Keeping it Alive: The Violin Restorer Making Antique Strings Sing

Keeping it Alive: The Violin Restorer Making Antique Strings Sing

In our new photo journal series, Keeping it Alive, we meet the people preserving fragments of cultural heritage across the world. This week, we duck into a dusty London workshop to meet a master luthier repairing antique European violins

James Kelly embarked on a project photographing traditional crafts, his aim was not just to
record the crafter at work, but also the act of preservation
itself. He saw in the revival and renewal of ancient skills a form
of sustainability.

Focusing on the world of music was a no-brainer. “It’s my
passion,” says Kelly. “Having worked with musicians who told
stories of 18th- and 19th-century string and brass instruments they
were playing, I always wondered about the origins, history and how
these would be looked after and preserved.” Beginning research, the
photographer had a vague belief that there must be someone,
somewhere, beavering away on the upkeep and restoration of historic
instruments, inevitably in a dusty, photogenic workshop tucked into
the suburban underbelly of a city. The idea proved prescient; his
investigations led him to south London, where he found Anette.

Anette Fajadro is a luthier – a craftsperson who builds or
repairs string instruments. Now based in Crofton Park, she began
her journey at a German violin-making school in Bavaria in 1985.
Equipped with the skills to preserve antique string instruments,
she then worked around the world, from Baden-Württemberg to
Chicago, including an 11-year period at the
Royal Academy of Music, London.

Some instruments will be played again, a ghost song of past centuries recaptured, sweet and honeyed by age

Her work revolves around restoring antique violins: she tweaks
their sound, improves their playability, rebuilds their timeworn
bodies – in her own words, giving them an “MOT”. Most of the
instruments she works with are owned by foundations and museums.
Some will be played again, a ghost song of past centuries
recaptured, sweet and honeyed by age. Others are simply preserved
as an object of fascination, or importance. Fajadro works from
home, in a cosy workshop just like Kelly imagined, which is tucked
away at the bottom of her garden. She’s helped by a fittingly named
assistant, Viola.

When Kelly visited, she was working on a famous Renaissance
violin. “Lev’s violin” is an Italian instrument named after its
former Russian owner. Its tale – like that of many instruments –
can be mapped across the European continent and through its musical
history. The strange tale is told in a book by Helena Attlee.
Today, the instrument is owned by violinist, composer and conductor
Greg Lawson. The other instrument photographed by Kelly is a 1760
Landolfi from Milan.

“Anette says the work on a violin can be subjective and
dependent on its use,” says Kelly. It’s not as easy as restoring
its sound, or just its looks. “Should you restore it for what’s
best for the preservation of the original violin, or the needs of
the player? Or find a balance of both, to meet the needs of the
violin itself?”

@jameskellyphoto |

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