On-Assignment photoessay: Welders


I am pathologically attracted to welding. It’s the photographers’ analog to a moth being drawn to a flame, or in this case either an oxyacetylene torch or plasma arc. My theory is that it has to do with a) light and b) unusual light. How often do you see somebody focusing intently on what is essentially a continuously powered, almost unidirectional flash? You can’t help but look. The radiating shadows created by that harsh light create all sorts of leading lines that force your eyes to the source: man and fire. It’s visually epic in a Metropolis sort of way; the Rocketman-esque helmets do nothing to detract from this, making the whole thing simply impossible to turn away from. It’s probably the reason my eyes have floaters, and some of my sensors have burn marks. But in monochrome it also tells a timeless story of man’s desire to build something great from the sum of much lesser components. And for nothing if that reason, we must bear witness to these things coming to life. MT

Shot over a very long period of time over a large number of construction and heavy engineering assignments, with various hardware from 6×6 film to micro 4/3 to MF digital and everything in between…


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Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


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  1. Håkan Lindgren says:

    “I am pathologically attracted to welding.”

    I am glad to hear this, I thought I was the only weirdo! Only one thing is better than welding, and that’s welding at night.

    • Actually that’s the other nice thing about welding: it’s so bright you can pretty much expose as you like and the arc will still blow out, so you can indirectly control ambient and make it *look* as though it’s night…even if it isn’t. 🙂

    • Another great source of sparks is the grinding that happens after the welding. They can be more focused and dramatic, as they shoot off in one direction, instead of radiating from one point.

      As an inexperienced amateur, I must admit that I make more sparks from cleaning up my ugly welds than from the welding itself. 🙂

      • Definitely – and dragged out with a slightly longer shutter speed, look even more dramatic. At least you can weld – that’s totally beyond me! 😬

  2. Michael Fleischer says:

    What a striking collection of evocative photos – they really quietly shine!

  3. feine Serie…

  4. Not a bad shot in the bunch, there really is something surreal about it.

  5. Great work!

    But as a welder, I was surprised how many of your welders were holding their masks!

    When I’m welding, I want both hands free, so I always wear the mask. A second hand comes in handy: sometimes to steady the work, sometimes a double-grip on the gun (one on the handle, the other on the trigger — helps avoid “birds nests” from grabbing the handle and accidentally hitting the trigger), sometimes just for insurance, in case something slips — if for no other reason, to push myself out of the way of danger!

    I’m guessing these were either “spot jobs,” rather than hour-after-hour of work, or perhaps they find it quicker to inspect their work without flipping the mask up.

    • Good point on holding masks. There were a number of spot jobs, but also continual inspection during the work. Also, very high humidity conditions in Hong Kong And Malaysia make it unpleasant to wear a safety helmet, let alone a full face mask…

  6. Hi, I myself am a welder and I must say your work is just beautiful and I wish I could do the same. I really enjoyed the photos.

    • Thanks! I’ve always found something poetic about the delicacy of the sparks and precision required juxtaposed against the energy required to make it all happen…constantly inspiring!

  7. Mike Duffey says:

    I was a welder for 20 years. Thrilled to have an artist see the same beauty in the work from the outside that I saw from the inside. Beautifully placed in context, respectfully honored, and captured for posterity. Thank you.

  8. I’m interested in your hypothesis regarding floaters in your eyes. Any evidence for this? I have horrible floaters, and spent many a day helping my dad with welding jobs when I was a kid. He had a mask and I got to turn my head and close my eyes. Yep, I saw lots of welding light. He was a good dad, but didn’t always consider child labor laws…
    Awesome pictures by the way.

    • Thanks. I thought it was because very bright light was fusing the fluids or something similar – remember what happens when you use a magnifying glass with the sun on paper, but instead with your eyeballs…

    • Nicholas D. says:

      Floaters “can” be a sign of an impending torn or detached retina. If you truly have horrible floaters – best to have them checked by a suitable opthmalogist (which I am not, I hasten to add). But I had sudden onset of dozens – my eye doc fit me in the next day….

      Wonderful images – really captures the craft. I work as an industrial consultant and have seen the trade ranging from cutting metal for scrap all the way to precision work with high spec alloys destined for severe duty in petrochem applications. Artists all.

      • Thanks for the slightly frightening (!) medical insight – my fosters aren’t that bad, but I definitely will get them seen too if they do ever reach that point!

  9. I had wondered whether the welding shots damaged your sensors. Now I know. It was interesting to look through the photos and try to spot the M4/3 shots. I thought I’d found two….the first of the welder in the striped shirt and one wide shot on the tracks with deep leading lines and depth of focus. Turns out one was an Olympus M5 (striped shirt), the other a Hasselblad. I’m sure there’s a point there, somewhere. Also of interest was that the second shot of Striped Shirtman, shown as made with a Nikon D800E, works better to my eye because of the higher shutter speed and its effect on flying bright bits….but that the textures on more static elements appeared at least as good in the M4/3 image. (All assuming the EXIF info to be correct.)

    • Nope – been doing it for years and my sensors are still fine; no dead pixels.

      The point is probably that my processing/ style is consistent regardless of the hardware used 😉

  10. Richard Southgate says:

    You’ve produced a stunning set of images there Ming. Really excellent work. Beautifully composed.

  11. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    LOL – tried so hard to capture the ironworker who installed some columns in my house while it was being renovated – he was standing over his work, with a stream of sparks pouring out, seemingly from his behind, like a golden peacock tail display. Very theatrical. I couldn’t help thinking it was in rather dangerous territory, as I stood there watching, though.

    • Nah, the energy of individual sparks is pretty low, so not much heat transfer takes place – the jewels are safe…so long as he wasn’t wearing something flammable like polyester.

  12. great photos – thanks Ming!

  13. The welders are one of my favorite elements in your construction photoessays! The light does lend them a pretty surreal and unique feel. I wonder how much of the UV given off alters the look of it, and I’m guessing film is probably the most affected.

  14. Alex Carnes says:

    They look very funky don’t they. Unfortunately I don’t get the opportunity to shoot welders so I have to make do with torches, lamps, flash guns, and the sun! I do rather like having a light source in the frame, especially with diffraction flare. Something of a guilty pleasure!


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