New York-based portrait and environmental photographer Michael Magers first came to Japan as the principal photographer for an upcoming book on Japanese food and culture written by Matt Goulding and published by Ecco, Anthony Bourdain’s imprint at Harper Collins. For that project he went to photograph the knife makers of Sakai, his first introduction to the world of Japanese shokunin (職人 or artisans). A new project was born:
It’s been said that in Japan objects are born not made. In a society that increasingly values speed over quality, handcrafted goods retain a heartbeat lacking in the mass-produced world. The master craftsmen (and a few women) who commit their lives to honing perfection to its sharpest edge are known as shokunin. They are a dying breed, often working in obscurity and always with an intense, almost meditative focus on process. It takes years to learn technique alone and a lifetime to approach mastery of tasks that are on the brink of extinction in our on-demand, insta-famous society.
The Shokunin Project is an ethnography of mastery— a study of the obsession and commitment to excellence it takes to dedicate one’s life to the pursuit of perfection. Encompassing images from more than 30 photo sessions across Japan, it documents these men and women as they work, making portraits both as a form of cultural preservation and as a testament to a vanishing group of artisans.