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The Bell Foundry by Rob Scott, from Crafted in Britain: Britain’s Surviving Traditional Industries

1 February 2017

After graduating from York University Rob Scott took a job as a research biochemist at Bristol University but soon realised that he was more interested in exploring the world than spending a life in laboratories. While planning his departure for travelling, he found a bag of old camera gear that his brother had bought from Oxfam for £50. It contained a Nikon SP rangefinder along with 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and 135mm lenses. By happy chance, it was a true photojournalist's bag of kit, and in exceptional condition.

Although he hadn't taken a picture since he was six years old, he was instantly addicted and within months left the country with the camera and photography at the centre of his plans. Two years later, after being hospitalised for typhoid in the Himalayas and dengue fever in Singapore, and having had all the camera gear stolen in the jungles of Sumatra and replaced by insurance in Sydney, he arrived in the town of Kununara in the wild Kimberley region of north-western Australia. He picked up work for an Australian freesheet, and after achieving his first front page, of a competitor being gored by a bull in a rodeo, he decided to return to Britain. For the next decade he freelanced in London, Bristol and around the country, covering political issues such as the miners' strike and the anti-apartheid movement, as well as carrying out magazine portrait work, particularly for the music press.

In the early 1990s, after a year working on environmental stories in South America, he became chief photographer and manger of one of the largest editorial photo studios in the country, carrying out commissioned work for more than a hundred specialist magazines. Rob returned to freelancing in 2010 and has been working on 'Crafted in Britain: Britain’s Surviving Traditional Industries', along with other commissioned work since then.

Crafted in Britain is a project that the writer and broadcaster Anthony Burton and I thought up when we first met in an old Bristol pub thirty years ago.

The original title was Vanishing Britain, and since then we have had three big drives to find a publisher for the work. However, it wasn’t until  2010, when I returned to freelancing and Tony had just finished a series for Discovery Channel, that we returned to the project. At that point we realised that not only had most of our original subjects disappeared, but that the real story wasn’t what had disappeared but what had survived, and why.

One of the subjects covered in the book is the Loughborough Bell Foundry, seen here. This is the largest bell foundry in the world, is Grade 2 listed and following the recent announcement of the closure of the Whitechapel Foundry after 500 years of operation, is now the only original surviving bell foundry in the country.

The piece was originally pitched to Countryfile, and has since also been run in Landscape Magazine, but for Tony and I it was a key element in a project that would cover a wide range of traditional industries, including food and drink, textiles, building materials, mining, the print industry, organ making and tableware. For a full list of the subjects covered in the book please see the contents page of the book sample that can be found here.

It took three visits to Loughborough to get the pictures and on the first visit it became clear that lighting was essential to capture the sense of drama inside the old Victorian building. The shot shown only has a small amount of fill from the left, but some of the other shots in the series, which can be seen in the book and on my website would not have been possible without portable, radio controlled and battery powered heads, in this case Quantum Qflash.

This image was crucial to the series, and the whole job nearly fell over when, after two weeks of negotiation to get permission shoot from this position, and as the molten metal was being brought across the factory floor, I was told that I had to move immediately to the public gallery at the back because another photographer had arrived unannounced, and was insisting on being allowed to shoot next to me, which would cause a Health and Safety issue. I stubbornly held my ground and eventually it was agreed that I would supply the other photographer with my images. Which I did, though not this one.

Crafted in Britain is available from Bloomsbury Publishing for £22.50 and has been featured in various national magazines in the run up to the book launch.


See more work by Rob Scott

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