These Photographs Capture Estonia’s Handcraft Masters

“I always liked going to artisans’ studios to see what they are doing there. It’s like a magical world to me and the artisans are the magicians.”
- Heikki Leis

Clocksmiths, magicians, luthiers – Estonia is home to artists and artisans of very special kinds. But in an ever-globalising world, these crafts are slowly dying out. Estonian photographer and drawing artist Heikki Leis has a close connection to these compatriots of his and decided to capture them with his camera for his new book: Estonian Master.

Heikki 18
Loola Liivat, painter

       

Heikki 11
Sille Sikmann, shoe designer

       

Heikki 22
Arne Zekker, forensic pathologist

       

Heikki believes it is necessary to highlight those with special capabilities that are slowly becoming extinct in the modern age. Fittingly using analogue photography, he documented the working hands and expressions of 33 masters of their craft. By doing this, Heikki also aims to honour what he learned while speaking to his subjects: “The conversations solidified the old truth that if you want to do something very well, you have to practice it for many years.”

In our interview, Heikki explains his fascination for artisans and illustrates the special attitude of Estonia’s people.

THE PLUS: What inspired you to take pictures of these artists?
Heikki Leis:
I have always liked going to artists’ and artisans’ studios to see what they are doing there. It’s like a magical world to me and the artisans are the magicians. And of course, we should honour the artisans and value their work more. It is always a pleasure to watch and capture a working person.

Heikki 25
Agur Ints, carpenter

       

TP: What fascinates you about handcraft in general?
HL:
For these different subjects, it is just how long the masters have learned and perfected their profession to achieve this level. I believe that everybody likes the handcrafted and often low-circulation items more than the Chinese mass production. Many professions are also quietly disappearing and machines and robots are taking over these jobs, so they have to be highlighted.

TP: Was there an artist or an experience during the making of Estonian Master that particularly stuck in your mind?
HL:
Quite a few were surprising. The most memorable was probably capturing the work of a surgeon and a pathologist since these people’s work is something one does not get to observe often first-hand. There were also a lot of great conversations with the masters about their lives and work. It solidified the old truth that if you want to do something very well, you have to practice it for many years. Mastering something does not come quickly.

Heikki 12
Mart Eller, surgeon

       

TP: What was your idea behind going with the style of film photography?
HL:
It seemed right to record this series on film. The image on film is somewhat more honest and clearer with all its colours, graininess and depth of field. The analogue photography is also a disappearing art form with the digital photo pressing in through each door. I had these films developed in a photo lab, but developing one’s own black and white films would definitely be considered a craft. I have a limited number of frames while shooting on film, and this makes me more focused on each shot, which can often also be seen in the final result.

TP: Tell us about the characteristics of the Estonian people and artists.
HL:
The Estonians can appear more reserved and humble than the people of the Nordic countries tend to be. They also seem to be very hard-working and industrious. Many may not open up at the first meeting, but it is all the more enjoyable to finally get on the same wavelength and to try to understand them. In this series, I also paid great attention to the hands of the craftsmen, as their most important tools and hands can be very meaningful.

Heikki 29
Jarmo Nuutre, sign painter

       

TP: You created a book for this project. What where your thoughts behind making a book for Estonian Master, and how did you experience this process?
HL:
The idea of a book came to me at an early stage of this project. I realized that I would like to show more pictures of each artist and they would not fit into an exhibition. Since the Republic of Estonia celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, the book was my gift to Estonia. Any lengthy creative process is a good experience. Publishing a photo book requires a lot of work and communication, and later also marketing, and I did not really have much experience with it before.

TP: Time plays an important role in your work, also in your projects Post-truth eraChronovores or Memories. What fascinates you about time?
HL:
Time is a rather abstract concept for me, but also very playful and thought-provoking. Time has often been the subject for philosophers and artists for centuries. Unconsciously it has also crept into my own work.

Heikki 30
Tiiu Kirsipuu, sculptor

       

TP: Are you a history-lover?
HL:
Not really, but I do like photos and films depicting the old times, especially the way people and interiors looked. Everything seems more stylish than nowadays, and all the items seem much more valued than they do today. Sometimes I dream that I would indeed like to travel back in time and capture it with my own camera!

TP: Looking into the future, what can we look forward to seeing from you?
HL:
I am not in the middle of any bigger photo projects currently, but I am always thinking and collecting ideas. Some smaller projects are in operation and I believe they will be visible soon. However, next year I will show my new series of drawings AVIVA, on which I have been working for the last four or five years. It consists of large circular hyper-realistic drawings, and is a more playful series where some drawings extend out of the frames and continue as real objects into the gallery.

Heikki 2
Merlin Tammeleht, car mechanic

       

Heikki 3
Tanel Veenre, jeweller

       

Heikki 4
Edward von Lõngus, graffiti artist

       

Heikki 5
Liisi Roht, makeup artist

       

Heikki 6
Heino Kalm, tooth fairy

       

Heikki 7
Helen Heinroos, hair stylist

       

Heikki 8
Johan Tralla, clocksmith

       

Heikki 10
Piret Veski, potter

       

Heikki 13
Ivo Lill, glass artist

       

Heikki 14
Ants Uustalu, chef

       

Heikki 15
Ervin Juht, butcher

       

Heikki 16
Taivo Piller, florist

       

Heikki 17
Peeter Allik, linolcut artist

       

Heikki 19
Karl Eelmaa, magician

       

Heikki 20
Stella Soomlais, leather designer

       

Heikki 21
Terje Kiho, doll maker

       

Heikki 23
Andrus Hämäläinen, luthier

       

Heikki 24
Karl Annus, eyeglass frame designer

       

Heikki 26
Urmas Pikhof, tailor

       

Heikki 27
Mihkel Kõrv, gunsmith

       

Heikki 28
Ivar Feldmann, blacksmith

       

Heikki 31
Ott Koppa, taxidermist

       

Heikki 32
Mico Goldobin, tattoo artist

       

Heikki 33
Terje Lillmaa, textile artist

       

Heikki 34
Eero Mander, brewer

       

Heikki 1
Priit Pärn, animator

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