Master of the craft: Kitemaker

For thousands of years, kites have represented fun, energy and freedom. In a photo series focusing on master artisans, we look at the hands of the makers.

Kites have been made all over the world for thousands of years. They represent our fascination with the sky, with flight, with freedom. The earliest Chinese kites were made of silk, intricately hand-painted, tailed with ornate streamers and flown during celebrations and ceremonies. But since those first lavish kites, people have been making them with paper and cloth, sticks and strings and wires. While not everyone owns a kite or knows how to keep one up in the air, everyone has a kite tale – some image or memory that soars on strings.

The cultural significance of the kite varies across the continents of the world. In Bali, no single person is allowed to make the whole kite – different members of the community will do the paper, frame and painting and then an astrologer will determine when it flies. In Afghanistan the kite has spiritual symbolism, in Malaysia kites are made of leaves.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell claims that it takes roughly 10 000 hours of practice to become a master in any field. For this series we look at the hands of master artisans who have dedicated their lives to particular crafts.

In the kitemaker’s studio everything moves; the breeze tickles the flimsy materials, threads and the paper-cut patterns, while outside the flags and kites on display thwack gently in the wind.

As with the other artisans in the series, the material the kitemaker works with has no great innate value. The value is in its potential, one that takes insight, skill and complex technique to expose. From crude tools and humble materials a thing of beauty is born, as unique as the thumbprint of its maker.

“There is a lot of magic in what I do. The work is with really inanimate stuff, but when it's put together and you fill up that sky… There is something transcendental about that. It is like you are playing in the realm of the gods.”

This photographic series explores how, no matter the material or how crude the tools, it is skill and time that makes something beautiful. All images courtesy Robin Bernstein.

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