In the course of this project, I visited 20 or so companies and always searched for elegance, beauty and a nice light within highly varied and often unstructured environments. I was initially attracted to the more traditional processes, which were visually arresting but were also the source of much dull and repetitive work.
At Frank Baines’s saddlery in Walsall, though, there was no need for a production line. The small team – Frank, his son Garry and daughter Victoria included – works on individual saddles for which they are personally responsible. I was amazed at the quality of the final products, made entirely by hand, with what looked like very rudimentary, but very sharp, tools.
In the steamy and spotless mixing area of Panesar Foods, the small team of mostly Polish workers was making barbecue sauce. The ingredients were being poured into a vast stainless-steel cooking pot and the final mixture pumped via a 4in stainless-steel pipe to the next-door bottling plant. Panesar started as a family business in 1992 and now produces a range of more than 750 speciality foods and sauces.
Other photographers include Martin Parr, Stuart Franklin, Jonas Bendiksen, Mark Power, Chris Steele-Perkins, David Hurn, Alessandra Sanguinetti. Peter Marsh, the FT’s former manufacturing editor, introduces the issue