiff cover binding. The wide horizontal format of the book is ideally suited to a full frame 35mm or digital camera. An Introduction essay is provided by Smith; the plates are identified and at the conclusion of the book an index of captions is provided for the photographic plates. The photographic plates are surrounded by a nice white margin that makes reading this book enjoyable.

by Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook

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Book interior with matching photographic print

1 Comment »

  1. Reblogged this on stweblog.

    Comment by stwe2014 — April 1, 2014 @ 8:37 am


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