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  • Travis Lee Ratcliff


These notes come from my directing logs about the process of making various films. After wrapping a significant project I often like to write down my memories and experiences to try to process what I learned and capture what I want to remember from the project.

In Norman’s presence, we were able to explore the history of a craft that many people may have never considered.

Vilalta’s shoes are works of art, custom made for each wearer and grounded in the unique intersection of his client’s personality and Norman’s vision of the world.

There were many lessons we learned following Norman through the details of his work, but much of our conversations always turned back to the history of the craft.

He told us about his deep respect towards the medium’s traditions that he cultivated over years, first as an apprentice, then as a shoemaker.

But what use is tradition if it fails to be engaged in the present?

This question holds power over Norman and seems to be fundamental to what pushes him in his work.

To Norman, tradition is intrinsically limited if it is only in conversation with itself.

History is useful to the shoemaker, but only as a means of informing his sense of what is either eternally beautiful or genuinely contemporary.

In that respect, Norman sees himself as wielding tradition towards the ends of our present moment.

Beyond the craft of the actual shoemaking, Norman told us about many rites of passage shared between generations of shoemakers.

When a new shoemaker arrives in a city they must formally introduce themselves to the other shoemakers. 

When a shoemaker retires, they must pass their tools onto a younger shoemaker. 

It was through these rituals that Norman came to inherit a set of tools that belonged to several generations of Barcelona craftspeople, after first arriving in the city.

And on each weathered and worn tool, countless marks and blemishes contain traces of some secret history of work.

As a filmmaker, I couldn’t help but see the parallels between his craft and our own.

Both of us think of our work as being defined by invisible details that no one will ever see. 

Norman told us once that “the whole of the universe could be seen in a shoe.” 

At first it felt like a riddle, but as I dug deeper into the minutiae of his work, I began to see what he means.

The closer we look at any part of the world, the more the act of looking can become a kind of meditation, revealing and unravelling the deeper meaning of the world outside our gaze.

Perhaps that is why I always find the simplest stories carry the deepest meaning.

Seeing this message expressed in the way that Norman looks at the shoes he makes has given me encouragement to keep focused on the imperfect and quiet work that makes my corner of the world feel meaningful.


director's notes


travis lee ratcliff

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