Sharing the Vision: Andy Anderson Explores the History and Craftsmanship of the W.C. Russell Moccasin Co.

In the world of advertising and photography, there are always so many conversations about the project before anything is actually photographed.  But many times, when the project is complete, we only show the images and do not tell the story behind the images.  I thought it would be interesting to start a series of blog posts that do just that.

Andy Anderson has always been a fan of brands with a commitment to craft and tradition, evident by his project with Beretta.  Well, W.C. Russell Moccasins is just one of those brands.  It has been making custom footwear for “presidents, generals, kings, movie stars and hunters” for over 100 years from the same building they started in in Berlin, Wisconsin.  So, when Andy realized another project he was working on was nearby this company, he wanted to go see for himself what made this company so special.

Here is what Andy wanted to share about his experience.

Was this project a personal or commercial project?
This was very much a personal project. I am a bird hunter and have depended on their boots for as long as I can remember.  I knew the company never wanted to grow to be a mass producer but instead they wanted to stay a small company that focused on quality and craftsmanship.   I respect and admire that.   So much so that I wanted to see the process of how the boots were made and meet the people who made it happen.

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Where were these images taken?
These images were take in Berlin, Wisconsin at their shoe factory. WC Russell began their business 1898 and have been in this small town from day one.  I suspected that it would be like stepping back in time and I wasn’t wrong.  I imagine the building is a lot like it was back when they first started.

What was your vision for this shoot?
Anyone who is a outdoorsman understands that W.C. Russell Moccasin stands for craftsmanship, legacy, and quality.  When you have a pair of their boots in your possession you feel as if you have a piece of history.  Luminaries like President George H.W. Bush, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, General Norman Schwarzkopf, the King of Nepal, Harrison Ford and Robert Redford are customers.  So being able photograph this place and the people who create the boots was a true privilege. Every aspect of crafting the boots is done so by a person, not a machine.  It has been this way since the 1800s and because it has essentially been owned by the same family since the beginning, it is easy for them to stay committed to this process.

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What was most surprising when you arrived at the location?
It was exactly what I expected. What amazed me the most was the strong smell of leather in the building.  It was obvious a workshop and not a factory.  Its very much a small operation but has worldwide reputation of making world class footwear so most of the people that are working there have been there for decades.  Being an employee of 30, 40 years is not unheard of. There is not much mechanized equipment to be found. Most of the boots are hand sewn. To have a boot delivered once you order……takes 16 weeks.

Do you have a favorite image?
My favorite images are the closeups of the boots along with the hands sewing the boots.  When I was creating these images, what stuck out to me the most was the visual chaos of the place…but in controlled way. Leather, boot soles, tools and threads were everywhere.  Since everything is hand made and nothing is mass produced I wanted my imagery to reflect this dedication.  The images all share a sense of history and tradition and dedication and commitment.

You have often explore stories about craftsmanship and focus on companies with deep history such as Beretta; with that in mind, what was interesting to you about this company?
The lasting legacy of an American company was something that has always resonated with me.  In a world of mechanized, impersonal manufacturing these types of processes have always been important to me.  Taking pictures requires that same dedication to craft and I too prefer it without all of the bells and whistles.

To see more of Andy Anderson’s personal projects, link here.

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