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One of the last Violin Makers in SA, 2005 (large files)

Discussion in 'Photojournalism, Candids and Street Photography' started by bendheim, Mar 10, 2005.

  1. It had been a depressing day yesterday. I'd spent the afternoon visiting a very rich person who wanted me to see his new apartment. He'd never worked in his life, receiving vast inheritances and trust funds. I went home feeling poor, and wondering at how some people work so hard, yet others do nothing. I thought that life must be meaningless without work and purpose; in a way I felt sorry for my wealthy friend.

    This morning, I was shown the other, much nicer and more humbling side of the coin when I met one of South Africa's few remaining violin makers, Pragasen Reddy, aged 73. He lives in a poor suburb in a very modest house, and his car is parked outside - that's because his workshop is his garage.

    Pragasen's father had met master violin maker Amon Bilmark in 1952, when the trade still prospered. Bilmark had offered Pragasen a job, to dust the workshops in his store at the sum of £1 a week. Pragasen didn't care much for dusting, and one day when Bilmark, his boss was out, he experimented with some of the violin parts and carving tools he had been eyeing for the last few months.

    You have to understand this in context : in apartheid South Africa of the 1950's, Blacks and Indians did hard manual work, whites did all the so-called skilled jobs.

    Bilmark returned suddenly and caught young Pragasen at work with wood and tools. But, he wasn't angry; he had grown to be fond of the young man and had been watching him over the months. He trained Pragasen over the years which followed in every aspect of violin making and the two built up a close relationship.

    But, the old South Africa would not easily tolerate these friendships openly. When white customers arrived for orders or repairs, Bilmark would hurry Pragasen out to the back of the store, because it was then unheard of that "non-whites" would do this sort of skilled craft.

    Eventually, Bilmark died and Pragasen continued to make and repair violins, which he still does today, using time-worn, old fashioned skills, handwork and what he calls a labour of love from the heart. Today, the demand for violins in South Africa is small; the few that he makes are usually sold overseas. One day, one of the few remaining violin makers in South Africa will have strung his last bow, and another human story consigned to history.

    All pictures with the D2H and 17-55, all natural light. The D2H is like fine film in natural light, with lovely grain.


    Still life with letter from Amon Bilmark to Pragasen Reddy's father. written in 1953

    Bilmark, writing to Pragasen Reddy's father says in this letter that he is as proud of the young man as if he were "my own son" and that he has a fine character and a love of the work.


    Still life - Pragasen Reddy in the 1970's with violins in Bilmark's workshop, taken in his own workshop, 2005


    Old photographs, Amon Bilmark in front, Pragasen Reddy behind


    Pragasen Reddy, aged 73, in his workshop, 2005


    Still life, Violin carving by hand, 2005

    All the carving and shaping is done by one hand, that of Pragasen Reddy


    The tools of the Master, 2005


    The hand of the Master craftsman, 2005


    Each piece is signed, Violin by Pragasen Reddy, 2005


    Violin, Pragasen Reddy's Workshop, 2005


    Hanging Violins, Pragasen Reddy's Workshop, 2005


    Violin neck as a Swan, Pragasen Reddy's Workshop, 2005


    Music Certificate 1956, faucet and Press Cuttings from 1961, Worshop wall, 2005


    Pragasen Reddy in 2005 with his very first violin, made in 1953

    "Bilmark inspected my first violin with a magnifying glass, but he was very pleased, " says Pragasen "That was 52 years ago!"
  2. Peter,

    That is an absolutely fantastic essay. I absolutely enjoyed it. I feel real fortunate to be apart of the Cafe in a company of such talented & knowledgable people & oh yeah.....photographers!! Thank you for sharing this!!! :D  :D  :D  :D  :D  :D 
  3. This is spectacular Peter. Thank you. I felt like I was watching a slow motion biography. Bravo !
  4. Peter -

    Your posts all have this unerring tendency to impact me in a similar way.

    First, they remind me that the human experience is mostly universal; it transcends continents and cultures.

    Then, I see your pictures and start to feel like I have no right to pick up a camera, much less take pictures -- you accomplish your goal more often than not with the pictures I've seen you post. Your pictures have a "soul" that shows through brilliantly.

    My feeling of inadequacy is short-lived, however, and quickly replaced by one of admiration and challenge. Makes me want to go find something meaningful to shoot.

    This particular post hit me with a strong punch, because music has always been a big part of mine and my family's life, and I've frequently thought of it as a universal language for all people.

    How appropriate that you have shown all of these concepts (as well as that of artistry and skill) so poignantly in this post.

    My sincere thanks -
  5. Gale


    Jan 26, 2005
    Viera Fl
    David has a great musical talent "Piano" maybe more.

    I have to echo all of Davids words. Well said David.

    Thank You Peter and David.

    Best Regards
    Gale Bizet
  6. Flew


    Jan 25, 2005
    Just excellent Peter, and well worth the wait. I can see now why you were so devastated when you thought that you had lost these pictures.

    You are absolutely right about the D2H, although it is my understanding that this camera was not specifically made for this particular type of shooting, it definitely shines in the right hands. You have certainly shown it in the best light.


  7. Thanks a lot to you all for looking. I really found being there an uplifting experience, especially the fact that money was the least of Mr Reddy's concerns. But his craft was.
    And yes, Frank, I really did have a panic attack today about that card. You can't shoot the same thing twice, because second time around, the "edge" has gone.

  8. What a wonderful story thanks you so much for sharing, I always look forward to your posts love your style of shooting and your written words echos your shots perfectly, again thanks you these are wonderful.
  9. Excellent, excellent, series of shots Peter. The composition, color, focus and quality of each image is very high. Well done and an interesting story to boot.
  10. Hi Peter,

    I'm at the same place as Gordon. Excellent is the word for the pictures and story. I envy your artistic talent from which I am very far. Glad to have you in the Cafe.
  11. Words and Images


    I never read one of your pieces without thinking how well the words and images go together. And then I realize that the images stand very well on their own, too.


  12. PGB


    Jan 25, 2005

    Thanks again. I am unable to see things in this fashion as of yet. I wouldn't know where to begin. I like shooting birds but this is the kind of stuff that really moves me.

    With highest regards,
  13. NeilCam


    Feb 21, 2005
    Ottawa, Ontario
    Superb pictures and story as always Peter, simply sublime.

    One word of journalistic accuracy though. Mr Reddy is most definitely not the last luthier in South Africa. A quick google will show that there are a number of luthiers crafting some fine instruments in your country. :) 

    Of course, that is a very minor point in the context of your story, your images and, most importantly, of Mr Reddy's life and that he was even ever able to ply his trade at all.

  14. Wow, thanks for that Neil - we were pointed to this story by a musician in the local philharmonic orchestra, and yes, you are right, there is at least one other maker in South Africa. Well, just as well you pointed this out before we print the story, and I'm really grateful to you for that. I had to look up the word luthier, BTW and only my supersized Oxford had it in! There is a good lesson to be learned here, and that is to cross check all the "facts" one is told. Sometimes in the rush to meet deadlines, one can get just a bit too comfortable about these things, and ultimately, that's sloppy journalism.
    Fortunately, in this case, I'm just the photographer, not the actual story writer for the print article, but I've sent her an alert to check this all out.

    Nevertheless, I've made corrections to the online article and I'm again, to repeat myself, enormously grateful to you for your editorial alertness.

    Thanks for your input, and I'm glad you liked the pictures.
  15. Wonderful story and pictures!

    These wonderul pictures and story has taught me the best of lessons, it is not about pixels, it's about composition, subject, light and color. Even if you would have taken this with a point and shoot it would still have been wonderful.

    If I would ever get to the point of getting to the level of professional this is the thing I would like to do.

    thank you for sharing
  16. Another moving piece, Peter. Thanks for letting me see a distant part of the world through your eyes.
  17. Fantastic

    Superb piece of words and pictures.

    The clarity in the pictures and the colour is superb. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Phenomenal Story

    You have portrayed a very interesting man and his times with some incredible photography. I hope you can make it part of the historical record in your country. Thank you for sharing your experience and your talent.

    aka beaucamera

  19. obelix


    Mar 17, 2005
    Fremont, CA, USA
    Thanks Peter.

    As an Indian who read quite a bit about the Indian experience in Durban, it was a very touching story to read.

  20. Hi, Peter.

    What a beautiful photo essay, so full of humanity from words to photos and back -- and in color no less. Very effecting and inspiring w/out needing sensationalism. Makes me at once want to go meet Mr. Reddy and learn a little more about life from his perspective, at once renew my own commitments to making the most of my own abilities, at once strive for the kind of quiet integrity and character that are displayed.

    An earlier call for new member intro asked us what we love about this "hobby". Well, how can one *not* love and feel something w/ photography when one comes across work (and life) such as this from both the photographer *and* the subject?


    Kind regards,

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