I have always been genuinely amazed by any challenging craft, and I loved watching the craftsmen impassioned by their work. There is a certain magical beauty in the process. How can a person, with his own hands, create an instrument, which produces sounds, and which — with the help of a musician — creates the melodies that can give us joy or provoke our tears, bring back the memories or inspire us to new achievements? It is pure magic, and not so long ago I had a chance to see it for myself.
When I received a request from Girona, the city, which I love dearly, to shoot a violin-maker, I was overcome with emotions. A violin is the unfulfilled dream of my childhood. An opportunity to see the process of its creation with my own eyes — and to shoot this process and later share the photographs with the world — for me was much more than just another photo project.
The studio of Eduard Sitjas, one of Catalonia’s best violin makers, is very small, but that’s what makes it so cozy and charming. There’s paper, sawdust, shavings and sketches everywhere, all of the surfaces are covered with cans that contain varnish, dark stain and natural pigments — and LOTS of instruments that look just like those from the times of Stradivarius, which isn’t that surprising, considering that the violing-making has remained unchanged through the centuries. Sure enough, the modern craftsmen don’t forego such advantages of civilization as electricity, which simplifies their work at certain stages, but it seems to me that it has no visible influence on the romantic nature of the process. I didn’t have much time to watch Sitjas work, but it was enough to understand the complexity of his craft: every detail is important in the musical instrument, and any trifle can influence the sound, its character, depth, intensity, colouring, and tone quality. The smallest mistake can corrupt or even kill off the sound completely.
I was completely enchanted by the love and passion that Eduard puts into his work. To shoot him in the process was a powerful source of inspiration. I believe that the person can only be successful in his craft, when he’s truly impassioned by what he is doing. When you can’t think about anything but your work, when the result requires hardship and emotional upheaval, when even after many months of painstaking labour you still doubt yourself — that’s when a new violin, a new masterpiece, is born through emotional ups and downs, crowned with the satisfaction of its creator. Every time it is unique, because each violin is the union of the violin maker’s skills and the talents of the musician, for whom it was made. But even when played by different violinists, each instrument will have its own unique sound, the sound of its craftsman, the sound made by the hands of Eduard Sitjas.
I tried to do my best to show you the magical atmosphere that I was lucky to experience. In the process, I asked Eduard many questions, and I’m sharing his answers with you, to give a better understanding of this craftsman.
It all starts with my dad, he really likes classical music, so when I was young I used to hear classical music at my home all the time. One day I saw a violinist on tv and I really liked it, so I said to my parents that I want to take lessons. When I was 14 I went with my dad to a workshop of a violin maker in Barcelona to buy a new violin and the first moment I went into this workshop I fell in love with the atmosphere, workbenches, the violins on the wall, the smell and everything. And since that moment I knew I want to be a violin maker.
When I finished high school I went to work as apprentice in the same workshop I first went in Barcelona. I worked there for 2 years and than I went to England to learn at one of the best schools of violin making in the world. After I went to work in London in a big workshop.
I like to work not rushing, so I make like 4-5 instruments a year. It can be 4 violins and 1 chello. It takes 2 or 2,5 month of work to make a violin. From the beginning, choosing the wood, to varnish and set up.
It's like a friendship. When client comes for the first time, he wants to know you, if you get along and have a connection than it's a good point. First, he tells me what he wants, his kind of sound and than we start to look for the model and wood, after I start working. Some clients want to see each step of the process and they come few times, others come just once when it's finished. When the violin is ready, it may sound well, but in 2 years it will improve. The violins to be played to open. And the musician has to know how to open it. But the relationship between me and the costumers doesn't end when I give the violin, it stays a little bit longer, because for the next year he will come to adjust few things.
The most difficult process of violin making is varnish. Because it's really difficult to approach, you can ruin a violin with a bad varnish or make it look really good. And this is why it is my favourite process - you get really into their, pain and misery.