White Rose Cooperage

I loved meeting and photographing Alistair Simms, the last remaining Master Cooper in England. Alistair makes barrels from scratch and I had been commissioned by Waitrose Weekend Magazine, to photograph the process and to do a few portraits of Alistair and his apprentice to illustrate the article.

This was not strictly a commercial job, however I think it’s a good example of how photography can be used to illustrate the processes in manufacturing, and it’s easy to see how these images could then be used on a company website to promote the business.

The White Rose Cooperage is based up in Wetherby, North Yorkshire and Alistair began his career at age 16 in his home town of Masham. He went on to work for Theakston and then for a company in Wiltshire, before setting up his own business in Wetherby in 2013.

The interior of the cooperage was fascinating, with its walls of tools, planks of wood and barrels in various stages of assembly. The atmosphere was wonderful and I felt as though I’d stepped back in time. The only nod to modern times was a couple of machines that are used to cut the wood. Jobs like these are a steep learning curve for me as I go in knowing nothing about the process of barrel making, but I soon have to get up to speed if my images are going to make any sense. I ask lots of questions and get Alistair and his apprentice to slow their usual rate and repeat what they are doing several times. Most of these images have made use of the natural light coming in through the big open doorways, sometimes benefiting from a little pop of fill in light. My favourite shots are the ones outside smoking the barrel – there’s nothing like a bit of smoke to add some drama! Alistair’s work is very physically demanding and he works at a great speed, I left with a great admiration for his workmanship.


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