This year I had the wonderful opportunity to write for Kolekto Magazine, an online publication focusing on film, music, art and style. Whilst working for Kolekto’s art department, I produced four in-depth reviews of exhibitions in Birmingham, Bristol and New York. Unfortunately, Kolekto closed its virtual doors in August, but despite the sadness of this event, I will be eternally grateful for the chance I was given to develop myself as a writer and to work as part of a small, passionate team…
…however, Kolekto’s loss is Bellyful of Art’s gain! Here’s my review of Open for Business, a touring photography project exhibited at Bristol’s MShed from March to June this year and featuring the work of nine superb Magnum photographers.
Open for Business isn’t just a photography exhibition; it’s a celebration of technical advancement, a retrospective of age-old processes modernised for the 21st Century. It’s an open door into a hundred worlds that are normally closed to us; it’s a showcase of British manufacturing.
I caught up with this exciting exhibition – a collaborative project organised by Magnum Photos and Multistory – at MShed in Bristol, the penultimate stop on its national tour. Here, the work of nine photographers commissioned to photograph over one hundred businesses in 2013, transformed MShed’s white-walled gallery space into something akin to a patriotic rally; demonstrating Britain’s determination to fight for its place within an increasingly competitive global market whilst proving that variety and originality are still key components of our nation’s industrial trade.
From well-known businesses such as Bombardier and Nissan to small independent traders like the hat-maker Alison Tod in Abergavenny, the Open for Business photographers – Jonas Bendiksen, Stuart Franklin, Bruce Gilden, David Hurn, Peter Marlow, Martin Parr, Mark Power, Alessandra Sanguinetti and Chris Steele-Perkins – have quietly integrated themselves into contemporary workplaces across the country in order to illustrate the growing changes occurring within Britain’s manufacturing industry. In doing this, they have captured the unexpected beauty found in cluttered back offices and on busy production lines and have subsequently produced a series of images that are both sympathetic to and representative of its subjects.
Fascinated by the methods utilised within the old mill buildings of Bradford’s historic wool and textile industry, Norwegian photographer Jonas Bendiksen found that photography combined with elements of video was the best way of conveying the rhythmical elements of the wool-making process. His images and video sequences vary in size and focus, yet Bendiksen’s body of work retains a strong sense of structure, his pieces drawn together by his atmospheric style.
By contrast, American photographer Bruce Gilden has taken the workers of London’s Vauxhall plant and Tate & Lyle Sugars and isolated them within large scale, close-up portraits. Uniformly exhibited, the subjects of these images often gaze unapologetically into the camera lens, challenging both the photographer and the viewer and creating an almost tangible tension between the two. Chris Steele-Perkins has employed a similar tactic, focussing his lens on the human element of Plymouth’s manufacturing industry whilst creating posed group shots that emphasise the importance of teamwork and add an interesting dimension to the exhibition.
Whilst the Open for Business photographers have allowed us a rare glimpse behind the scenes of some of Britain’s most productive businesses, the project has also created a newspaper that runs in conjunction with the exhibition and educates its readers on subjects as relevant as Health and Safety and as significant as HVM (High Value Manufacturing). Along with personal accounts from workers at Angle Ring and Renishaw, the newspaper delves deeper into the heart of what makes up our manufacturing industry and proves that a ‘job for life’ is as relevant now as it was forty years ago.
Through a variety of photographic styles and approaches – from Martin Parr’s candid images of Aardman Animations in Bristol to Alessandra Sanguinetti’s playful portraits of workers at Siemens in Cheshire – the Open for Business photographers have aptly mirrored the diversity of the manufacturing industry in Britain and ultimately created an exhibition that makes us as proud of the products our country produces as we are of the men and women who produce them.