These are hands that build. That carve and sand and fit out boats with the lush warmth of fine wood, for the practical and aesthetic comfort of their crews.
I’ve seen their work in person, in the Western Navigator. a beauty of a tug, jawdroppingly pristine to my eyes in every respect. So far, the tugs I have been on are stripped down, practical, wholly functional. But stepping into the Western Navigator was like stepping into a boat from another time, or a novel even. She was spick and span all through – clean as a whistle despite years of service, her bare metal parts in and out of the engine room polished to a mirror shine (which I then smudged with fingerprints when clambering around, oops), electronics progressively updated, and of course, fitted out with absolutely beautiful woodwork.
A lot of love and pride has gone into the build and maintenance of the Western Navigator, by everyone involved, and she shows for it.
Tom is one of two ship’s carpenters at the Western Towboat Company in Seattle. I paid them a visit in January, thanks to Ed Brydon, who hooked me up from across the country. I have a long standing respect for people who make things with their hands, as my own struggle to open jars and aren’t much use away from a keyboard. Trying to get into Tom’s mental space, from his physical working space, was a treat.
It isn’t very often I get to chat with someone at work for as long as I did with everyone at Western Towboat. I got to know Tom while huddling in the warmth of his workshop, asking him questions about his life and work, shooting when there was pause. I made some portraits that day which I love (not something I normally say about my people pictures), and this is one of them:
I am reminded, every time, of how much portraits really are a give and take experience. So much more goes into them than a split-second hit of a shutter button.