Tim Zowada

There are a lot of ways for people to earn a living. Most probably wouldn't ever think that making knives would be one of them. Especially in the manner of Tim Zowada, who lives/works in a remote part of northern Michigan. He's not on any kind of payroll. Nor is he paid by a large company to crank out mass quantities of their product. He's self employed, and creates beautiful one of a kind pieces. From scratch. Tim is much more of an artist or craftsman, than he is blade maker. You could make an argument that Tim is also one of kind, which is the reason why his products come out the way they do. A few months ago, I had the honor of shooting with Tim. And was amazed not only at his knowledge, but also his dedication. There is an incredible amount of time and detail that goes into making each one of his pieces.  Rather than write out a lot unqualified bullshit about his process, thought I would let Tim explain things for himself. His answers are great for anyone, regardless of profession, is trying to do their own thing. 
Side note: These images were all made with a mix of ambient light, shop light, and Broncolor strobes. My goal was to mimic what was already there, but boost it up with strobes a bit without having the strobe light call attention itself. 
1) Explain briefly (or at length) how you got started at your craft. 
Simply put, it was a hobby than ran amok. I have always had a "knack" for building things. Before I made my first knife I had made such things as a banjo, fly fishing rod and a rifle. I made my first knife in high school shop class. (Yes, we could do that then.) During college, I tinkered with knife making as a hobby. My junior year of college, I became disillusioned with my chosen career path. During that time, my father asked, "Do you think you could make a living with the knife making thing?". That question led to a complete change in the direction of my life. Thirty three years later, I'm still avoiding a "real job".
2) How did you develop your personal style? 
A personal style seems to develop with experience. Over the years, certain work would catch my attention. I would take what I thought was the best elements from those knives, guns, jewelery, sculpture, etc. and try to incorporate it in to my own work. As I learn new techniques, my perspective and style continue to evolve. 
3) What are some things you do that others in your business don't ?
Currently, I specialize in straight razors. It is not that I don't make knives, but the razors have really caught my attention. That being said, as far as I know, I am the only craftsman making razors from steel that I smelt directly from iron ore. It's not that others are not able to do it, I'm just the only one that is doing it.
 
4) What would you say is the one thing that separates you from everyone else? 

This is really a difficult question, as there are a lot of good knife makers out there. I think it would boil down to the style of my work, coupled with my perspective on materials, techniques, and attention to detail. 
5) Where does most of your business come from? (location,demographic. etc.)

I have customers from all over the world, in nearly every demographic. It is very difficult to specify what would I would call my standard customer. I have sold knives, and razors, to customers who have had to save for a very long time, and probably couldn't justify the expense. I have also sold my products to "billionaires". Since I sell to such a wide variety of people, It makes marketing quite difficult.
6) You live in an isolated part of northern Michigan, and run your business from the same location. Can you talk about the effect it has on your business? 
With the advent of the Internet, it doesn't really have much effect. The internet has pretty much taken the place of the knife shows of the past. It is still important to get out and be seen once and a while. Since customers quite often become friends, it is good to get together.
7) From what I observed, the way you doing things can be classified as the definition of "old school". Explain your desire to keep things simple and authentic. 
You saw a lot of the "old school" stuff because that's what makes the best photographs! You didn't see the things like: my metallurgical microscopes, micro-hardness tester, digitally controlled salt bath hear treatment kilns, liquid Nitrogen process, etc. The way I think of it is; I like to combine traditional and ancient techniques with new technology, to produce products that are truly unique.

A good example would be my home smelted "Timahagane" steel. The smelting of iron ore to make steel ore goes back many centuries. Not much has changed in the materials or techniques. Yet when it comes time to heat treat my Timahagane, I rely on electric salt bath kilns. They give me the best control available over the temperature and atmosphere of the process.
 
7a) How has the digital age had an effect on your business? 

The internet has revolutionized marketing and communication. Earlier this week, my son was doing a live feed on Facebook. He had a crowd of people watching him, as he ground a razor. It was amazing to watch him communicate with his clients as he worked.

As you know, digital photography has made everything much faster. I can finish a knife, and have a high quality photo up on the internet in less than 20 minutes. Even though I am a luddite, I have to admit, it is very important to keep up with technology in the area of marketing.
8) You've been doing this a long time, and are considered one of the top knife makers in the world. How did that come to be? 

Well, I don't know about that. I guess it would have to be persistence, and enjoying what I do...  :)

9) Are there any areas of your craft that you would like to improve on? 

Pretty much everything. The more I learn, the more I realize how much there is to learn. If someone is continually trying to improve, they will never "arrive". The biggest new thing in my bag of tricks is, I am learning basic engraving from David Riccardo.
10) The way you run your business can be a great lesson for anyone who is self employed. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to live "off the grid" but still become the best at what they do (and make a living at it)? 

Don't quit your "real job" until it is getting in the way of making money at your craft. Too many people dive in to self employment before they are ready. Lots of skilled craftsmen have had to give it up because their business wasn't to the point of supporting their bills. It is very important to remember the business side of the "business". If you look around, it is easy to find excellent craftsmen who are starving, and conversely, people who produce junk who are making a lot of money. Finding a balance between production and running the business is very important.
*Last collage image of knives were made by Tim Zowada, Jim Weyer, and Sharp by Coop. 

 

The Basketball Hoops Project

Of the many things I learned while shooting for the barbershop book, is that the longer you shoot one project, the harder it gets. And for only one reason, that the bar continues to rise. Which by all arguments is good. When this project first started, it was fairly easy to find unique hoops. Now I can drive to the east coast and back with only actually shooting 4 or 5 hoops. And as long as they are quality, then it doesn't matter. But I can drive thousands of miles without finding anything that works, and it makes you wonder how much farther you can take the project. Then right around the corner you find a gem, and all the sudden you're back on track. Love that. 

America

My truck is just hitting 8 months old, and she's already got 30,000+ miles on it. That's a solid 8 months. This most recent (8,519 mile) road trip was memorable for a lot of reasons, just like all the others. I love looking through the images, and this is the quickest I've ever posted after a trip. But it's not usually until many months down the line, that I realize what was the most enjoyable. And on the flip side, what I fucked up on. There are always a few images that make me wish I had kept shooting at that particular location. Sometimes you can't though because it's unsafe, too dark, or whatever. So learning to except it, is a must. One thing I definitely learned is the necessity of keeping a journal. After driving 8k+ miles, it's real easy to forget locations and other important details about the images you make.  Those details will, at some point down the line, become very important. These images aren't supposed to be beautiful in the traditional sense. I don't care at all about that. They are supposed to accurately show the smaller places of our country that most people never see.  Some days I think this is my favorite type of shooting. And some days I think the images are dog shit. Either way, I can't wait to get back on the road. 

Roadtrip America

Recently finished up another road trip across America with Mojo. Started in San Diego, went all the way to Cape Cod, then back to San Diego. 8,519 miles total. Given that I haven't posted most images from last year, this post might be out of line, but whatever. The trip was a great time, and something that is always a great learning experience. America is a huge place, so it can be difficult to figure out where to focus your time and energy photographically.  It would be real easy to shoot everything that interests you, but then you would never get across the country. Seems like every time I get to the opposite coast, my feelings are that I didn't shoot enough, and that what I did get is shit. Then after a certain amount of time digesting the images, I turn out to be real happy with most of them. Which has proven to be a huge part of the process. Thus the reason it takes me half a year to even post anything.  Much more to come from this trip. And I promise it won't take 6 months. 

Fitness Photography-Multiple Exposure

The "muscle-up" is a difficult exercise, requiring a lot of strength and practice. It's something I've photographed for a long time, but have never been satisfied with the result. It just didn't seem like you could convey what the athletes were doing with a single frame. So after a lot of thought, I decided that in-camera multiple exposure was the answer. It's the only way to show the whole movement and range of motion. Finally satisfied. 

Shot on a Nikon D810 and lit with 5 strobes. 

Hood River, Oregon

This is sort of an extension on another post I made a while back about a road trip from last year. Which started in San Diego, then went all the way up the coast, into Canada (Banff), then down through Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and finally back to San Diego. Hood River, Oregon was definitely a notable stop along the way. It's known as the kite surfing and wind surfing capital of the world. We did neither of those things, but it doesn't matter. Hood River has a lot more to offer. Great camping, hiking, food, and beer. Hard to complain about a place that's bookended by Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier. The views are top notch. And we were lucky enough to be there on a few days where the visibility was close to perfect. 

J.C. Penney-Mother Store

Whether you shop there or not, you know J.C. Penney. It's an America staple that can be found anywhere you go, from the biggest of cities to the smallest of towns. One thing you probably never think of though, is where it all began. I certainly never did. And definitely didn't expect to stumble up it's "mother store" while traveling through Kemmerer, Wyoming. Cool think about how far it's come from this little town in 1902.

STAIR RUNNING-SAN DIEGO CONVENTION CENTER

Been shooting a lot of multiple exposures lately, and enjoying it a lot. The method of shooting is completely different and creates a whole new batch of challenges. This idea was in my head for a while now. Saturday mornings are usually a great time to hit the stairs at the San Diego Convention Center. There are always a lot of people running, and they all are doing something fairly unique, as you can see.

Crossfit

I've been shooting Crossfit for a few years now, and love it. There is a certain element that is missing in regular gyms. Most people in regular gyms get dressed up to "workout", but really they just stare in the mirror for an hour. Crossfitters want it to hurt. They are authentic. They want to be in pain by the end of their workout. This is a small collection of images I made over the past month, of that pain.

All images were shot on a Nikon D810/D4 and lit with Broncolor strobes.

Roadtrip-California Coast

It's been done a million times over because you just can't deny the beauty of a roadtrip up the California coast. This wasn't my first time doing it, nor will it be my last. You'll never run out of places to see, things to do, or great food to eat. The small towns that peppered up the coast are top notch. And the harder they are to get to, the better. Images below are from a from Morro Bay, Big Sur, San Francisco, Sausalito, Point Reyes Station, Tomales Bay, Mendocino, Shelter Cove, and many other point between. This was part of a much longer roadtrip that went up into Canada, so check back soon to see those images.


Steph Curry

Couple images from a shoot a few months back with World Champion and NBA MVP; Steph Curry of the Golden Sate Warriors. This was my second shoot with Steph, and he's still cool as ever. The second shot was taken during filming of the Foot Locker commercials you've probably seen on tv, and done with all natural light. The first was done on white seamless with 5 strobes. The only place we were permitted to set up our seamless was outdoors. And at the very least, you always have to worry about wind taking up the seamless, or knocking down your strobes. Weather that day said 0% chance of rain. And of course it didn't rain all day, until we were a few minutes into our shoot. Then it just started pouring. Steph wasa good sport about it, and thankfully, we had already got what we needed. Some of my equipment on the other hand, took a small beating. Took quite a while to rip it all down, and get out of the rain. Everything was all good in the end though.These two images are my favorites, but certainly not what Foot Locker/Under Armour used for their store windows/ads.

 


 

Silverton Mountain

Silverton Mountain in Colorado is unlike any other place you can ski/ride in the U.S. Think of it as the exact opposite of Vail. First of all, just getting there is a commitment, as it's about a 6.5 hour drive from Denver. The last part of the drive titled "The Million Dollar Highway" is about as much fun as you can have on a mountain pass. Switchback after switchback, with very few if any guardrails, and long steep drops off the side. The town itself is the kind of place you can see having gun fights in the street back in the day. That kind of town. Drive about 15 minutes out the back of town, and there is a parking lot. Next to the parking lot is a trailer with skis/snowboards piled on it. Next to that is a 2 person chairlift and a yurt for a lodge. That's it. No bougie villages with people wearing fur boots while sipping on a Hot Toddy. Just friendly people that want to ride. And all those people are earning there turns, because that 2 seater lift only goes 3/4 of the way up. From there, your guide leads you on a hike up ardigeline to the place he chooses for you to drop in. And did I mention that they are only open Friday-Sunday? Which means the snow piles up all week, so you're always getting fresh turns. On top of that, the guides section off the mountain, to keep things fresh for the next two days. The terrain is steep and technical. And fun. If you're a serious skier, you should get to Silverton. I loved it so much and wasn't even in great skiing shape when we were there. It was only my second day riding for the year, and I was just finishing up a month long cross-country road trip. Hell of a cap, but definitely wish I was in better shape. Either way, it was a great time, and I can't wait to go back in March. Did a little bit of shooting while I was there too. Hard not to. On day two, the light was so good, I didn't have a choose. It was partly cloudy, so the sun was peaking in and out of clouds. Creating some surreal conditions. Silverton rocks.

Camping-Colorado

Only about 6 months late on this post, so yeah. Trying to chip away at the piles of images gathering dust on my hard drives from the past year. These are from an incredible camping trip in the Colorado backcountry. Specifically in the backcountry of Yampa. A very small and very remote town that is only frequented by locals, and those lucky enough to know about it. Our "campsite" was about a 5 mile hike from the car. So not crazy, but certainly enough to get far away from everything. Mojo was with me on this one, and he had a blast to say the least. We got in a lot of fishing and a lot of eating. One thing the Yampa backcountry is famous for is the "Devil's Causeway" (seen below).  It's part of a trail with a narrow strip of rock with very immediate and very long drops on both sides. If you fall, you're down. Walking up to it doesn't seem that bad, but once you're there, it gets in your head a little. I saw one kid completely freeze while trying to cross it.


The Basketball Hoops Project

Among other things that I haven't been posting about, is my Hoops Project. The past 6 months has been filled with road trips, which means I've been busy sniffing out hoops along the way. Not only that, but last month I had a small printed book filled with these images sent out to companies/agencies all across America. Hope to get some feedback on that soon. 

Click HERE to see more