Portrait of a Violin Restorer

I first met Céline Garnier over a year ago while researching a project involving violin makers (this one). Céline was in the process of moving her practice from her home workshop to a new space in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan district at the time, ruling out the immediate possibility of a workshop portrait, which is what I had in mind. Six months later, she had settled into her new workshop. I had time to work on personal projects then, so stopped by to make a portrait and a few other still images.

Another six months then went by before I came to the realization that Céline and her work were just the sort of subjects I was looking to find for a short documentary film.

A cello and various violin restoration tools on Céline Garnier's workbench

The workshop itself occupies a charismatic space lined with a long bank of windows on one side and boasting a relative abundance of space, particularly by Hong Kong standards. Céline’s work there on violins there is a precise, delicate, artisanal pursuit that is visually fascinating. Her approach involves the sort of obsessive dedication to craft that one can only hope to encounter.

Céline Garnier at work in Sheung Wan

I have been intending to film more personality-driven short documentaries lately; the experience photographing Céline eventually led to the realization that she would make an ideal subject for such a piece. On assignment, I often photograph people who occupy positions of great wealth, power, and celebrity - the sort of people society floods with attention - but have no desire to seek out those kind of people on my own time. On film, I have always found those people who do tangible, human-scale work the most interesting, their ideas most compelling, and their motives most direct. Just about anyone who does creative work and has a singular focus on quality is good in my book; Céline definitely fits that mold.

The film is at top and also on Vimeo. Céline Garnier’s workshop is online at theviolinworkshop.net.

Céline Garnier, violin restorer, poses at her workshop in Hong Kong