"The Master's Tools"

I finally have a photograph of my father’s right hand as a reminder of the 30 years he couldn’t close it. I can finally share the image of that slightly swollen mitt with cracked canyons and calloused mounds that once lived solely in my mind. Even without an image, I remember the way it felt when I held his hand and how he hardly ever caressed my face as he knew it would feel like sandpaper against my delicate cheek.

As I grew up his hand embodied my dad’s sacrifice to us. For me, deformed and all, it was amazingly beautiful. Although my dad’s hand was a huge physical vulnerability for him, to me it was a symbol of his greatest strength – his dedication to raising his family.  Both my parents worked feverishly in garment factories for the majority of my youth. My dad was a pattern cutter and my mom was a machine operator. Although they continuously told me not to tell anyone what they did for a living, I was always secretly extremely proud. 

You would never know how much he (and we) cared for that hand. Every night he would sit with an emery board and attempt to sand off the hand hoping to be able to close it before going to bed. I would wrap it for him in cotton strips after saturating it in Vaseline. On the worse days, usually in the dead of winter, the cracks would bleed. He would tape up the joints of his fingers with electrical tape in the morning and go straight to work. He never, ever complained.

There are countless workers in America whose bodies become distorted as a result of the intense and often repetitive work they carry out. Some endure life altering injuries. Some even lose parts of their bodies.  These workers are diligent, dedicated and above all dignified. It is with honor that I announce my new project, “The Master’s Tools”, where I document these workers and their bodies throughout the United States with a series of intense and intimate portraits. The project is shot primarily in medium format film. The documentary component has short films that document the experience of capturing the images and meeting these great people.

Please join my mailing list by contacting me at shirleyshoots@gmail.com to receive updates and to learn more about how you can get involved. Please visit my site at www.shotbyshirl.com for more information on me and to see samples of my work.