‘It felt like I was photographing the last, real glover left in NYC, and I probably wasn’t far from the truth. The clientele, as you can imagine, is made up of very small demographic, and on the higher end. Very few people buy a pair of gloves that is cut specifically for their hand, but it was once a common practice. The wooden hand is a beautiful object; I think it was carved for a woman about two-hundred years ago.’
I’ve followed Eric Medsker’s photography for several years now. In his most recent series, entitled Trades, he enters the subject’s world to document their art without disturbing the natural routine of their everyday, and as a result, is able to share private, rarely seen moments. I’ve asked Eric about his experiences while photographing … accompanying each image is his story.
‘Photographing the butchers was definitely one of the highlights of the entire project. Anyone who knows me knows I have a certain affinity for this skill and art form. The butcher shop I photographed was the famous Marlow and Daughters in Brooklyn, and they were incredibly accommodating for the day. I think butchering is one of the most visually stunning and also startling trades in the series. The deep red meat, stark white aprons, and well-honed, gleaming knives are coupled with a physicality that makes it remarkably fun to photograph. The day of this shoot was a delivery day, which created quite a scene: the guys hauling half steers out of the trucks and onto the chopping block, piling the meat high, immediately breaking them down into primal. This process is what you see happening in the photograph.’
‘Shooting the water tank builders of the Rausenwach Company presented the most logistical challenges. The photographs were all taken from the top of a building, high above midtown Manhattan. The guys start work early; in the course of just one day they tore down the old water tank and put up about eighty percent of a new one. Time constraints mean they need to have their techniques down to an exact science. An assistant and I spent the day fighting vertigo while running around documenting the process. In this photograph I climbed up onto another ledge and photographed across the expanse. Not for the acrophobic.’
‘Photographing the tombstone engravers in Greenwood Cemetery took the most time to set up out of all the trades. Supreme Memorials in Park Slope were incredibly nice when I first approached them about the project. Our schedules didn’t match up until about nine months later, which worked out well because I was concerned with the cemetery looking overly drab if we scheduled in the fall or winter. Fortunately for us, the day we shot was beautiful. This is a trade you get into by family alone, which, like many of the trades I shot, is becoming more and more rare. Photographing in Greenwood is not common so the access to walk around the grounds with all my gear was a privilege that day.’
‘The ice sculptor happened as a surprise addition to a day of shooting the welders at Dennis Oppenheim’s studio in DUMBO. A friend was working there welding outdoor sculptures, which can be seen at Houston’s airport; he thought I might be interested in this guy who had an ice cutting studio down the street. When the welders broke for lunch, I left to find the ice sculptor. My experience in setting up shoots is that most people need time and a little persuasion before they’re ready to be photographed, but Joe and his comrade were game from the start. I spent about an hour photographing their creation of the pictured ice sculpture, which was commissioned for a party.’
‘Watch repair is definitely one of those old-school trades. Today, few enough people wear wristwatches let alone have space for a grandfather clock. This shop, one of the first locations in the series, was a tiny, packed storefront in Greenwich. The day was spent maneuvering a c-stand around the small shop, trying our best (successfully, thank goodness) not to break anything. The watchmaker showed how minuscule some of the materials these tradesmen use are, which to me was a fascinating contrast to the iron workers or water tank builders I’d shot previously.’
‘Barbering can be a lot like butchering; if done incorrectly, or correctly in a gangsters case. Paul Mole is one of the oldest barbers in the city; it’s a beautiful space, classic in every sense. I was thrilled when they agreed. My inspiration for shooting the barber came from viewing the image archives on the Library of Congresses website. This photograph is somewhat uncomfortable due to its tight cropped detail of sharp metal on flesh, but I liked the accompanying sense of drama.’