Over the past few years I've photographed dozens of aging and dying small industries around New York City -- repair shops, scrap-metal shops, machine shops -- returning repeatedly to get to know the owners and workers and to document these unseen spaces and lives. For this series, I photographed some of the last workers and machines of their kind in a machine shop called "Custom Machinery," which is gradually being closed down, the machines sold off, as owner Hugo Picciani ages and the demand for his work dries up.
Though there will always be certain kinds of work that become obsolete, I believe it's important to stop and think about what we destroy in the name of progress, to make informed decisions about the price we pay. Matthew Crawford, in "Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work," describes leaving behind a series of stultifying academic jobs and turning to a career as a motorcycle mechanic, where he discovers the "intensely absorbing nature" of manual labor. He appreciates "losing himself in work that is genuinely useful and has a certain integrity to it." As society devalues such manual trades, Crawford argues, we risk losing a bit of our soul.
It's that bit of soul I tried to capture in Custom Machinery. In this age of cubicles and knowledge workers and information technology, I want these images to remind us of the beauty of machines and tools and the hands that use them.
(Prints from Custom Machinery have been exhibited at the Photographic Resource Center, Boston; MPLS Photo Center, Minneapolis (first prize); and the Houston Center for Photography.)