Photographer Amber-Jayne Bain beautifully captures the skill, intensity and physicality of an artisan craftsman at work.

A handful of years ago I embarked on a personal project that took the work of local craftspeople as a focus, and particularly those processes central to their craft. I was keen to develop my documentary eye, as it were – and to build relationships with a new group of creative souls. It began with a wonderful local ceramicist, who allowed me to spend days with her in her studio, refining the methods I had to hand to represent their work in progress.

The richest thing about those days was actually the fondness we found for each other, and the joy of connecting with another human being in such a quiet and honest way.


I went on to document other crafts – printmaking, textile art, jewellery making and weaving, tattoo design and music composition – I learned so much from my subjects, and I came to admire their incredible skill and tenacity with the things they create. But perhaps the highlight for me has been the time I have spent with a luthier – a self-taught maker of, in particular, viol da gamba – a 6 stringed instrument of renaissance design.

Fine detailing

I was introduced to Alan by a mutual acquaintance, who knew my Makers project would suit the work he does, and vice versa. He, like all of those I had spent time photographing, was so humble and wasn’t sure that I would find his work photogenic. He captivated me, and his creations are astonishing.

Alan had spent many years previously running a business making coffins. I guess those skills are super transferable, but there is definitely an extra layer or two of complexity to the making of viol da gamba. Alan has the skill to turn pegs, chisel the figurehead in place of a scroll, and inlay fine stripes of different coloured wood as decorative features on the body. He uses traditional tools, and traditional materials. There’s no going off to the local hardware store for many of the components he uses.

Viol da gamba
F holes

I have learned so much about the construction of one of these instruments both by observation and through Alan’s descriptions. The days I spent with him in his workshop also taught me quite a lot about the kind of person I want to be. He is articulate, funny, extremely knowledgeable on so many subjects, and very, very kind. We got to know each other’s history, our families, and I witnessed somebody who had absolutely mastered their profession. As an added bonus, his workshop space is the stuff of photographers’ dreams. Beautiful wooden Japanese chisels, power tools, sawdust and articulated lamps and … everything you’d want, in a space for this purpose. I could actually spend weeks in there, making different kinds of pictures, but ultimately, the working of hands, the intensity of expression, the physicality of what he does were the things I wanted to preserve.


The photographer

Amber-Jayne Bain

My passion for shadow and light, and expression and space has grown and tilted, and I love nothing more than the delicious pleasure of making images that get you to feel something. I will not be tied to a singular genre – rather, my work is about a way of seeing, of telling the truth, or at least a version of it.

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