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The Works: The Automata of François Junod

Every once in a while you come across something so magical, so beguiling, that you feel compelled to see it first-hand. The automata of François Junod is one of those things. Junod’s work has it all – art, physiology, engineering, history, and philosophy, all rolled into objects that can only be described as magic.

It was September of 2019. We had just finished shooting Real Rail Adventures: Swiss International Hubs for public television (also on Prime Video here). After three weeks of shooting abroad, most of the crew headed home to the U.S., but my wife (and one of our talented videographers on the show), Sherri James, and I stayed on to shoot a few “extras” for a new online series we’re tentatively calling, “The Works.”

The idea for the series came from my work on Handmade Music for the DIY Network some years ago. As the networks all began programming nearly 100% reality shows, they left the how-to stuff to migrate to the internet. When Handmade Music was canceled after 40+ episodes, a network executive told me that I should take it online. Well, some years, a few TV series, and a couple of kids later, we’ve finally found some time to bring a few of these to life.

The work that originally led me to Junod was his remarkable “La Fée Ondine,” an exquisite rendering of a nodding fairy with lightly beating wings reclining on an undulating lily pad. A water lily opens and closes, revealing a bejeweled butterfly flitting from its center.

I looked up Junod’s website and contacted him, fully expecting to be rebuffed by a sniffy assistant. To my surprise, Junod himself emailed back. He asked a few questions about our work but was otherwise open to a visit. The man we met was friendly and enthusiastic if a bit distracted by his many ideas and obligations. The day we arrived, he ushered us in, gave us a hasty tour of his atelier and gallery, told us some stories of how he became who he is today, and left us to shoot whatever we liked. No, really. He just turned us loose in his house of wonders. For two days.

During the tour, Sherri gamely tried to follow Junod and me around with her camera-on-a-gimbal setup. His excitement for his work and for the history of clockwork mechanics in Sainte-Croix led him to flit from object to object, winding up a music box here, a gramophone there, getting distracted for a moment, only to have another idea set us off in a new direction. I listened, scribbled notes, and cursed my lack of French. But most of all, I looked on in awe and wonder.

We travel for a lot of reasons, but one of the most important for me is to renew that sense of awe and wonder as we get older and, inevitably, more jaded. The work of François Junod (and the man himself) reminds me to rekindle my own youthful curiosity. I hope it does the same for you.

What travel experiences have moved you? And what artisans and objects should we cover in The Works? Let us know in the comments here and keep an eye out for other videos in the series.



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