Life without industry is guilt, and industry without art is brutality.
Lectures on Art (1870), John Ruskin
Freed from guilt, people ‘born to work’ give something of themselves to others in factories. There, ‘working for the man’, they earn wages, they ‘keep the wolf from the door’; they also learn something about who they are. By being there, they – men and women of different ages, with different coloured skins – affect each other. They make something more of each other. Sometimes even, they obtain happiness.
Born to Work (1982), Huw Beynon
‘I’m sixty-eight’ he said,
‘I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that’s just what
I’ve gone and done.’
from Hay for Horses (1958), Gary Snyder
The work we do, through choice or necessity, informs our personal sense of identity and worth. It characterises how others view our contribution to society.
Cities, towns and villages grew around flourishing industries, powering the changes to which they have had to adapt: rationalisations, closures and decline; the relentless logics of a global market; the inescapable consequences of climate change. At the same time, those industries have left indelible marks in the culture of the communities left behind.
Once we were promised a leisure society, but if the tiny cogs in the monotony of mass production are disappearing, there is always 24 hour service provision – lower paid, over-worked and easily replaced. And there are still the workers in dirty, dangerous or degrading work, wilfully unseen, unrecognised and ignored.
Work continues to fascinate photographers, who champion the tenacities and plights of workers while responding to the idiosyncrasies of the setting, be it awe-inspiring or solitary. They challenge perceptions or giving presence to the unseen. In a moment of discovery they can be drawn to the ironies and rapports that work throws up, but they know they are visualising an ephemeral enterprise, bound to change and likely, eventually, to relocate.
This exhibition brings photographs from the AmberSide Collection together with new material by photographers who continue to explore this rich seam that work provides.
Exhibition curated by Dean Chapman
Photographers whose work is featured:
Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Nicholas Battye, Martin Chambi, Mik Critchlow, John Davies, Aidan Doyle, Walker Evans, Peter Fryer, Julian Germain, Richard Grassick, John Harris, Tommy Harris, Nick Hedges, Larry Herman, Lewis Hine, James Jarche, Izabela Jedrzejczyk, Chris Killip, John Kippin, Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, Russell Lee, David Lurie, Daniel Meadows, Harry Morrison, Tish Murtha, Simon Norfolk, William Parry, Keith Pattison, Bruce Rae, Marc Riboud, James Sebright, Graham Smith, Humphrey Spender, Chris Steele-Perkins, John Sturrock, Laszlo Torday, Paul Trevor, Marja Vuorelainen, Weegee.
Ashington Coal Company, Building the Tyne Bridge (Dorman Long), Tynemouth North Pier, Vickers-Armstrong Archive, Wills Archive (John Maltby).
242 images in total (more than Forever Amber at the Laing!!).