Environmental Portraits of the Silent Stars in Music Making

Environmental Portraits of the Silent Stars in Music Making

Each week we’ll feature one photographer from the PhotoShelter community, and share his or her story behind the shots that caught our eye.

  • Photographer: Sarah Shatz
  • Specialty: Editorial & Film Stills
  • Current Location: New York, New York
  • Clients: Listen Magazine, Popular Mechanics Magazine, member of Local 600
  • PhotoShelter Website: sarahshatz.photoshelter.com

The Story:

It’s Sarah Shatz’s lifelong passion for music and an acute curiosity for the “backstage world” that led her to shoot a series of portraits featuring musical instrument makers. “Many of my jobs have involved taking portraits of classical musicians,” Sarah explains. “I wanted to go behind the scenes, and I decided that I wanted to make portraits of these silent stars in music making.”

From the beginning Sarah was enchanted by the art of these workmen. “Craftsmanship of all sorts is invaluable to our culture, and this world of instrument making seemed to belong to a vanished era before the age of mass production.” She pitched her idea for the photo essay to the editor of Listen Magazine, a publication she had shot for in the past, and with their approval she began to shoot.

Violin maker Jason Viseltear / Photo by Sarah Shatz

Shooting with her medium format camera, Sarah works with entirely natural light. These factors force her to be more deliberate with every shot, and ultimately cause her to shoot less. “Without relying on my digital equipment, I’m going back to the tools I started out with – film and available light – and not knowing if I ‘got it’ until the proofs come back.”

Historical woodwinds maker Joel C. Robinson / Photo by Sarah Shatz

When she entered the music-makers’ studio, Sarah quickly chose up to three compositions she wanted to create and began working. The maker’s materials and instruments played an essential role in creating the environmental portraits.

“I find that workbenches are, by nature, beautiful. They have their own order, the objects are all so specific and reflective of their owners,” she says. Sarah’s direction of her subjects is minimal, but she always engages them in conversation. “Ultimately I want the portrait to come out of a conversation and to reflect that connection.”

“Bellyman” piano restorer Valentine Toussaint at Steinway / Photo by Sarah Shatz

Sarah’s ultimate goal is to create a portrait where her subjects are clearly at ease and comfortable. “When a violin maker is sitting among his tools or stacks of wood, or a piano maker has his hands on the belly of a piano, they are in their element – among what is comfortable and familiar,” she says. Sarah creates this feeling within her work by keeping things simple: “I do everything I can to create a space where it’s me, a camera, and my subject.”

Bow maker Isaac Salchow / Photo by Sarah Shatz

What caught our eye:

Sarah’s thoughtful and quiet portraits depict a consistent feeling of respect for the craft and workmanship throughout the entire series. Her ability to visually organize their sometimes hectic and cluttered workspace allows the viewer to focus on the subject while also getting the entire story of the studio. Check out the rest of the series here.

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