Sheffield photographic artist Andrew G Smith admits he has always had a bit of an obsession with the Forgemasters steel plant in Sheffield East End.
He took some pictures of the outside of the building and included them in a collection of images of the Don Valley which he displayed in shopfront on The Moor which indirectly resulted in him being invited to bring his camera inside.
The result of the commission by Sheffield Forgemasters chief executive Graham Honeyman is an exhibition opening next week in the Winter Garden as part of the 2013 Galvanize festival of contemporary metal.
Smith has also produced a limited edition book called, like the exhibition, Steel Soul. The exhibition, to be opened by Tony Pedder of Sheffield International Forgemasters, on Tuesday evening contains around 30 images, along with a video installation playing on a loop in a big blue cube, although he calculates that he took between 500-600 prints in all.
Smith was given open access to the steelworks and spent two years documenting what went on in the Melt Shop, Forge, Foundry and the North and South machine shops, each responsible for one of the four processes of melting, forging, casting and machinery which make up the four sections of the book.
Smith likes to capture patterns and shapes in an almost abstract style rather than adopting a documentary approach.
“It all started with an obsession with the outside of the building and then to get invited inside I don’t know what I expected except perhaps a fiery hell,” he reflects, “and it totally changed what I thought about steelmaking in Sheffield and the people involved in the process. Everything is different from what you expect when you go in there but it is still an elemental process.
“The project is more about the objects than the people. Once you get people in a photo they become the focus but I think without them you can still feel their presence.”
Most of the pictures are in black and white using either natural light or available artificial lighting, although he is showing some smaller prints .
Last year Smith produced an exhibition and book called Vélo which captured the shimmering, spectral beauty and uncompromising brutality of the Tour de France. He is hoping the project may have further legs when the Tour de France comes to Yorkshire. He also has a long-term project involving another of his passions, football.
Steel Soul will be on shown in the Winter Garden until June 9 and the book is in a first-printing edition of 200.