Steel Stories is a current project in which three photographers and film-makers are producing visual narratives of the steel industry in Sheffield. They are accompanied on their shoots by students from the School of English who are writing reflections on the visits. In the third of her blog posts, Lucy Hamilton considers the impressionistic approach film-maker Shaun Bloodworth is using to represent the work at scissor-makers Ernest Wright.
See also: Lucy’s first post, The ‘Putter’, and her second post, The ‘Dogsbody’.
Whilst Shaun has been filming, capturing the essence of the lesser documented aspects of Sheffield’s steel industry on camera, I have attempted to build a picture of the industry’s future through narrative; documenting the stories of those who have worked steel for most of their lives, namely Cliff, ‘The Putter-togetherer’, and Eric, the self-styled ‘Dog’s Body’. Reflecting on progress made so far, as Shaun begins editing his material, we discuss similarities between the composition of film and of narrative:
Shaun’s interest is predominantly in the visual: capturing patterns of rhythm and repetition in order to create an overall tone or mood of an industrial process. He explains how communication of the exact processes involved, their order and function, is altogether unimportant, with regard to conveying an overall impression of the scissor-making process. We reflect upon the feeling of mystery surrounding Cliff’s work; Shaun describes a Tolkien-esque impression of closely-guarded secrets and I can’t help but draw a parallel between another Sheffield institution shrouded in secrecy- the recipe of Henderson’s Relish. I realise that in my writing about Cliff and his work, I am similarly developing an impressionist image. My posts have been put together with the aim to convey a sense of optimism for the industry’s future and a feeling of pride in the uniqueness of processes being preserved at Ernest Wrights.
The creation of an impression, Shaun explains, is contingent upon his capturing a particular moment of tension, such as the moment when a hammer is raised at its highest point, to illuminate an action: the striking of the nail. Narrative too is involved with interplay between a series of tensions; in my posts so far I have highlighted the distance between the richness of Cliff and Eric’s stories and their reluctance to tell them. I think there is certainly something to be made of this tension. My two previous posts have focussed on the way in which Cliff and Eric see their stories as unimportant, as I attempt to convey just the opposite of this. This initial reluctance to share this becomes the tension around which the particular impression of Sheffield’s characteristically ‘no-nonsense’ pragmatism is created.
Aiming to preserve this impression, I have, therefore, tried to keep their narratives as authentic as possible – to allow the stories to tell themselves. As we discuss the potential form Shaun’s film will adopt, it becomes apparent that to impose a traditional narrative structure, a beginning, middle and end, on a process that is so contingent on impression, would be a mistake. Similarly, we realise a simple ‘mood’ piece is unlikely to do justice to the historical grounding of the work at Ernest Wrights that lends itself so well to narrative.
However, we stumble across a way to combine the two aspects of impression and narrative, inspired by one particularly telling image. Throughout the project, Shaun and I have been drawn to the way in which Cliff’s hammer, over the years, has moulded itself to the shape of his hand. What I find so striking about this image is the impression it gives of an intense relationship between Cliff and his work. It seems to capture his entire narrative – the dedication to his work, the precision of his skill, the personality that goes into his craft – in a single image.
However Shaun decides to structure his film, it will be a study of the relationship between Cliff and his finished product; the perfect pair of scissors. As we discuss the narrative of this relationship, ending the film with a portrait shot of Cliff seems fitting: we realise that after so long spent perfecting his craft, maybe Cliff is, himself, the finished product.