I enjoy all kinds of music and, as a kid, I wanted to play. I was 10 years old, taking piano lessons, when we moved and my parents sold the piano. I guess my talents weren’t appreciated. So much for that. I tried my hand at guitar, I couldn’t tune it. As an adult I tried piano again, I couldn’t grasp reading music. This all leads up to my observational relationship with music. I’ve photographed some amazingly talented people, like B.B. King, Stephane Grappelli, Maynard Ferguson and more. I grab any opportunity to be around these artists. A couple of years ago I was shooting at the Elephant Room in Austin and I met Michael Rath, a builder of hand-made trombones. We got together about a month later and our conversation led to the favorite assignment of my career, photographing the build of trombones in his shop in Honley, U.K.
Mick and about a dozen craftsmen produce 350 to 400 handmade custom trombones a year in variants alto, tenor, bass and contrabass for musicians around the globe. Rath trombones are found in symphony orchestras and opera houses, in film and television studios, in the hands of pop, jazz and funk musicians as well as all kinds of bands; brass, wind and big.
A build starts with what Mick calls, the bits, everything from brass to make the slides and bells to mouth pieces and valves.
Watching the men work on the trombones is absolutely fascinating, I had no idea what was involved. There are different stations in the shop for welding, shaping and polishing. The work is precise, meticulous and quality is paramount, all parts are inspected several times throughout the build. It is wondrous to see the process, raw metals forged into lustrous musical instruments. This is the only shop in the U.K. making custom trombones and one of four or five in the world. This is a very exclusive club.
Michael Rath Brass Musical Instruments produces the most beautiful sounding, not to mention exquisitely designed trombones on the planet. As part of our project, to add local flavor and for a bit of fun, we took several pieces with us to photograph in the mills and fields near Honley. For the two shots in the fields below, we actually chased the sun across a valley. Sun is a rare commodity in the U.K.
At some point we needed a portrait of Mick. I took his photograph with a selection of his ‘bones, from the smallest to the largest, the contrabass, which is a couple of inches taller than Mick himself. This project was one that I will remember fondly for the rest of my days.