The first photographer to have ever received a 'carte blanche' to the
Hermès Maison workshops, South African photographer Koto Bolofo is on a mission to challenge our understanding of craft. Documented over eight years, the resulting 'La Maison' is a voyeuristic 11-volume look behind the closed doors of a Parisian house who until now, has remained the mysterious dowager of the fashion universe.
Having already spent 15 years working on Le Monde d'Hermès and, in his own words, 'growing progressively bored with photographing a bunch of watches', a meeting with the late Jean-Louis Dumas in 2004 - who sadly died last year - allowed Bolofo to reveal what he really wanted. Quite simply, to go beyond the products he was photographing and delve into their intricate processes.
Due in part to a peculiar stroke of luck - Bolofo's ancestors were from the Lesotho tribe, that protected Mr Dumas' great great missionary grandfather from the Zulus, that and the inimitable CEO being in a good mood that day, led Dumas to calling Bolofo 'cousin', telling him he was now to be addressed as Jean-Louis (a treat reserved for no one else in the company), but more to the point, giving his all-access go-ahead for such secret places as the saddlery, scarf and ready-to-wear ateliers.
Ditching his entourage and stripping away all the customary baggage (agents, equipment, compromise) that comes with the fashion photography he is known for, Bolofo used just a film camera, tripod, cable release, whatever natural light was available, and his talent at winning the confidences of otherwise reluctant-to-be-photographed workshop men, to capture a sense of 'raw luxury', as he puts it.
'Do we really understand that word? Do we understand the precision it takes? How a person tears the leather away with might?', he muses. The resulting body of work is a pairing of craft for craft - a craftsman in the midst of a mind-boggling hand-stitching manoeuvre, matched with Bolofo's own simple manual knack for capturing this.