The With Love Project celebrates makers who produce with purpose
By BEL JACOBS
There’s a scene in the 1984 film Amadeus where Salieri describes the music of his nemesis, Mozart: “Just a pulse. And then suddenly, high above it, an oboe. A single note, hanging there unwavering. Until a clarinet took it over, sweetened it into a phrase of such delight.”
Salieri’s love for the music, if not the man, is intoxicating; a glimpse into why classical music is so revered. There’s more than a little of that intoxication in the With Love Project, stories of craftspeople who produce work with genuine passion.
For the past three years, art director Chris Roberts and photographer Rob Evans have zigzagged the country, meeting nearly 40 British makers from all walks of life, from tailors to wheelwrights, from scallop divers on the isle of Skye to a British tea plantation in Cornwall, interviewing, photographing and filming as they went. The result? The Backbone of Britain, a hefty tome celebrating producers and makers, including traditional furniture makers at the top of their game, motorcycle manufacturers hand-building by eye, wheelwrights who can trace their family trade back to the 1300s and tailors who've produced suits for Pavarotti.
Underlying every story is s a single question: “why do you do what you do?” The answers are, by turn, moving and surprising.
“It’s partly about inspiring people and showing what is possible to do,” says Evans, of the book. “You can choose your route in life, you can make your own way. You don’t have to work for a company.” Many of the craftspeople featured in the project left high flying jobs for simpler lives. “They reached that point where they thought, ‘I’ve done everything I was planning to do with my life and it’s not satisfied me,’” says Evans. “They’ve looked at their lives and thought about what they really loved.”
“We met a baker who used to work on websites for a major holiday brand,” he continues. “He now makes bread and has re-engaged with his community. Everyone knows him because he’s the baker. He might not be making so much money but his life is more satisfying.”
Chris Roberts (left) and Rob Evans (right): "“It’s changed the way we we perceive value in objects.”
Inevitably, talking to people has wrought personal transformation in Evans and Roberts. Evans gives the example of Hiut Denim, one of the earliest makers the pair visited. Huit has revived Cardigan’s once thriving denim industry, re-employing real skills that were in danger of being lost. The cuts are classic, the denim built to last.
A pair of Hiut jeans costs three times more than a high street equivalent. “But it lasts ten times as long,” emphasises Evans. “Today, we perceive value in society in completely the wrong way.”
“This new book has drastically changed our outlook on how we eat,” he continues. “We now understand the power of eating locally, both economically and from a community focus. We appreciate using seasonal produce, reducing food miles and increasing taste. We have great respect for the producers we've met and the practices that go into getting food onto our plate.”
With Love's two books capture and explore many current concerns - about ethical practice, about mass production, about transparency and about quality vs quantity - in very direct ways. And, in capturing and reporting on passion, for Evans and Roberts, With Love has become a passion project in its own right.
“We’re into people’s stories,” laughs Evans. “AndI like having those conversations. For a short period of time, people invite us into their lives for a short period of time."
Along the way, the pair have gathered fond memories. Evans remembers a Scottish flour mill they visited. “This couple have a traditional water powered mill that they live in, with their kids,” says Evans. “They invited us into their home, prepared a meal for us, made fresh bread for us. We sat up drinking a really nice bottle of red wine and I remember going to bed, in their house, and the mum was singing Scottish lullabies to her kids as we were falling asleep.”
“The house was still and I remember feeling very very satisfied with my life at that point.”
The next day, the pair found themselves sitting on abeach near Arbroath, eating warmly, freshly smoked haddock smokie maker Iain Spinks. “With the sea lapping up. just another beautiful moment,” remembers Evans, fondly.
Two to cherish in as many days. High five, Salieri.
Buy The backbone of britain, £35, and for the love of food, £35, here: www.withloveproject.co.uk