Baptism by Fire
Working with fire and glass, by David Stocks
When I was invited by Vic Bamforth and Darren Weed to photograph them at work in the Stourbridge Glassblowing Studio at the Ruskin Glass Centre (@SGStudio11) I knew it was going to be hot. I just didn’t realise quite how hot!
In hindsight, choosing one of the hottest summers on record for my visits may not have been my smartest move. Yet the heat of both the furnace where the molten glass is gathered from and the glory hole, where the each piece is repeatedly reheated, was one of the things I was trying to capture. So, although at times I felt I was melting as much as the molten glass, it gave me an insight into this fiery world that I may not have gained on a cold winter’s day.
Watching Vic and Darren at work, transforming glass from its simplest form into magnificent works of art, was nothing short of alchemy. This was a new world I was entering, where fire is king, for glass only becomes malleable via the intense heat of the furnaces. Without this heat glass would not be possible, and all its magical forms would be lost to the world forever. I see glass artists as masters of heat, able to harness its properties and make amazing works of art. Vic and Darren certainly fit into this category.
At first I was nervous of this elemental force, as Vic and Darren moved from the furnaces to where they worked the glass with grace and ease. I watched in awe as they moved in synchronisation, always knowing where each other were, anticipating each other’s needs. Whilst I acclimatised I stayed out of the work area behind the security of a safety barrier.
My first objective was to try and capture the pervading feeling of heat in the workshop. To do this I used a slightly blurred soft focus to reflect the impression of a heat haze shimmering in the studio.
To emphasise this further still I captured the smoke rising when a piece was worked, whilst blurring out the background, using post-production techniques.
As I became more in tune to how Vic and Darren worked I stepped beyond the comfort of the safety barrier and into the studio itself. At first I felt like a gladiator stepping into an arena, whereas in fact it was something much more subtle, akin to a dancer learning a new dance. I never felt in danger, however, as Vic and Darren are masters of this dance and I soon fell into the rhythm of the dance of fire and glass.
By the end of my first visit I felt more in tune with how they worked and with an even greater appreciation of their art.
On my second visit I was prepared for the heat, but still I felt its intensity on yet another scorching hot summer’s day. This time I was better able to anticipate where they would be in the glass working process and was able to capture some great shots of them at work.
I learned a little bit more about their art with each visit. Each piece is the result of a complex process, often combining two or more pieces, with pre and post production work to create the final piece. The high temperatures used in glass must be carefully controlled, with the finished piece put in an annealing oven, which is programmed to allow the work to cool gradually overnight in order to relieve it of stress and strain. Glass must be worked quickly; once out of the glory hole it is only malleable for a short amount of time before it needs to go back into the glory hole again. The blowing iron must be continually rotated whilst the glass is still hot, whether being worked or not, to ensure the piece is kept on centre. A careful watch must be kept on imperfections, such as ash from the dampened pad of wet newspaper used for ‘hand’ shaping the glass, or unwanted air bubbles forming. These can be carefully removed if caught in time.
On my third visit I paid attention to these details and to how Vic and Darren worked as a team.
This last visit coincided with one of the hottest days of the year. It felt strange to go outside, in what would normally be blazing heat, in order to cool off. Even more strange to go back inside to what felt like a wall of heat.
I have learned something new with every visit and gained an even greater respect for these modern-day alchemists, who transmute ordinary glass into objects of great beauty – each holding the secret of their fiery-making deep inside. I am looking forward to my next visit and seeing more works of skill and beauty from these practitioners of fire and glass.
You can find more about Vic and Darren’s work if you visit their websites and see their amazing finished pieces:
For more photographs from my visits go to: